Indie games, urban minorities and how to mix the two

Shawn Alexander Allen admitted that his PAX East 2014 talk was "a little less tangible" than other gaming subjects, but he came to talk about something he's clearly very passionate about.

In a talk titled "How urban black and Latino cultures can be the next frontier for indie games," the Treachery in Beatdown City developer tried to figure out why there aren't more minorities in the independent game development community and what could be done about it.

"I guess it's not really news that there's a dearth of those people," he said. Even he admits he didn't pay much attention to the industry's lack of diversity when he first started out. But once he realized it, he could no longer ignore it.

Allen told the audience that when he was working at Rockstar Games, he decided that he wanted to leave AAA game development and create something of his own. He saw something that struck him as odd: It didn't seem that "people of color" were "represented" in the indie scene.

His believes the lack of minorities in AAA game development is apparent even in the games themselves, where he said minorities are often marginalized as "service people, farmhands or criminals." He showed videos from Red Dead Redemption and the Assassin's Creed franchise to bolster his point.

He focused on the urban experience, in part, because that's his own experience, being from New York City. Several times, he pointed out that these minorities make up half of the population there, but that percentage isn't reflected in the video game industry working there.

"Why haven't they been able to break out into the scene? ... What is stopping them [from creating games?]," he asked. Hip hop — which was pioneered by minorities — influenced the entire world, and he doesn't see why it should be any different for minorities with indie games.

"This is a culture that has done things that indie games have struggled with," he said.

Unlike the hip hop culture, video games didn't begin with minority culture, Allen said. It's largely dominated by Asian and white developers and has been since its inception.

"We've gotten to the point where hip hop has become everyone's culture," he said, and video games could do that, too. Game development culture needs to be inclusive to grow, he believes. Indies are niche, he admits, but they're on the verge of becoming more meaningful.

Allen proposed ways to change this, suggesting that the press highlight people of color and include them as part of wider coverage. He also wants people to stop talking about Indie Game: The Movie, because its subjects "look, for all intents and purposes, like a bunch of white guys." When people ask him about if that's what indie development, he says, "No, it's not like me at all."

He also believes that subsequent projects from other developers may have failed because the movie supersaturated the game industry with platformers. Diversity also applies to the kinds of games people makes, he said. Indie Game The Movie may have made platformers too popular.

Another, more hands-on solution, would be for developers to go out into communities and "drum up interest" in indie game development, Allen said.

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