African Women in The Gaming Industry

By Shaan Khan (22/02/21)

In a world of information technology, industries are becoming increasingly globalised. Over are the days of international stars being made in Hollywood or K-pop being purely for South Koreans.

It’s no longer ‘The American Dream’, but rather, ‘The Digital Dream’.

Let’s consider the Gaming industry. To play or create a video game, you need access to resources—education, tutorials, software, computers & the internet.

Despite the disparity where some countries have more access than others, we are at a point in history where most nations worldwide can secure this access to video games for their people.

 When individuals have access, they are not limited to becoming a gamer or game designer since the gaming industry has created many avenues of careers & hobbies to explore.

It has become a means of online content creation. You can write, photograph, record or live stream your experiences with gaming and share them onto some of the most popular websites & apps globally, such as YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, Instagram & Twitter.

Some content creators have garnered billions of views and amassed millions of fans, leading to new-age celebrities, including YouTubers with over 20 Million Subscribers such as Ninja and Jacksepticeye, or PewDiePie who has over 100 Million Subscribers!

Not only has it led to fame, but a career sector for creators where advertisers and fans financially support their content—leading some to secure a steady income.

Whether it’s chasing a career or engaging in a fun hobby, a blog from YouTube last December revealed they had 40 million active gaming channels on their platform. Also, a study from Pew Research Center shared that video game related content received the most views on YouTube compared to any other categories.

It’s an industry of consumers & creators in many forms:

  • You can play video games whilst viewers watch and interact with you live on Twitch.
  • Create and wear your favourite video game characters costume and showcase it to people & fans on YouTube or Instagram in this unique art form called ‘Cosplaying’.
  • Write a review about a recent game you played and post it onto your blog or submit it to a media website that will pay you for your work to be hosted on their site.
  • Become good at an online game, then play competitively by competing against others at tournaments for money & trophies in this new world of ‘Esports’.

Millions of people are getting these opportunities from all over the globe, but the sad reality is, African women aren’t and are being unrepresented within the gaming industry.

In this already male-dominated market, over two-thirds of Africa lack internet connection, as reported by the International Telecommunication Union back in 2018. Meaning the lack of internet access limits most African women from playing competitive online games or uploading and broadcasting gaming content onto the internet.

So how can we stop this? Are there changes already being made to fulfil the lives of African women? To experience an industry that has always felt so far away from The Mother of Mankind—The African continent.

Firstly, let’s look at a country recently blessed by the gaming industry—South Africa.

According to a report by Mordor Intelligence this year, the country has over 11 million gamers, with 56% of South African’s having access to the internet. So it’s without question that there are now over 100 South African Esports teams who have won prize money in competitive games, with the top 18 teams earning anything more than $10,000.

With this surge in Esports culture & competitive video games adopting a ‘Free to Play’ model, the gaming industry in South Africa has a market that has profited more than the nation’s movie & music industries.

With South Africans taking full advantage of internet & video game access, I found a website with a list designated to displaying South African Twitch Streamers—currently hosting a whopping’ 622 users!

So an eco-system is there; gaming culture has leaked into South Africa. The first gaming event ever hosted in the country, ‘The 8th Annual BIG Africa Summit’, is shaped to happen post-lockdown. The event will bring together people from all over the industry to celebrate gaming and look at its future that will undoubtedly shape their lives.

But throughout my research, it’s rare to uncover Black women from South Africa taking part in the Gaming Industry.

Black South African women like gamer & podcaster, Limpho Moeti, gives insight into how African women are using an online platform to encourage more African women with internet access to explore the gaming industry.

In a Sunday Times article (2019), Moeti explains that her podcast is about the stories she and her friends share. With her knowledge and experience in gaming, Moeti’s platform is used similarly to my article—where we inform African women about the prevalence of the gaming industry in their countries to direct them towards life-fulfilling opportunities.

Apart from the leaps of advancements occurring in South Africa, what about the rest of the continent?

Thanks to innovations in technology & economic models, the industry should be opened up to more African women than ever before—the start of a tech-centric future in African culture. Let’s call it CyberAfrica.

Take, for instance ‘Starlink’, one of the few projects currently in development by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Shaped to be ‘The Internet of the Future’, SpaceX will launch & station tens of thousands of Starlink satellites within low-altitude of earth—providing an effective means for worldwide internet coverage.

