The gaming industry is booming with consumer spending $44 billion in game software and services. In the United States, more than 428,000 jobs are in industry; however, only 2% of those job holders are black. These dismal numbers are disheartening considering the contributions black people have made to the history of the gaming industry as well as to the present.
This lucrative world would not be what it is today without the work of black innovators within the industry. Whether in manufacturing or overall design, some of your favorite video games wouldn’t exist without the efforts of talented black gaming professionals.
This list of black innovators in the gaming industry is certainly not exhaustive. But it’s a starting point for learning more about the history of black geeks. Here are 10 names you should know.
Gerald “Jerry” Lawson
Gerald “Jerry” Lawson was one of the few black engineers in the gaming industry in the 1970s. And although one of the few, his impact resonates hugely in the gaming world. We don’t call you the “father of the video game cartridgefor nothing. Lawson and his team spearheaded the development of the Fairchild Canal F, aka the precursor to modern video game cartridges. This revolutionary idea was adopted by Atari and Nintendo before Lawson left to go down in history as the owner of video softwarethe first black game development company. Associate this with a place in the World Video Game Hall of Fameand you have a legacy that lasts forever.
Ed Smith was part of the APF Electronics team that designed the first cartridge-based video game, the MP1000. After leaving behind a brief stint in traffic light development at Marbelite in New York, Smith joined APF Electronics and developed the MP1000. Two years later, his team developed the personal computer, the machine to imagine, which acted as a pluggable extension module. It became the first combined home video game console and personal computer. Now retired, Smith poured all of his experience as one of the few black game innovators of his time into an autobiography titled Imagine that!.
Black contributions to gaming innovation and history have not occurred only in the United States. Game designers like Muriel Tramis from Martinique, paved the way for black women to excel in the gaming industry. Before developing video games, Tramis worked on military drones for Aerospatiale as a programmer. A career change in gaming led Tramis to develop games like The Math Bump and Gobliins at the beginning of his career; however, Tramis is best known for games Mewilo and Freedom: Rebels in the Darkness.
Co-written by author Patrick Chamoiseau, Mewilo places players as a paranormal psychologist investigating a city haunted by French imperialism. While Freedom centers on a slave using the night to orchestrate a rebellion against slave owners in Martinique. The first of two games won Tramel a silver medal from the Ministry of Culture in 1988. Twenty years later, she was appointed Knight of the Legion of Honor in France.
Alice “Wonderwoman” Washington
Not all game innovators have worked in game design. Several held key manufacturing positions related to building coin-operated games such as Alice “Wonderwoman” Washington. His efforts were oriented to the installation printed circuit boards, or PCB, in arcade game cabinets. The PCBs contain the game and all the technology needed to run it. This allowed arcade regulars to play some of their favorite games. Without his efforts, some of the most popular games today wouldn’t have reached an arcade near you.
Diverse representation in video games and in game development is extremely important and desperately needed. Modern innovators like Tanya DePass understand this. The founder and director of I need various games established the non-profit organization to bring the work and research of marginalized people’s gambling to the forefront of the world of gambling. The organization also advocates for positive intersectional representations of identity and culture in video games. The lifelong Chicagoan is also the founder and editor of the Freshly sold out podcastthe creative director of CypherCo, LLC.and serves as a diversity liaison for GaymerX. A multi-faceted problem requires a multi-faceted solution, and DePass is ready to provide it.
Shawn Alexander Allen
Game developer Shawn Alexander Allen has made a name for himself in the world of modern blockbuster gaming. The self-proclaimed “hip-hop obsessed” writer, speaker and activist has been working on video games for rock star games. Properties such as Grand Theft Auto IV, Grand Theft Auto Vand Red Dead Redemption, all of which achieved record sales, have been linked to Allen’s efforts. He left the world of blockbuster games to create his own company, NuChallenger. Under his company, he created the video game Betrayal in Beatdown City. The game was successfully funded and released in 2020 on several major platforms.
Additionally, his work was commissioned by the NYU Game Center and featured in the Moving Image Museum. Besides game development, Allen writes and speaks about representation within the game industry and game design.
A multidisciplinary 3D artist and game developer, Neil Jones has found his rise in the gaming industry pantheon quite difficult. The Detroit-based game developer has worked on games, like Click and Dot’s house, which focused on social issues and the systemic oppression of the black community. While creating these aforementioned projects, Jones was unable to secure a position at a video game studio. So he struck out on his own and reaped the benefits.
under his imprint, aerial knightJones released his first game never give in. The 3D side-scrolling endless runner with a black main character running through a futuristic version of Detroit was released in May 2020 on multiple major platforms. And his determination to succeed continues to bear fruit as highlighted by multiple publications, such as The edge and the New York Times. In short, Jones is a name to know in modern black game history.
Video games can live in fantasy, but they can be just as powerful when grounded in reality. Chella Ramanan understands this and through her company 3-fold gamesco-founded with Claire Morwood, she created Before I forget. This short, story-rich game allows users to play as Sunita, a woman suffering from early dementia. Sunita reconstructs her memory through interactions with her environment.
In addition to co-founding 3-Fold Games, Ramanan has advocated for diverse representation in both video games and game development as the co-founder of POC in gamean organization dedicated to diversifying the gaming industry, and through her time as a gaming journalist. Her work has not been in vain, as she continues to promote her advocacy of gaming in major publications, such as The Guardianand at game development conferences, such as at AdventureX. Ramanan even received the 2019 Progression Defender Award of the Game Dev Heroes Awards.
Ahmed and Khalil Abdallah
Ahmed and Khalil Abdullah were simply two brothers who were passionate about video games with the hope of creating their own. This hope was coupled with their passion to learn more about the industry. Using a variety of online resources, combined with their computer science degrees from UMass Amherst, these two eventually carved out a place for themselves in the gaming industry with their game development company. Lure games. The multi-award-winning company generates a unique gaming experience for its players, with games like Mental health !and simultaneously drives innovation, diversity, equity and inclusion within the industry.