asmine’s perseverance and tenacity helped her break into the gaming industry as a writer. Here, she shares her journey with us.
Please introduce yourself.
Hi! My name’s Jasmine Moore. I’m an American writer at Frontier Developments, working on a major content release for the iconic space simulator, Elite: Dangerous. Though I’m new to the AAA scene, I’ve always been a storyteller, specifically for prose and screen.
How did you get into the video games industry?
Breaking into the industry was a real test of will. Video games, as a university discipline was just emerging when I entered college. Though I knew my passion lied in the industry, I didn’t have aspirations of being a designer or programmer. I’ve always wanted to write game stories: plot out big missions, stage setpiece cutscenes — design an interactive plot and watch it weave into something unforgettable as the player ventures through.
I briefly studied animation and digital art in hopes of “breaking in” via an auxiliary department, before recognizing that wouldn’t net the best results. Instead, I decided to wade into the industry as I truly am: a black writer with an interest in production and audio.
Growing up, I identified with fantasy games like Fate and Diablo, venturing deep into obscure MMOs and spending countless hours in open-world RPGs like Fallout and Dragon Age. As much as I loved immersing myself in those worlds, the inescapable fact was that there weren’t many characters who looked like me.
Sure, we had Sheva from Resident Evil, Aveline from Assassin’s Creed, Vivienne from Dragon Age and Ikora Rey from Destiny. But by the time these characters emerged, I was already an adult. What’s worse, these women had painfully flat characterizations when contrasted with their co-stars, often relegated to the “strong and stoic” archetype, if given one at all.
That along with the often cruel community reception was a harsh reminder that despite progress being made, black women are still the other in gaming.
I remembered the slurs levelled at me from a young age while running raids, the harassment, and dehumanization I faced when trying to enjoy what is billed as a universally-enjoyable activity.
Turning that tide, however minutely, was what spurred me to enter games as a career.
It wasn’t easy. Every article or how-to resource I read was vague at best — “play games and go to cons” — or discouraging at worst, with one piece spending a quarter of its length convincing the reader that becoming a games writer is a fool’s errand.
My attempts at head-on research were clumsy, so I decided to gain intel from the backend. Before my current role, I took a job as a creative recruiter for the top Silicon Valley companies, gleaning all the insight I could into the professional landscape surrounding tech and entertainment.
What I quickly learned was that I wasn’t good enough, yet. Regardless of your identity, life as a creative is a constant push-pull between raw talent and knowledge of how to harness it.
Sure, I could write. By that time I’d completed a fantasy novel, several minicomics, and host of transformative fan works. But was it packaged in a way that companies without the knowledge of me could digest? No. And that was the work I needed to do.
So I spent a year refining my portfolio. For every Creative Director or 3D Artist I got hired, I dedicated twice the time to studying their work, learning how to make myself professionally viable in my field. Granted, it wasn’t a 1:1 relationship. But the lessons I learned in copy, presentation, and style were invaluable as I developed my catalogue.
In time, I came up with a broad-spectrum game plan. First, I compiled a list of top studios I wanted to work for. Then, I wrote glorified fan-fiction, spinning a hobby I’d loved for years into mini screenplays for my favourite games. I polished a novel excerpt, added my previous work in advertising (with a narrative slant), and crossed my fingers.
It took about a year for me to gain traction. None of my dream studios advanced my application, likely due to lack of experience. In the meantime, I ventured into Reddit’s I Need A Team forum, looking for indie projects I could attach myself to for practice.
The whole process was daunting. I worked on two indie projects as the only woman and POC onboard. At first, I was afraid to voice my opinions, anxious about incurring wrath or being kicked off of the team.
To my pleasant surprise, both teams were receptive to my ideas and expertise as a writer, even giving me some control over aspects of creative direction. True, these were demos that never came to full dev fruition, but it gave me the confidence necessary to “run with the big dogs.”
So I did.
These projects under my belt, I updated my site and started tackling the AAAs. It was difficult, especially given the swath of titles used for my role at different studios. For some, it’s “Narrative Designer.” For others, it’s “Game Designer”, “Game Writer”, or just “Writer.”
Still I pushed, spending hours scouring speciality job boards, sending InMail, and honing my portfolio until I landed the interview (and eventually, the role) at Frontier.
In the time I’ve spent at a AAA studio, the most significant oversight I’ve seen in inclusion has been the lack of familiarity creative leads have with the scene of their disciplines. Many directors in design, art, narrative, et., don’t have their finger on the pulse of the creative community on social media (Twitter and Instagram in particular). If they do, they usually only follow the top influencers within those fields, thus missing the talent showcase hashtags, which are the primary avenue for creatives of colour looking to get discovered.
The good news is that diversity is more often on teams’ minds, with more representative skin shaders, character models, and body types being added to games to reflect the real world.
The bad news is that when it comes to including black women, we’re often overlooked in preference of a black man or another woman of colour. It in itself is not an issue as I believe representation across all races, genders and sexualities is an essential part of changing the landscape.
However, there is a certain blindness these teams display when faced with the task of incorporating a black woman in their universe.
How dark is she? How large? Is her hair pin-straight, or does she have an “ethnic” hairstyle? Can we name her ‘Tiana’, or is that stereotypical? Is her backstory as a grizzled war veteran honorary, or are we pushing the same “strong black woman” narrative that continues to damage and exhaust the community?
In your opinion, what efforts the video game industry can make to attract and retain talents from a diverse background? And for black women?
These are the questions dev teams subconsciously ask themselves. The answers are often insufficient, and without representative voices to present an alternative viewpoint, the easiest path to “inclusion” is taken.
It is not enough. To attract and retain black female talent, you must show care for the black female gaming experience. Ask us how it feels to exist in a fantasy or sci-fi universe; take time to hold workshops or online critiques for black portfolios, providing valuable feedback about what you’re looking for as a studio in conjunction with how they can land their desired role.
Show care, because ultimately black women buy your games. We write stories and draw art based on your universes. We invest in your properties. It’s only fair for game studios — that spend millions rendering picture-perfect graphics for a sky or deer or water or fabric — learn how to tell compelling stories about black women, render our hair properly, and show us respect as human beings in the worlds they craft.
It starts with a conversation, along with sharing the insider information, so many industry contacts hoard for their closest associates. Games are a lucrative, evolving medium with plenty of room for everyone. Evolution only occurs when fresh voices from all walks of life are given a shot at making their mark in the field.
Any words of advice for anyone looking to be part of the games industry today? To anyone of colour looking to enter video games, I’ll level with you: it’s tough. I’m often the only woman in a meeting. I’m *always* the only black woman. I’m younger than half my colleagues, from a different country with life experiences they can never truly understand.
I’m often anxious, constantly overcoming the desire to stay silent or shy away from making myself heard in hopes of being “acceptable”. But I’ve learned there’s no merit in that approach.
Make yourself heard. Ask questions. If you’re an incoming hopeful, know that you don’t need formal game design training to make it in this industry. Stay hungry and seek out arenas to test your skills. Link up on indie projects, join interest groups, and don’t shy away if you’re the only person who looks like you on the team.
Whether you’re an artist, writer, coder, or composer, there is room for you in games. All you have to do is keep knocking until a door opens.