ICYMI, Black women gamers are winning in the world of online streaming. Digital creator Katie “PikaChulita” Robinson and UK streamer Danielle “Ebonix'' Udogaranya are proof of that, breaking barriers and finding success in an industry initially built to keep them out. In 2020, Udogaranya, the co-founder of Black Twitch UK, became the first Black woman in the UK to be a Twitch partner. And this year, Robinson was one of four honored in Doritos’ Solid Black Changemakers Initiative, which provides resources and a platform for Black changemakers using innovation to give back to their communities. She shared $200,000 with her fellow honorees and received $25,000 to donate to the charity of her choice, CodeCrew, a win that culminated in attending the BET Awards in June.
All of these flowers are in defiance of the barriers Black women face online. For many Black women gamers, some of their most formative gaming experiences were informed by a lack of resources, support, and accurate representation, both in the makeup of the industry — with the demographics of their fellow gamers and streamers — and in the actual games they loved so much. “I definitely felt like a fish out of water [when I started gaming in 2014],” Robinson said on Refinery29’s Twitch channel.
Speaking Thursday, both Robinson and Udogaranya shared their experiences facing misogynoir — “the specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward Black women” — in the world of gaming. Coined by academic Moya Bailey, this type of discrimination encompasses everything from hateful comments to not having shade representation and inclusivity in the makeup aisle. Or, in gaming, not being able to create a Sim that looks like you and your IRL family.
And in the world of gaming, a historically male-dominated space not welcoming to those outside those very narrow parameters, Robinson and Udogaranya, as well as other Black female gamers, have faced this head on — consistently. “Gaming [has] historically been very toxic and very unwelcoming to people like us, to women, to people of color, but especially women of color,” Robinson said. “I've faced gender-based harassment, comments on my gaming skills, or sexual harassment; but then I have also dealt with race-based comments.”
Beyond the hurtful commentary from faceless trolls in stream chats, further discrimination has come from a dearth of relatable and representative avatars in games like The Sims and Grand Theft Auto. Or sometimes just straight up offensive depictions. Robinson recalled a recent example of this, when a friend and her were looking into a to-be-released game. It looked cool, she said, but then they looked closer at footage from the game, something else popped up. “We were noticing there were characters that were clearly Black, Indigenous tribal characters, they had dreadlocks and dark skin, but their masks that they were wearing had that old caricature, stereotypical look with crude big red lips.”
Misrepresentations like these are the result of an all too common problem across many industries but especially in gaming, the fact that, “these games are oftentimes not made by people that look like us,” Robinson said. (In other words, it’s all cis, white men at the top).
Which is why gamers on the ground are leading the charge to make change. Frustrated with the lack of representation in The Sims, Udogaranya taught herself how to 3D model in order to bring more accurate representations of Black hair into the game (other creators like Xmiramira have combatted this by creating their own Melanin Pack for the game). “I [taught] myself how to make braids, locs, curls, and fros so that we would have those options. I was sick of the cauliflower fros, the locs that just look play-doh. I was like: nah, that’s not us.”
While admiral to take the lead, it can be difficult — and taxing — to get any real and effective change made. Oftentimes, Robinson noted, Black women are chastised for voicing concerns about representation or avatars who are offensive or not culturally correct, deemed “snowflakes” or thought of as “Black people always take issues with something.” Robinson recalled.
“It's like they [don’t] understand that we wouldn't have so much stuff to take an issue with if people would just do things right and do what they need to do,” she said. “There's so many things that people don't do right by marginalized communities… that's why we constantly have to say stuff. If they would get it right the first time, you wouldn't hear a peep out of us.”
And also, it’s just kind of unfair, not to mention baffling that content creators like Udogaranya have to take on the jobs multi-million gaming companies should be doing from the onset. “I was getting to the point, which is like if [companies are] not even going to care about the game as much as I'm caring about how much representation is needed in the game, then what is even the point of still doing it?” Udogaranya said.
Despite this emotional toll, Udogaranya said the work is worth it, if for the community response. The content creator consistently refers back to the story of a woman who reached out asking her to make a specific hair pattern for her niece in The Sims, who, at the time, wasn’t making any Black families in the game.
“She asked me to make her niece's hairstyle so that she could make herself as a Sim and she could see how beautiful she looked in the game and how beautiful melanin looks in the game.” Three weeks later, the aunt reached out again. “[She said] ‘you completely changed my niece's perspective of herself and how she's able to play the game. She's been making Black families nonstop.’ That always takes me back to the reason why I do everything.”
And why she’s succeeding. As R29 Twitch host and Entertainment Director Melissah Yang said during the stream, regardless of the obstacles Black female gamers continue to face: “Black women are here on Twitch and they’re winning.” And they’re not stopping there. “A mantra that [Danielle and I] practice is not doing this sort of stuff alone,” Robinson said. “I don't think it's going to be worth anything to be ‘top’ whatever that may look like without bringing people along with us. We don't want just a couple of us up there. You got to bring all the rest of us. We're doing it for us.”