Jay-Ann Lopez understands that the global gaming industry is one dominated by white men. This is why she built Black Girl Gamers, an online community and safe space to allow black women who enjoy gaming to connect and enjoy the experience collectively.

Lopez, 26, is based in London and launched BGG as a way to bridge the divide and bring black girl gamers together to share tips, connect and play against each other. The online community has grown tremendously over the years and now features close to 1,500 black girl gamers.

Below, we spoke with Lopez about her experience with gaming, why she launched BGG and what her goals are for the growing online group.

When were you first introduced to gaming and what do you enjoy about it?

I was first introduced to gaming by my uncles at the age of around 7 or 8 and I became instantly involved.  I'm a fun-loving person, so anything that lets me enjoy an imaginary world is always intriguing to me.

When did you first create Black Girl Gamers and why?

I created Black Girl Gamers in 2015 for multiple reasons. The first being I started my own gaming channel and realized that I hardly had any other black women to play with. I created BGG to allow black women to come together in a safe space and allow them to enjoy talking about gaming and play together.  The second reason was because the gaming scene is full of misogynoir — whether you're streaming, playing with random people online or watching popular gaming channels, you can find yourself constantly hearing either racist/sexist comments and/or jokes. In order to combat this, I established BGG to be a safe space for black women, sans misogynior/homophobia/transphobia etc, but also a progressive one.  We are currently working on a website which will serve as a platform for the variety of black women in gaming and allow our voices to be heard. We are also working on attending more conferences and expos.

What has your experience been like as a black girl gamer?

A lot of people are shocked to hear I'm a gamer. I don't fit what the "gamer look" supposedly is and this leads to different reactions, particularly from men. From certain members of my family, it's seen as a very childish hobby and that it's a waste of time, when really gaming has truly helped me destress.

I've received racist/sexist comments, both directly and indirectly, and… to be honest, it did stop me from playing online for a while because it was draining. However, since starting BGG, though I still receive racist comments, I am able to brush them off knowing I have created a safe space of women who enjoy gaming just like me and who also now have the BGGfam, the supportive network we have of non-BGGs that love what we're doing.

In gaming itself, it has been frustrating a lot of the times to not see Black women represented often or well. There are approximately 15 Black female human playable protagonists in the history of gaming; this, compared to the amount of rugged middle-aged white men characters and the franchises there are, does leave you feeling annoyed.  

How has Black Girl Gamers changed your experience with gaming?

I enjoy gaming so much more and actively seek to play with BGG members. There are over 1,000 members in BGG so it's always great to meet someone new and play with them online, I don't have to worry about hearing problematic things and we genuinely have a good time. Our streams are considered a safe place and we've established a community of regular supporters that continuously grows — not to mention we play with our supporters, who have game nights and movie nights.  We've been contacted by media platforms/game developers to provide insight into topics.  BGG has opened my mind to experiences of other women and their interests, I have friends overseas I regularly talk to and game with.  It also just warms my heart to hear other BGGs say how glad they are to have found this space so that they can be themselves and feel unapologetic.  The existence of BGG gives validation to black women and girls wherever they are, including myself, and lets them know that it's okay to enjoy games and that we're not actually as rare as people chose to believe.

What are some of your personal favorite games to play?

My favorite games are RPGs and co-ops.  My favorites over the years have been Guild Wars 2, Mirrors Edge, the Halo Franchise, The Witcher 3, Mafia III and more.  I can't really pick a favorite, I enjoy such a multitude of games that span genres.  I am looking forward to the new Harry Potter game coming out on mobile/tablets.  I've got to also highlight Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan, a 2D platformer African Fantasy Action-RPG that has really made impact.

Why do you think representation in gaming is so important?

Representation in gaming is important for so many reasons. As a little girl, I always wondered where the black characters were, which led to the false belief that gaming was a "white thing to do.” There are plenty of young black children that play games that would gain from being represented in games. They, too, deserve to see themselves playing and creating games. They, too, are the norm.

Representation in gaming is key but accurate representation is even more essential. We don't need any more stereotypical tropes of black characters i.e. the sassy, strong black woman with attitude or the black guy who’s there just to add comic relief.  This is changing with the increased popularity of character customisation in games as well as the creation of games such as Mafia III and Watchdogs II (depending on how you feel about them).  It is hard though to expect diverse games from an industry that is predominantly white and male. This is why BGG is also here to uplift and amplify the visibility of black game developers and artists.

Racism exists in the gaming culture because the narrative is not challenged enough by the players or the creators. Representation is a step towards removing the racist thread that exists in gaming culture.

This piece has been brought to you by Google Play