GamesIndustry.biz Game Changers is a series of profiles on the groups and individuals going the extra mile to make the games industry a better place. These interviews encompass folks from around the world helping to improve conditions and attitudes towards diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, mental health and more. You can read more Game Changers interviews here.
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"I just didn't want to feel powerless anymore."
That's how Jennifer Lufau explains what led her to create non-profit organisation Afrogameuses in 2020.
Born in Togo, Lufau has been a gamer since her childhood across Benin and France. Now based in Paris, she credits gaming for helping her develop her leadership and communication skills as well as making lifelong friends.
"But I also came across toxicity while playing online," she tells GamesIndustry.biz. "This is something that really marked me when I was a teenager. Getting sexist comments, racist comments, and it never really left me. Although it was on my mind, I couldn't really put words on it."
It wasn't until 2020 and the pandemic that she started voicing her experience on a blog and talking to women who have similar stories – these were the seeds that ultimately led to Afrogameuses blooming.
"I really felt validated because all these people that I didn't know agreed with me"
"I interviewed four Black women in the industry – that I didn't find in France actually," she explains. "I went through forums, and that's where I found four women from the US, Canada, Madagascar and the Netherlands.
"And these women just confirmed everything that I'd been talking about. They confirmed that they experienced the same thing; a lot of positive sides to playing video games, but also the toxic parts that are not often talked about when it comes to our gender and the colour of our skin."
After a lot of research on the topic, she reached out to Women in Games France and other associations working on inclusion in games, created social media channels, thought of ways to structure and officialise her ideas, and things fell into place nicely, leading to the creation of a community of gamers and streamers, "to find other people looking like me, so that we could play together," Lufau explains.
"And then it became much more than that; creating that space, making it an official non-profit, that could work towards more tolerance and more inclusion in the gaming industry. I did a very small crowdfunding to start off the project and, to my surprise, a lot of people gave us some money and that's how the project started. And I really felt validated because all these people that I didn't know agreed with me."
Since its creation, Afrogameuses has grown far beyond its initial goal, working on a wealth of actions, including training, awareness initiatives, workshops, and more, all geared towards a French-speaking audience.
"The goal of Afrogameuses, the very first one, is to provide a community – a safe space – for Black women, mostly. And that's why I chose the name Afrogameuses, I wanted to make it very clear that the target was us, was them. Because there are no initiatives like that and we are not really perceived as gamers.
"When you talk about 'the gamer', the first image you get in your mind is not that of a Black woman playing video games. So I wanted to change that perspective. Our very first action is to give them more visibility and show that, yes, you can look like this and play games."
It's also about telling Black women that they are indeed gamers, Lufau continues, as they don't often self-identify as such because they might only play sparingly or play only a particular genre of games, she explains.
"I wanted them to be more confident about their gaming habits," she adds. "So, [our] first action is [to] provide more visibility and awareness to the public eye that we do exist as consumers, as content creators, as developers. We are here. We are in the industry, so we must be taken into consideration. Second part would be about professionalising us, just going from a passive habit to becoming more proactive within the industry."
"When you talk about 'the gamer', the first image you get in your mind is not that of a Black woman playing video games. So I wanted to change that perspective"
Afrogameuses also aims to push more people into content creation, working in the industry, and studying video games. It's about showing that gaming isn't just tech, and that there's a breadth of possible jobs under the wider games label.
"There's a lot of work that we do just giving more information about the jobs that exist in the industry," Lufau says. "We have these Twitch masterclasses where we invite people to come and tell us about their jobs, a lot of different [things], and it's always enlightening to see how people ask questions. Because they just had no idea. And we also try to go to schools and high schools to tell kids that this is a path that they could join if they wanted to."
Reaching out to school to raise awareness of possible jobs in games is particularly important to Lufau as she notes that "in a lot of Black families and African families, gaming is not taken as a serious career path."
"It's also about changing that narrative and showing that, okay, your kid is playing a lot of Fortnite, [but] pay attention to what skills that they're learning from [games], maybe [introduce them] to different genres that exist. And if your kids like a specific side of a game, maybe they could actually work towards improving their specific skills in that area, and just projecting themselves within the industry [as] a career path.
"We have an event called Gaming Queens that we do on Twitch. Women come over on our channel to talk about their professions. We try to bring out a diversity of profiles, of backgrounds, of jobs. And that's something that really works out well. It happens every year, we've done it twice now, and it's just a great time."
