Jennifer Lufau is founder and president of the Afrogameuses association, which combats racism in the video game sector and so that black women are better represented.
How did you become interested in the video game world?
During my childhood in Bénin, there was a cybercafé I’d go to every day on the way home from school. This place full of computers intrigued me, and that’s how I came across the first Prince of Persia. During my teenage years, I then developed an appetite for online games. I really liked the collaborative aspect, the fact of being able to discuss and socialise with people around the world.
How did the idea of creating Afrogameuses come about?
It wasn't so much in relation to people I met in this area, but more those I wasn't meeting. Apart from the fact that I’m a player, I didn’t really see other women like me. I had the impression that I was being thrown back to the idea that I was a sort of anomaly: already from the fact I was a woman, and also by being black. For a long time, I believed that black women were absent from video games, which wasn't the case. I therefore wanted to meet other women in my situation, and we discussed our respective experiences. We then naturally created the Afrogameuses association, because we wanted – at our level – to do something to rectify this invisibilisation.
Afrogameuses is aimed at black women and players and structures the combats against sexism and racism – we talk of an intersectional feminist approach. Why do are the two combats inseparable?
If some people are subjected to racism, and others sexism, you must also realise that part of the population is subjected to both at the same time. We don't talk enough about it. Our approach is afrofeminist in that feminism, originally, wasn’t thought of for people subjected to racism, and therefore doesn’t follow the same objectives. Being black is a social marker which is added to being a woman, and it’s something that makes the difference today, throughout the world.
What are Afrogameuses’ main activities? What roles do its members play?
We work around four axes. First, to improve representation of people subject to racism in the video game world. The first thing to do is to showcase role models so that more black women take an interest in the sector, whether for working in it or to stream (someone who streams broadcasts and leads online gaming sessions with an audience). It is important they can project themselves in this world. Then, to inform and support members of the association in their projects. In particular we offer coaching workshops, with professionals who come to talk about their profession. The third axis is providing a support space for people who are subjected to toxic behaviour, by creating a kind space listen, particularly for those who receive racist comments or attacks online. The final axis consists in creating awareness of the general public and actors in the sector through events, partnerships, or interventions with students who will be the professionals of tomorrow.
Afrogameuses gives particular attention to the representation of black women in video games. Can you remind us of the main challenges for this question?
The video game world is dominated by men: women represent about 15% working in the sector. This may explain why women are presented in it in a stereotyped way. They are often oversexualised, even if things are starting to change bit by bit, with female characters becoming more interesting. Black heroines are still subjected to exoticisation phenomena: they appear as fetichised sexual objects. They are often dehumanised, and depicted as being aggressive, void of feelings. They don't have romantic relationships with other characters and are based on using force. So we find the same prejudices found in everyday life. In addition, they almost never have the leading role, because it’s still considered to be a risk for studios and investors. In terms of physical representation, these characters are also sometimes badly designed: the studios don't necessarily have the means to invest in software that will let them create a realistic image in terms of hair, afro hairstyles, or skin colour. In games where you can create your own avatar, these hairstyles sometimes don't exist at all, or they’re not depicted very well.
Where are we today in terms of diversities in video game studios? Is the situation different in France and abroad?
There are no ethnic statistics in France, therefore there are no figures to evaluate the place in studios of people subject to racism, and this is why an association like ours exists. But the pattern is pretty worldwide: overall, few minorities work in tech. There’s a real demand from people subject to racism for studios to put firm provisions in place to make this situation change.
Can you give some examples of video games which have main characters that are subject to racism?
My favourite character is Vella, in the game Broken Age, a mixed race woman, a character who takes her own destiny in hand and gets out of the stereotyped setting. She’s also the main character in the game, which is pretty rare. I also like Darcy Stern, in Urban Chaos, a black woman who plays the role of a policewoman, even if she corresponds to the image of aggressiveness that’s associated with black women all too often. We don’t see many Indian or Pakistani characters at all. There are exceptions. The game Unknown 9 Awakening comes to mind, which hasn't been released yet, where the main character, Haroona, is a little Indian girl.
What are your projects for 2021?
We want to do a study to better measure toxicity in the video game world, not only through black women, but anybody who may be discriminated against. It is important to succeed in quantifying things to define leads to combat this phenomenon. We would also like to address the subject of playtesting, the part in a game’s development where professionals test the game to improve it. Feedback is needed immediately from the people involved when it’s appropriate.
The Institut français offers a platform dedicated to independent video games: culturegamer.fr. To promote this sector, the Institut français realises interview with his actors, such as Jennifer Lufau.
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