A group of gaming industry insiders have launched a new initiative to tackle the problem of poor diversity in the UK video game development sector.

POC in Play is described by the group as, a racial equity and inclusion movement with an aim to improve representation and to provide events and initiatives for people of colour either working in the industry or thinking of joining.

“The only statistics we do have are really old – that’s part of the problem,” said Chella Ramanan, a journalist and games writer, who along with developer Adam Campbell is a founder of POC in Play. “The newest figure is from a 2015 Creative Skillset report and it shows that just 4% of the UK games industry is from ethnic minority groups. If you compare that with film and TV in the UK, it’s 30% in London and 15% nationally.

"There’s a big disparity between games and other creative sectors.”

Ramanan sees the problem of representation in games as self-perpetuating: children of colour don’t see different ethnic groups working in the industry, so may not think of it as a viable career. The lack of diversity is also reflected in the games the industry produces. The situation has improved recently, with leading roles for people of colour in blockbuster games such as Far Cry New Dawn and Apex Legends.

Ramanan sees the fact that it is difficult to agree on good examples of representation as part of the problem in an industry where representations of white male heroes are so widespread.

“There’s a problem of visibility, both of people working in the industry and in the games themselves,”
- Chella Ramanan

“The representation is often stereotypical a black man will often be, say, an LA gang member, but that’s not representing the experience of people in Leeds or Birmingham, or the Caribbean. South Asian people are rarely represented at all. There’s a lack of seeing your own stories being portrayed, so young people of colour aren’t being encouraged to think: ‘I could make a game like that.’”

The organisation, which is being supported by London-based developer UsTwo Games, responsible for the best-selling Monument Valley, is planning to hold a regular series of meetings in which people of colour can network and discuss their experiences. The first of these will take place on 22 March.

“We don’t want these to be just social, it’s not just about getting all the black and Asian game developers together,” said Ramanan. “We want to invite speakers from outside the games. For people of colour working inside the industry, POC in Play is aiming to become a space where concerns and experiences can be aired and discussed – a situation that can be difficult if you’re the only non-white person in a studio. “We want to give people a support network,” said Ramanan. “Part of the remit of POC in Play will also be lobbying the industry to improve workforce and onscreen representation, but aiding in that process.

“A lot of publishers do want a more diverse workforce, but they may have blind spots: we can help with that,” said Ramanan. “We do want things to change. If a developer wants to be considerate with portrayal then we should be able to help – even if that’s to suggest someone they need to pay to be a consultant. People of colour shouldn’t be doing this labour for free.”

If you're a POC in games, celebrate with the hashtag #IamPOCinPlay

Thu 28 Feb 2019 by Keith Stuart for the Guardian