With thousands of Starlink satellites launched thus far, lucky few, like YouTuber’ Linus Tech Tips, uploaded a video in which he tested this technology and showed results that even in its early stage, Starlink’s internet speeds & connection are sufficient enough for everyday use like gaming. Linus goes onto discuss the plans of improvements that will be made to the technology as outlined by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

With Starlink’s website stating its technology is ‘ideal for rural & remote communities’, this poises itself as a solution to the rural-majority population that makeup Sub-Saharan Africa who lack internet access. So Starlink is a means of combating the issue that holds African women back from lucrative & culturally fulfilling industries like the gaming one that’s accessible from the comforts of their homes.

But Starlink is simply a business product that will come at the cost of $99 USD a month at its early stage in beta testing but is expected to drop in price over time. However, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has made a humanitarian push by providing free Starlink internet access to a school and rural citizens in Texas that do not have broadband access.

We could also see humanitarian organisations pushing to provide this service to impoverished communities all over Africa as we witness with organisations that are providing computers to Africans.

For example:

  • Computer Aid – a non-profit fund with large corporate donors such as Sony Pictures and British Airways. They have provided 260,000 computers to over 100 countries. Their website’s most recent article stories are on schools over Africa they have supplied with desktops & other digital devices. The articles detail how they have impacted African lives—empowering its women to discover global markets accessed online they can capitalise on, such as the gaming industry.

With pushes to provide Africa with internet & computer technology, African women must be taught digital proficiency to navigate the web, create and play video games or produce any form of online content. Here is an example of a non-profit group that provides just that:

  • WeTech – an organisation that has opened up a network of funding called ‘Seed Fund’ to support African girls & women with grant funding that gives them access to computer science education.

These technological innovations & humanitarian efforts are the foundations—Africa’s key to the gaming industry.

But to build onto that foundation and become recognised by the millions of gamers behind the door of the gaming industry—African women need something more than just internet access, computers or teaching.

They need encouragement.

It can be intimidating to enter a world of culture so unknowing, where people in other continents have been a part of for years. They know the lingo, have amassed followings and money that gives them stability whenever they work on their next project in the gaming industry—this could be making a relevant meme, a YouTube video or even an RPG.

Where do African women start?! It’s like a gazelle about to step its toes in a muddy pool full of crocs & hippos.

Well, it starts with a helping hand.

Online Influencers

Internet users today (like myself) are here to offer direction and some even direct support. Games Industry Africa (GIA) is a website that keeps people in the know and informs them of the stories and news occurring in Africa’s video game industry.

GIA

They feature stories & interviews with African women who are both in video game production and content creation. A recent article written by freelance writer’ Wendi Ndaki at the intersection of games, art and IT—gives her background on getting involved in the industry and what in her experience does she find fulfilling about it.

Ndaki outlines to her audience a theme of game design she finds exciting called ‘Gamification’—combining traditional game mechanics with non-traditional themes in gaming such as education and health.

She then informs her readers of games of this nature tailored to the African continent. Games that can appeal to African women, such as ‘Hello Nurse’ to help trainee nurses & midwives or ‘Moraba’ that aims to empower young Africans in preventing and acting against gender-based violence they encounter. This newfound knowledge may lead African women to take more interest in game design after learning about these unique types of video games that they can create, relate to, and that appeal to them.

Prosearium.net

Another empowering website for African women is Prosearium.net that documents the existence and rise of African women within the gaming sector. They post article profiles of these women containing interviews to offer insight to audiences on getting into the gaming industry and why.

The website encourages African women to contact them and other fellow users on the site—even offering African women online or physical workshops to learn more about the industry.

There is a live infographic on the homepage that actively tracks and presents the increase of African women participation in the gaming industry to make them feel like they’re not alone if they take up this cultural venture.

Being furthermore welcoming and voicing their support for Black African women is high-profile social influencers that have been in positions of disparity within gaming due to their gender, ethnicity or skin colour.

Black Girl Gamers (BGG)

A safe space for Black women all over the globe to connect with a multi-platform community across Facebook, Discord, Twitch, Twitter and Instagram—under the banner of Black Girl Gamers.

It’s become a cultural phenomenon. The community rally together on social platforms and makes their presence known within the gaming industry by inserting themselves into gaming discussions.

Such mobility of the community has garnered the attention of Twitter, which featured an article on the group and its lead influencer & founder’ Jay-Ann Lopez.

The community she started has carved out a home in this world of gaming for Black women worldwide, so that includes African women. On the BGG official Twitter account with now over 42,000 followers, the user actively promotes Twitch live streamers, articles or stories of Black women making themselves known within the industry.

Here is a recent tweet from the BGG Twitter account that highlights how the community asserts itself into gaming related discussions by making themselves and their movement known to gamers worldwide—that Black women gamers exist and belong in the gaming industry as much as anyone else does.

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