Happy Black History Month! Race is something I care deeply about, and it directly affects me personally, so I want to use the month of February as a point to bring more topics about race into discussions. To start off, I want to talk about this week’s web crush: the Spawn On Me podcast, a show about video games and other nerdy topics from a Black viewpoint. [Content warning in podcast for adult language.]
The nerd/geek/enthusiast/whatever-you-want-to-call-it space is extremely diverse. This becomes more clear every day, with more focus on gender and racial diversity than ever before. Despite the push, we’re not at an ideal representation point, and many members of the geek space are making huge efforts to increase visibility.
The hosts themselves represent a fresh take in demographics as well. Kahlief and Cicero are both Black, a group that is often underrepresented in both games and discussion. Something I particularly love is how unabashedly “Black” their show is. This is apparent in their slang and speech, sure, but also in the tone of discussion and their experiences. Furthermore, they have a music break that is typically hip-hop or R&B related, another relative oddity in gaming media. However, the “Blackness” of the show is not exclusionary; although the hosts stay true to themselves, they don’t at any point suggest that people who don’t share their interests and experiences are wrong. This is important, as it again shows us that there isn’t just one “normal” viewpoint, but several.
Although racial diversity is a plus, gender diversity is very important and the main hosts just don’t cover that on their own. However, they remedy this by having women as guests on the show for various reasons—developers, program managers, critics, etc. And though they do delve into questions along the path of “What is it like to be a woman in X?” they (and the guests, especially) note that that isn’t the only thing they want to be known for. In other words, they don’t just want to be the-woman-who-fills-the-quota, but also someone whose opinion is valued on its own. The women from Code Liberation discussed this in Episode 44.
Lastly, the hosts and show represent another demographic that I believe deserves more attention. The type of games that exist is extensive: fighting, platforming, story based, sports, shooters, and so forth. People often have personalities and interests that align in some way with their preference in games, and that is no different here. The hosts are sports fans, particularly basketball fans (without feeling like members of “bro-culture”). With this comes a love for the NBA 2K series of games. Video game fandoms and sports fandoms often don’t intersect, which I find to be a huge shame because of the parallels involved. Passion is passion! But as sports simulation games inherently have different goals than other genres, there is another sort of analytical view that can be applied to them. Kahlief and Cicero bring that mindset to the table not only for the 2K games, but other games and topics. They definitely cover other types of games, so if you aren’t a sports fan, don’t let this turn you away. But really, the viewpoint is new and refreshing.
Other than being diverse, an important component of this podcast is its commitment to activism. I don’t want to give any more time to Gamergate as I’m more than tired of talking about it, but I do want to mention that they were among the first male-led outlets to publicly and openly (and gosh were they direct about it!) condemn the group and harassment that was going on (in Episode 33: A Line in the Sand). Beyond that, they ran a charity gaming marathon last month to support the families of victims of police brutality. The #Spawn4Good Gaming Marathon was a success in raising money for the family of Eric Garner and bringing more awareness to the #BlackLivesMatter campaigns. I enjoy games and believe that they have the potential to be a a very powerful art medium, but I also recognize that there are many important issues going on in the world that need attention. It is immensely inspiring to see a marriage of these ideas for positivity.
Overall, I find the Spawn On Me podcast to be a breath of fresh air in the industry. I say it at least once a month, representation matters; not just in our media, but also in the fan work, criticism, and discussion of said media. (This topic was covered with the woman behind #INeedDiverseGames in Episode 36.) Hearing people who sound like me and also enjoy the same things I do makes me feel more welcome in my hobbies. It helps me remember that I do have a place here. These kind of voices are also positive for people from other demographics; it reinforces the idea that we are united under the same interests, and although we may be different, these differences shouldn’t separate us. For this reason, I recommend you check out the Spawn On Me podcast or on Twitter @SpawnOnMe!