Diversity in gaming, a conversation that is seldom addressed, but at the forefront of the topic are people of color in the gaming industry. The push for representation of various ethnic backgrounds should be a topic discussed by all but is often pushed to the side to so call alleviate controversial push back. This behavior in such a young industry catered to millennials is unfortunate, as we are now in an era where a push for all should one second nature.Campaigns such as #INeedDiverseGames, founded by Tanya DePass, have sparked attention on social media, as to why characters of color are rarely seen as the main protagonist in gaming.
We had an opportunity to chat with artist and DJ, Glynn Davis (aka Highgnx), a partner of Black Nerd Problems and advocate on mental health and diversity. We discussed Black representation in the gaming industry, and how her movement to push the needle on the subject has been planned to create an #OscarsSoWhite type of ripple effect in order to get the message across to the industry.
Subnation: Where did your passion for video games begin?
Glynn “Highgnx” Davis: Always watching my older brother play video games. I vividly remember him playing Earthworm Jim on Super Nintendo and we would play Mortal Kombat 3 and I could never beat him!
SN: From our previous conversation, I see that Halo is your game. What made you a big fan of that series?
HighGnx: Cortana, she's the answer to everyone's problems in the game. Without her there wouldn't be any structure, plans, or plot, and that's the one thing that really stuck out to me when I was younger. I was like yeah she's an artificial intelligence, hologram, bull sh_t whatever, but she symbolizes the soul and god of the game. She is leading everybody, and without her there wouldn't be sh_t. So that's the main reason, as a child, why I loved the game so much because I was like, “yeah look at all these male soldiers and Master Chief running around this game and they need a woman for all the answers.”
SN: As a Halo player, did you play online? How was your first online experience?
HG: It's Halo, obviously you want to play online with friends because it was the new thing. My first experience I was on break from school. I logged on Xbox Live to play and all I heard were a group of kids yelling and screaming the N word back and forth, I could tell they were white little boys.
I couldn't take it anymore, looked for my headset to put on, spoke up and said hey guys I'm black and what you're saying is offensive. From there on it turned into a complete sh_t show of them yelling at me calling me the N word and me yelling back at them. No one was even playing the game at that point. I logged off and then later, when I turned my system back on, my Xbox account was deactivated from them reporting me. I remember having to buy a new Xbox that summer because of that.
SN: Wow, I had a similar situation when I first turned on my Xbox 360. It was my first time on Live, to play Call of Duty 4, and I was immediately called an N word and a B word. I was like, “Damn, I'm on your team.” I had to troll him back. Being a New Yorker, I have tough skin and quick comebacks, but many other women may not. What type of space you want for women of color who play video games?
HG: For the past year or two I've been trying to find where are all the black women gamers are. I know of Black Girl Gamers but they are overseas. I Would love for there to be a platform to see influencers of color in an interview form, speaking on topics revolving around inclusivity in video games. We're tired of seeing ourselves as the sidekick or a gangster. And yes, in RPG games you can change the character to whatever race you want, but where are non-stereotypical, non-dated storylines?
SN: You mentioned the Black Girl Gamers, the amazing group of Black girl sisterhood and advocacy for Black women in gaming. Did they heavily influence your movement?
HG: One day I was watching a stream of Jay Lopez, the Creator of Black Girl Gamers. My immediate thought was Oh my god, thats me right there! I saw her in me. It’s just different when you see someone like you play video games. The representation matters.
SN: Representation matters a lot, even the way video games are marketed. We haven't seen a Black female main protagonist since Urban Chaos. What are your thoughts on more women, especially black women, as the lead character in a game?
HG: Well unfortunately for so long now video games are mostly always intended for boys and men. So many girls and women even tell themselves well that's not for me, mainly because they think that they're not good enough to play. They don't see themselves being apart of gaming because of how it is always presented as a male thing.
So of course we need more women, especially women of color, as the lead characters in games. Then video games would no longer be considered as just a male activity. That’s the inclusion that we seek! Not just in video games, but across all visual entertainment!
And Ideally, the more women (from all different races) that are presented as the lead roles in games, younger girls who decide to pick up their older brother’s controllers will go, “Oh hey! That’s me! This is for me!” And will lead to “Oh wow I want to create more games like this!” And then bam! We’ll have more woman game producers in the future creating realistic storylines that represent everyone!
SN: Video games have influenced your advocacy for representation. As an artist, how did video games influence your lifestyle?
HG: Growing up with Halo, I always envisioned myself as the female version of Master Chief and Cortana being my subconscious. So in creating my name I wanted something that sounded superhero-esque that would uplift me.
I created HighGnx in a dark space. I was going through a number of things at the time as everyone in their 20’s does. A break up, lost my job, the works! GNX stands for, “Glynn needs a Xanax”, and I would say this jokingly as a parallel to the word “Jinx” to lighten my mood and chill out whenever I felt life was getting overwhelming. Over time it became this dual personality that I could retort to and express myself creatively.
I think the big thing now as adults with gaming is trying to blend it into life. You grow up and then your mother is like “Why are you still playing video games and putting money into it?”. I'm like Hey! This is my interactive Netflix series! Leave me alone! And also it’s honestly acted as therapy for a long time.
It’s so funny, I'll recommend games to my girlfriends who don't game. They'll say, “Oh my boyfriend has a PS4 but I’m not really into it.” And I'm like girl there are so many games for us! I’ll recommend an entry level one like Life is Strange an then 2 weeks later out of nowhere they’re like, “OMG I can't put down Skyrim!”
SN: Have any games influenced your music? If so, what video game in particular has had an impact on your music?
HG: It may sound ridiculous, but I guess Halo, once again. Playing Halo as a young child and hearing that iconic soundtrack over and over again. The music in Halo is a lot with the heavy military band influence, the orchestra, and heavy drumming. Never really thought about it until now, but in a couple of my songs I do embody heavy drumming and percussion while blending it with Baile Funk. I have new music releasing with that tone soon.
SN: Your project with Black Nerd Problems, can you tell us a little about it?
HG: In the piece I’m working on I’m sharing a few coming of age stories that will touch mental health, sexual identity, and representation in gaming. I can't wait to share soon. Plus, in the works, creating a platform to discuss all these various topics we chatted on to address the ongoing issues that keep popping up in games. I can't wait for that day when people shouldn't have to keep “clocking” ignorance in the industry.
Thanks so much Highgnx for sharing your time and having this much needed conversation in gaming plus also seeing how you as an artist is passionate about video games and the representation of people of color in this industry we love.