Lufau is keen to highlight another Afrogameuses event — incidentally also called Game Changers — that she wants to make a bigger splash with in 2023.
"It happens around October, and we invite people in real life, not on Twitch. We partner with studios and institutions, and we have these people come over to talk about their backgrounds, their jobs. And the whole point of this is to show that there are different paths to joining the video game industry. This is one of our most cherished projects. And so [this] year, I just want to find more partners and more people to invite and make it bigger."
While the date for the next Game Changers hasn't been announced yet, there's always the next Gaming Queens in the meantime, which will take place on March 11th on twitch.tv/afrogameuses.
Twitch is a prime platform for Afrogameuses, where the association has also been hard at work to promote the visibility of Black streamers.
"We want to do things, we want to improve the industry, but we can't just do it alone on our own"
"There's important work that we do on Twitch to showcase and highlight more Black women because, usually, if you just go on Twitch, your feed will not recommend you a profile who happens to be a Black woman. That will be very rare. I have been using Twitch since I was a teenager and I just saw no Black women on that platform unless I went towards the US, the American profiles."
Lufau also wants to hold Twitch accountable for the toxicity happening on its platform, saying that this common experience of misogyny and racism is "the one thing that unites the people within Afrogameuses."
"That toxic side needs to stop and this is the biggest challenge that we have. It takes a lot and it has consequences on people's mental health. So my message on this topic would be that I call for more responsibility on the content creation platforms, Twitch and YouTube. [It's] on them to actually punish people. You're not doing that right now. They need to take action. We are in contact with Twitch, and we expect a lot more."
Lufau also highlights the importance for her to build Afrogameuses as a French-speaking space and facing "our own French reality" when it comes to misogyny and racism.
"I [don't] want us to be like, 'Hey, you're importing problems from the US'," she explains. "I wanted us to be very, very focused on France and French-speaking countries. When I started I was basically the only Black female streamer that I knew [of] and now there's more than 70 people within the association. So I'm very proud of that."
French law doesn't allow the tracking of ethnic data, meaning it's difficult to have any accurate idea of the diversity of the French games industry, for instance. We ask Lufau about how France is doing on that front, and the issues facing specifically Black women in games in the country.
"Well it's very simple, it's not being talked about," she says. "There is nothing. We talk a lot about general diversity, getting more women, [and] I think that we're starting to talk more about accessibility and including more LGBTQIA+ people, but the colour topic is a taboo in France.
"We are here. We are in the industry, so we must be taken into consideration"
"We do not want to talk about it because France wants to be this universal republic where we don't see colours and everything is, you know, 'la vie en rose'. I was very scared about people rejecting everything that I was planning for Afrogameuses because people would call us extremists. And in the end we didn't get that much hate. People do care – not everybody, but having the support of the industry as a whole also is very important to me.
"We want to do things, we want to improve the industry, but we can't just do it alone on our own. We want to work with studios, with institutions, and that's exactly what we're doing. And at least now, when it comes to hiring diverse talents, for example, or just having more diversity in your playtesters and inviting content creators, it's not always the same people that we know of. These are now possibilities that didn't exist before. Because people just didn't know where to find Black women or diverse profiles in general."
We ask Lufau what more the industry can do to support Afrogameuses.
"We wouldn't have to talk about it that much if we were being shown more as existing and as being proactive within the industry"
"The best way to support us is to normalise us," she answers. "In gaming we have so many events [and] I check out the panels and the speakers, and very rarely do I see profiles that come from a diverse background. And that's a shame. The few profiles that would be Black people, or people of colour in general, would come over to talk about diversity. This is something that pisses me off. You have all of these expert conferences, these talks about how to do this and that... Does that mean you can't find one person of colour to come over and share their expertise? I don't think so. We are within the industry. We do exist.
"So when I say we want to be normalised, it's just: think about us when you want to do something. Check out your panels. Go and try and find us. Because we are already trying to be part of the industry. We are already doing our best, despite the challenges, the obstacles.
"So I feel like the industry should put more effort towards actually finding us and putting us in the spotlight just to talk about our expertise, whatever it is that we do in gaming. And to me, acting as a role model would have much more of an impact rather than having us come and talk about diversity. Because I feel like everybody is sick of it to be honest. Even I am sick of talking about it, you know, I keep repeating the same stuff all the time! We wouldn't have to talk about it that much if we were being shown more as existing and as being proactive within the industry."
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