Black creativity, Black representation: why the games industry needs more of both

In the 1970s, an engineer named Jerry Lawson designed one of the earliest video game consoles, the Channel F, and also led the team that invented the game cartridge. His innovation defined how games were made and sold. Black innovators like Jerry have been present and influential since the earliest days of the video games industry. Many more like him haven’t received the same recognition as their white colleagues.

Black people are underrepresented in the video games industry. According to the IDGA Developer Satisfaction Survey (2021), only 4% of game developers globally identified as Black, African American, African or Afro-Caribbean. Across all respondents, an overwhelming 90% felt that diversity in the game industry was important.

Representation matters. It matters because what we see in the arts and the media doesn’t just reflect reality, it shapes it. Positive representation shifts and forms public opinion, and can facilitate greater understanding and appreciation between cultures and communities.

This year, for Black History Month, we spoke to some of our Hawks to get a sense of what representation means to them.

Was there a particular moment when you fell in love with art (or games!) and when you realised you could do it for a career?

Darren Yeomans, Studio Director (Atomhawk UK): I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love art. One of my earliest memories is from my second year in infant school when I drew a picture of Spiderman onto a sheet of transfer paper which we then ironed onto a towel! Later, in junior school, I sent a drawing into the jokes section of a weekly national comic. It got published and I was sent a t-shirt. This was the first time I thought ‘this is great, you can actually get things for doing art!’

I only really got into games once I was in my first studio position. The industry was in its infancy while I was growing up and the cost was too much for me to participate. I’ve been lucky enough to have art related jobs all my life since leaving college in 1987, after getting a BTEC in Advertising and Visual Communication.

Panashe Mataruse, 3D Artist: I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. Growing up in Zimbabwe, I never really saw art as an actual career option. When I was twenty-one, I was two years into a software engineering degree before I felt like ‘I don’t love this. This is not really working.’ It took some convincing, but my parents finally heard me and supported my decision to pursue a career in art. 

I moved to Malaysia shortly after to pursue a Bachelors Degree in Animation. It was during this course that I was introduced to 3D and game art, and I just completely fell in love with it. 


What has your experience been like in your career and the industry so far?

Darren: Like anything it’s had its ups and downs, but luckily, I’ve had more ups. Being in it since the early days I’ve seen a lot of changes and learned a lot. Every day is a school day!

Panashe: It’s been way better than I could have imagined, to be honest. I was super stressed before I got started because it’s a very competitive field and you never really know if you’re good enough to get the job. But since I got my first full time role last year my experience has been nothing but positive. I couldn’t have scripted it any better.

Are there times you’ve felt held back or othered during your career? Is there anything that could have been changed that would have avoided your being put in that situation?

Darren: As this is a creative industry you generally find people are more inclusive and want to explore different cultures. It doesn’t mean racism, or any form of discrimination isn’t present. It is there, and no industry is free from it.

I have had times where people have been promoted in front of me. That just gave me a bigger incentive to prove myself. Take every experience, good or bad and make it work for you.

Panashe: I haven’t experienced anything that made me feel like ‘something’s going on here’. Personally, I’ve felt held back in my community, especially with family, because they don’t fully understand my career. Comments like ‘you should do something more serious’ are difficult to ignore but I try and let the passion take the helm. 

Being from Zimbabwe, where there’s virtually no 3D industry, so I can understand the worry from a parents point of view. To pursue this career, you typically have to move abroad, which is not an option everyone has, and many Africans tend to prioritise traditional careers like law or medicine. 

I do hope this gets better and that people in the Black community become more aware of the opportunities in this industry and be more open to exploring them. 


Statistically there is much less chance of Black players being authentically and accurately represented in games, either as industry workers or creatively within the games themselves. What’s something you wish the industry did more of to improve that representation?

Darren: I want to ensure that the Black community see this as a viable career and encourage everyone to get involved and see what it takes to succeed. There are no ‘free passes’ for anyone but there should be equality in opportunity. I spent a year teaching Games Art at a Birmingham college. There was only one Black student out of the 60 or so students over the two year groups I taught. This was despite it being a culturally mixed community.

We have to highlight successes from the community in order to encourage more Black people to pursue a career in games. That way more diversity in the actual games should naturally follow.

Panashe: I feel like you don’t get as many options compared to other races in games. Game characters for example, you usually only see one or two Black characters of any real importance in a game, and they generally tend to be stereotypical.  

The Black community is comprised of many different cultures from all over the globe and I wish I we could see that represented in more games consistently. There has to be a conscious effort to try explore further beyond what has already been done. 

What support can Black people take from within their own communities to help them get more exposure and in turn more opportunities in the games industry?

Panashe: Encouraging more dialogue within the community, especially with older generations, to introduce them to new career possibilities is essential. Studios can help by facilitating discussions with people in the Black community to highlight the diverse career opportunities available.

I also think Black artists in the industry, like me, need to speak about their journeys as well as it could help encourage others to explore this space.


What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

Darren: It’s OK not to be OK.

Panashe: Chase your dreams sooner. I realised my talent for art at seventeen but didn’t have the courage to discuss it with my parents until much later. If I had acted sooner, I might be further along in my career now.


A fun one! What’s your favourite game?

Darren: I’m old-school! Can’t beat a bit of Mario Kart.

Panashe: Apex Legend!


There are online resources and communities that can help Black people access support as they begin their careers in games or art. We recommend checking out:

Black History Month is a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the amazing art and design that flows from Black cultures. From vibrant patterns of traditional African fabrics to the ground-breaking work of artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Alma Thomas, there’s so much energy, emotion, and colour. This year, our Graphic Design team hoped to pay homage to these influences and many more with our Black History Month pattern you can download as a wallpaper here.

Creativity is boundless when we champion diversity, equality and inclusion. Black representation is low in our industry – in terms both of the workforce and the creative output. But there are ways to challenge this, tapping into untold talent and creative force.

Check out our open roles and applicant transparency resources at our Careers page.