I'm 24 and I love video games.
The first reaction to this statement usually goes along the lines of, “Wena? Really? Yoh, why games?” Or my favourite, “Wow, your boyfriend is a lucky guy!”
I have grown quite used to these remarks, but it wasn’t always like that.
My love for gaming began at a young age after my dad once brought home an old PC that was being thrown away at his workplace. Luckily for me, the computer was loaded with some games to keep me busy. I remember playing the likes of Doom, Dangerous Dave, Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety and DX-Ball.
But it wasn’t until I bought my very first video game that I truly fell in love with this interactive art form. The game was called Assassin’s Creed. There was something so thrilling about the invincibility and passion of the protagonist, Altaïr, that confronted me about my lack of self-assurance in the real world.
In reality, I was an ordinary black girl who always wanted and loved the black Barbie doll I never got but I also loved gadgets and saw myself more as a techie.
I finally got the chance to attend the rAge expo in 2014 and what I saw there changed me. The first thing that caught my eye was how many white people there were. Look, the lack of black gamers, cosplayers and developers stunned me. I felt like an anomaly.
To be honest, I think that there aren't many more of us because of access.
Gaming is still seen as a luxury hobby, easily running bills to the thousands. There is the obvious challenge of access to financial resources - my family couldn’t splurge on gaming due to the requirements – from a capable PC to decent uninterrupted internet connectivity and lots of practice.
A brand-new console, current-generation, will easily set you back R7 500. These next-gen consoles are made with 4K resolution capabilities and so are the games. So, that means if you want to truly enjoy the full power of the console and games, you would need a 4K-capable TV or monitor. Extra standard edition controllers cost around R1 000, while brand-new games go for the same amount when released.
PC gaming has its own costs too – from quality processors to graphics cards, a powerful mouse and keyboard (that’s if you didn’t opt for a gaming laptop instead). This isn’t taking into account the cost of good fibre connectivity if you want to play or compete online. It really isn’t cheap. But there are ways to pay less if you really want to get into it. You can purchase a second-hand console and pre-owned games which are usually cheaper than brand new titles.
There are also game stores where you can trade-in and swop your old games for different ones. I am unashamedly a budget-gamer, and that’s okay.
Professional gaming, although growing in popularity, requires a lot of financial backing and this can discourage the aspiring player.
As a woman, there is this almost unwritten expectation for you to prove yourself as a “true” gamer. You get comments like, “Do you even know what you’re doing?”
I dread the online gaming space, which has been known for its discrimination (women receive the bulk of it) and misogyny.
I recently met a black woman in gaming, Limpho Moeti, who is a part of the South African independent game development studio called Free Lives. I was so excited to see someone who looked like me and loved games too. I believe that more black girls are waiting for the same moment. Most black women and girls that I meet are surprised that gaming could even be something they could find fun to do; I mean, aren’t there better things to be doing with your time?
One of my favourite women in the industry, Hanli Geyser, the head of Digital Arts at Wits, gave an honest and moving talk at the Make Games Africa Week last year in Cape Town. Her talk was titled, “Decolonising games education.” She explored the truth that is: gaming is a white male dominated industry and fixing that begins with the very gaming education being given in universities. And in schools. Some toes were stepped on, but we were all enlightened.
Essentially it is also important to know that gaming isn’t just playing games – it involves art, animation, programming and even design.
There are a lot more great things about the industry as well.
In 2016, the editor of online gaming magazine - Gamecca - Walt Pretorius offered me the opportunity to become a writer for the publication. I was so proud to be a black, female contributor to gaming. I could lend my voice and lens into video games with the freedom to be myself.
Last year I was privileged enough to be a part of the very first A MAZE Train JamSouth Africa 2018. This was organised by playful media and arts curator and creative director, Thorsten S. Wiedemann in partnership with the Goethe-Institut Johannesburg. Thirty gamemakers boarded the Shosholoza Meyl from Johannesburg to Cape Town in a 30+ hour ride to collaborate and create games.
By the end of it, 10 beautiful games were made and uploaded for play online. This initiative is such a safe and welcoming space where creativity is encouraged and the only limits are those that are self-imposed.
In my wonderful conversations with Thorsten, he mentioned how his drive to have independent gaming events and experiences and in South Africa particularly, is to see games and interactive art with a truly African narrative; a platform where our stories can be told our way. Knowing that one day, the African child can dream, create and tell a story the whole world can play is beautiful to me.