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Opinion: Every Indie Creative NEEDS to attend the Game Devs of Color Expo

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she dreams elsewhere

In the midst of COVID season, when most large expos have been cancelled, the 2020 Game Devs of Color Expo (GDoC) exceeded expectations by hosting a very organized online event this year—despite all challenges. This was my first time attending this expo (and any online expo, for that matter), and as an Asian American with a background in game dev, this expo was right up my alley. 

For those of you unfamiliar with gaming expos such as E3 and PAX (the larger expos of the gaming industry), they usually consist of events that happen over multiple days—ranging from speaker panels, special showcases, concerts, game demos, pop-up stores, and networking events. These expos can easily become overwhelming with so much going on, expensive entrance fees (that add up including parking, food, and merchandise), high foot traffic, and managing schedules to attend panels in an orderly fashion without getting lost. For GDoC’s first-ever virtual event, a lot of these problems were no longer an issue. As an added bonus, tickets only cost five to ten dollars! 

Despite being online this year, GDoC retained the best parts of the expo experience while maintaining the feeling of professionalism, community, and positivity. Pre-recorded panels were live-streamed, and all the attendees joined in on bustling live chats which included questions, polls, and interactions with the speakers watching along. What stood out during these panels was the feeling of a more intimate and inclusive approach from the panel. The panelists emphasized their own personal experiences and struggles related to their field of expertise and made sure that everyone’s thoughts were heard. This stood out to me, as it was very different from large, corporate expos… which are usually meant mainly for general advertisements and game showcases. 

As a game designer, games are often not perceived as works of art by many who don’t indulge or explore the genre more extensively. However, games in essence are interactive experiences which combine art, animation, music, and narrative. They are tools used to tell stories and share experiences, and can similarly be used as a device to talk on issues involving race and representation. Two panels this year specifically caught my attention–covering the topic of race in games and media. 

The first panel was hosted by Limpho Moeti, a producer from South Africa, on the “Importance of Being Authentic.” The focus of this discussion was on the portrayal of people of color, more specifically on black people.  Moeti stressed the massive influential power that media has when portraying ethnic groups and how important it is to accurately depict them. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Though this can seem like a no-brainer for a lot of people, she used specific, current examples from the media to showcase how insidious and potentially dangerous limited portrayal can be. One of her examples that stood out talked about the DC comic Legion of Superheroes and the fact that there was zero African representation whatsoever in the story’s futuristic setting. The question then arises—are there no black people in the future? Or is it implied that black people are too technologically behind to exist in the future? Stereotypes can easily arise when portrayals become narrow in scope. 

The second panel that caught my attention was titled “Authenticity is Balls,” which was presented by narrative designer and video game writer Sisi Jiang. Her argument was the notion that culture is invented. Don’t believe it? Ask yourself why people behave depending on what society decides what’s “right” or “wrong”? That’s because people are the ones that decide and invent what’s “right” or “wrong” all the time. Culture is fundamentally dictated by how a majority of people decide on behaving. And thus, an “authentic” portrayal of a character is impossible, because culture is ever-changing and different for everyone. A big takeaway from her panel is that each individual’s personal experience supersedes what specific societies try to deem as an “authentic cultural experience.” Thus accurate portrayals should focus on individual personal stories, rather than aiming to appease everyone. Jiang sums this up nicely with the quote, “Your job isn’t to be everyone. It’s to open doors for everyone.”

So for those of you creatives reading this. Tell your story. Make it authentic, personal, and push the art forward by challenging common preconceived notions. You will find that making a game (or any creative project) is a process with many hurdles and challenges to overcome before completion. Expos like GDoC help us learn invaluable knowledge from others who have walked the same path, saving time and steering you away from potential mistakes. As someone who is constant learner, I felt that GDoC has definitely taught me a few useful things and did a great job at creating a productive and welcoming environment. There is always a lot to learn from other creators out there, and GDoC definitely provided the perfect space for us to do so.


For more about what happened at the 2020 Game Devs of Color Expo, check out this related article.

Select panels are now available online on the Game Devs of Color YouTube channel, located here.

Article banner taken from She Dreams Elsewhere, a game that was represented on GDoC’s Gradient Convergence Steam page: a showcase of the games represented at the event. Artwork by Yanina Nesterova.

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