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Field Report Gaming

The 2020 Game Devs Of Color Expo shined a spotlight on marginalized voices in indie gaming

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A sheltered-in-place pastoral spring of Animal Crossing (Nintendo Switch), early summer blockbusters in the form of The Last of Us Part II (PlayStation 4) and Ghost of Tsushima (PlayStation 4), and a late summer of party games in the likes of Fall Guys (PC) and Among Us (PC, mobile) made 2020 a year an interesting year for video games–global pandemic notwithstanding. Quarantine had us all looking to video games at a critical mass in ways we haven’t seen since the long lost times of citywide Pokemon Go crawls and Just Dance at your aunt’s house. As the general population attempts to renew their escapism from the blunt force traumatic doom scroll, video games have offered both new and reminiscent fans an alternative to the streaming wars vying for their attention. But without an SXSW, E3, or Comic-Con this year to offer their annual forecast, where is the pulse on video games right now? Enter Game Devs of Color 2020.

game devs of color logo
2020 Game Devs of Color Expo banner.

From September 19th to the 20th, GDoC2020 held their exposition not in a convention center, but on the SwapCard app hosting pre-recorded panels, interviews, and a robust international live chat with Q&A features. In their 5th year, the event, which is usually based in Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, envisions “a space meant to enlighten and unite people of all genders, races, abilities, sexual orientations, and religions.” Discounted ticket options for lower-income attendees and free submission for all prospective exhibitors extends a welcome sense of accessibility in an industry known to have diversity issues behind the scenes. 

The offerings this year reaffirmed a wildly imaginative attitude aligning inclusion and accountability. The first day was bookended with panels featuring game devs, journalists, and industry veterans. With discussions such as “Sex Positivity as a Design Pillar,” “KILL YOUR DREAM GAME AND USE ITS BODY FOR PARTS,” and “Authenticity is Balls,” GDoC 2020’s programming assured us that this isn’t your dad’s video games convention. Fair representation, queer narratives, and failure were addressed candidly by developers while others encompassed the spectrum of video games’ often overlooked development phases of prototyping, pitching to journalists, and community management. 

Day two focused on interviews with independent developers showcasing an assortment of their recently launched and upcoming experiences. The cynical and Earthbound-inspired tale DON’T GIVE UP (Taco Pizza Cat Games) gave us another solid entry in the young adult modern RPG universe. This summer’s crowdfunded visual novel darling VALIDATE (ValiDate Game) styled upon our lonely hearts. ONSEN MASTER (Waking Oni) spirited us away with its hot-springs meets Diner Dash gameplay and Ghibli influence. AN AIRPORT FOR ALIENS RUN BY DOGS (Strange Scaffold) confused, endeared, and bribed us into its first-person, multi-hand, dog-petting philosophy. The much anticipated community-centric GARDEN STORY (Rose City Games) dug its roots into our imaginations.

game devs of color expo
2019 Game Devs of Color Expo.

The weekend was capped off by an awards ceremony that provided several $15,000 grants to nominated game devs that would advance their respective projects. In addition to awards, the expo and Steam launched the Gradient Convergence page, promoting many of the exhibition’s games on the Steam Store. Sustaining sponsors including the likes of Nintendo, XBOX, Valve, and Niantic were matched by household name indie dev teams Subset Games, Brace Yourself Games, No More Robots, Dinosaur Polo Club, which speaks to the organizational exceptionalism and vision the entire team of GDoC advocates for. There’s perhaps no better commitment to the indie game space than these acts of continuity.

Game Devs Color of 2020 feels like an anomaly in a lot of ways. Organic opportunities to network with other devs began between time zones and video chats. An energetic and supportive community materialized to support fun games. AFG (Auto Follow Gang) and Jollof Rice became convention wide catchphrases (you had to be there).  As major corporations across all entertainment industries scramble to pivot their brand to be cancel-proof and pandemic-proof, this convention in Harlem made it work. This year proves that video games will be a respite for us in hopefully less dire times of crisis. GDoC promises that future is full of color. 

The 2020 Game Devs of Color Expo was held virtually from September 19th to the 20th.

Links: Game Devs of Color Website | Gradient Convergence page | YouTube

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