If there’s one thing creator Jay-Ann Lopez wants you to know about Black Girl Gamers, it’s that the organization is far too all-encompassing to dilute down to a single thing and too great in scope to be reduced. For example, you could say BGG is an agency and enterprise — a way for Black women to find opportunities and employment in the games industry — and you wouldn’t be wrong.
You can just as easily call the organization a business, focused on creating meaningful content, entertaining the world through its Twitch streams, and turning a profit. It’s also a place for learning, with workshops focused on instilling confidence and kind mentors aplenty.
The truth is, BGG is many things to many people. The best place to start when trying to define BGG, though, is with how it began: as a community.
When Lopez founded Black Girl Gamers in 2015, it primarily existed on a trio of community-driven platforms: Facebook, Discord, and Twitch. Over on Facebook and Discord, the BGG community established themselves as protected places where Black women could have conversations about gaming without fear of harassment and among people with similar lived experiences. The group’s Twitch channel, on the other hand, gave BGG a platform to looked outward and share their talents with the world.
Right from the start, Lopez was adamant BGG would be a group effort. Just as the Facebook and Discord groups could simply not operate with her as a sole member, Lopez knew the vision she had for BGG wouldn’t work if she were the only Black woman streaming under the Black Girl Gamers banner. Instead, she decided the channel would be utilized to uplift and foster a community of Black women who love gaming but did not love how gaming spaces sometimes made them feel.
“If you think about gaming now, it’s still bad, but it was even worse back then. There was less awareness and even less willingness to do anything,” Lopez tells Uproxx. “It started off with myself and three other black women, two of whom I’m still friends with now, just working and just looking after the community, essentially. And then it grew to have a Discord, grew to have a Twitch channel, and then from then on, it’s kind of turned into a community powered business as opposed to just a Facebook group … [but] the first thing is community and keeping the 7,000 to 8,000 Black women safe in the space. Then on top of that, it’s also providing opportunities.”
The list of opportunities at Black Girl Gamers grows nearly as quickly as the organization itself. It hosts external events, like a recent online summit that Lopez says went so well that the team is working to put together another. There are educational programs like a three-month mentorship course with Facebook Reality Labs designed to help Black women get involved in AR/VR spaces, workshops with various voice actors, and a workshop with Buildbox, a game development program that enables people to create games without coding. They’re upping the amount of consultation work they’re doing, which gives members the chance to work with AAA game publishers and build relationships with studios.
All these workshops and events are just the beginning. According to Lopez, Black Girl Gamers has also been hard at work creating their own “one-of-a-kind” internal talent agency that focuses on “specifically catering to the needs of Black women” and finding work for them that offers fair payment and doesn’t make them feel “tokenized.” While still fresh, Lopez says this arm of the organization is already thriving, with members landing paid opportunities with Anastasia Beverly Hills, Google, Netflix, Adidas, H&M, and more.
It’s part of Lopez’s larger effort to get more brands working with Black women and becoming leaders on the journey to create a more inclusive media landscape.
“I want [brands] to know they can be a part of that journey. They can work with us,” Lopez says. “You know, everyone needs to work and to improve, change, and progress. So, we are here to help. And I think that’s one of the main things to let go of, is the kind of hesitancy of thinking that you’ve done something wrong or have issues. Everyone has issues and everyone needs to work on them. So, why not consult with us or work with us in order to improve?”
Lopez knows there’s another hurdle to clear: Encouraging talented Black women to pursue their dreams and gaming career ambitions, something that has been historically difficult. Despite there being plenty of women and Black folks in the gaming community, both of those demographics have struggled with harassment, exclusion, and underrepresentation within the industry. As the intersection of these two identities, there’s no denying that Black women have faced even greater challenges when navigating gaming spaces, as well as a lot of fear.
Lopez, however, urges Black women not to deny this fear’s existence, but rather to acknowledge it and “do it anyway.”
“One thing I would say is that there’s a book — and it’s a really great book — called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” Lopez says. “Even though fear exists, sometimes you have to push past it. And I’ve had to do it myself. Like, I’ve had times where I’ve literally been scared potentially for the business and the community because of racism and targeting, and just even myself. But you know, you just have to feel the fear and do it anyway. Because moving forward is the only option if I really want to make it. So I would say just feel the fear, and do it anyway.”
When I asked Lopez if she had a mantra or mission statement she kept near-and-dear to her to help aid her through all the challenges and fears she’s encountered since creating Black Girl Gamers, she replied no without so much as a moment of hesitation. Instead, Lopez is driven by “a need” to ensure Black women are never excluded or erased from gaming history.
“It’s a need that is driving me. I know where there is an imbalance, I need to try and do something to help balance that out,” Lopez says. “I wanna guarantee that we’re not forgotten, that we’re never excluded. And that gaming is never the same … I want it to be cemented that we drove a lot of this change and we are legacy makers in this space.”
All of these successes — and the bonds formed between the women making it all happen — have already begun to shape Black Girl Gamers. It is a legacy built on instilling confidence in Black women, on giving them the resources and strength to “shoot their shot,” and making a difference in what they “can do, what they’re taking home, and how they can spend their money and their lives.”
So, what is Black Girl Gamers? Simply put, Black Girl Gamers is a legacy in the making — an ever-expanding movement that is directly contributing to a bigger, brighter, and more inclusive games industry — and their story has only just begun.