Jay-Ann Lopez, CEO and founder of Black Girl Gamers, was inspired to start her community-powered business when she found herself feeling lonely online after struggling to find other Black women who were interested in gaming.

Words by Fayola Douglas,
Brand Editor, Amplify.

Having faced sexism and racism while gaming, Lopez sought out like-minded online comrades on social networks to develop a new community that she could feel part of. Black Girl Gamers has evolved into a multi-platform, female and LGBTQIA+ inclusive online gaming community of over 8,000 Black women that share a passion for gaming. The platform aims to heighten its community’s voices.

Establishing community

Black Girl Gamers started off as a passion project. I was lonely when it came to gaming online. I didn’t have many Black woman friends who played games. When you play games and you’re a woman and Black, you will experience racism, sexism, or a mixture of both. To avoid that, I created a Facebook group and invited some women that I had met on social media to join. As the community grew, the business also grew, becoming a community-powered business that works on consulting, events, talent brokering, content and community workshops. As well as being able to show gaming content and the latest news, we’re also challenging the industry to do better and be better when it comes to representation, diversity and equity and inclusion for women, underrepresented people and marginalised sexualities and orientations.

With the community, we have rules and codes of conduct because you can have bad actors in any community, regardless of race or gender, sexuality, or orientation. Our community values became our brand values and our brand ethos, and that’s how our brand grew. When you’re creating worlds, it is important to build a system so that the world revolves around the essence that you built it on. If you don’t maintain that essence, then it’s not the world you’re creating, it’s the world it’s become. And that’s completely different.

Brand connections

I think brands need to pay attention to the fact that there’s going to be a lot of TV, film, gaming and IP crossover in the next two years. It’s already happening with The Last of Us, The Witcher, Cuphead, Sonic and Super Mario. TV and film is an unexpected area for a business like ours but it actually makes perfect sense.

Recently we worked with Paramount around the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. We sent members of the BGG community to free screenings across the US and all we asked for was a video or photo in return. It created a sense of excitement – some members met up to go together, others were able to take their kids, everyone had a good time.

It’s really important to understand that gamers don’t just want to be in the house by themselves. If you look at E3, the Game Awards, Pax East and Twitch Con, there are loads of events where gamers want to come together, because ultimately, even though there are lots of single-player games, there are lots of community games and gamers like to share their love of gaming with other gamers. Ultimately, gamers like to feel close to publishers, they like to feel special, and they like to feel like they have the in on something. So, you can work with communities and influencers as part of IRL activations that will propel your brand.

Beautiful crossover

Avatar: The Last Airbender is my favourite cartoon of all time. It has elements of Asian culture, but also really great life lessons about balance, right versus wrong, the greater good, and spirituality. Whenever I want to just unwind I’ll just watch it again for the 500th time, I am fully immersed in that world.

I pay attention to a lot of marginalised, independent designers. I love Hanifa, Brandon Blackwood and the magazine and platform Black Fashion Fair. I think fashion is one of the ultimate ways to express yourself. I’ve recently been doing some work with Kurt Geiger
and adidas. It’s been nice to show my whole self. What typically happens with gamers is we get put into the gamer box and no one else wants to touch us. I’m showing that gamers can have so many more passions than just playing a game.

The crossover between gaming, beauty and fashion seems to be unexpected, but it’s actually really harmonious. I created and co-produced an event called Gamer Girls Night In, which is an event specifically for women and non-binary people in gaming with fashion and beauty elements. There’s a nail bar, DJs, custom cocktails, gaming areas and career clinics. We had Riot, Twitter, YouTube, NYX Cosmetics, 2K and Ubisoft as sponsors.

I really like taking inspiration from different places and am inspired by other creatives in anything from art and photography to fashion and nail art. Ultimately, what drives me is creating legacy and self-expression – legacy for myself and my community and authenticity, being my best self in this thing we call life. Life’s too short is one of my mottos.

New vanguard of storytellers

In TV, film and games, I think there’s going to be a new vanguard of underrepresented, marginalised individuals who are going to create some fantastic stories. Old gatekeepers are going to have to take a step back and understand that the same gaming franchises and
stories that they want to keep telling to generate profit are just not going to do as well. They have to really relinquish some of that power to those who haven’t had it historically and allow them to create new, exciting, innovative stories.

There’s a game coming out called Black Myth: Wukong. It’s the kind of game that we’ll see come to the forefront. That space is often occupied by games like The Last of Us – games with great IPs but typically have a middle-aged white man who has lost a daughter or wife, has a gruff look, is very burly and closed-off emotionally. I think those characters are going to fizzle out eventually and different types of protagonists are going to take the stage. I loved The Last of Us, Uncharted and other similar titles, but give me something else – I’m ready.