By: Matsemela Odom, InPDUM San Diego
A comrade once said African internationalism can be used to explain everything “including this straw.” If African Internationalism could be used to explain the colonial-capitalist production of straws in relation to the African Working Class, it can surely be used to explain the video game industry.
This article is the outgrowth of a lecture I gave at the Black Nerds Expo held on February 29, 2020 at MiraCosta Costa College in Oceanside, California. The Black Nerds Expo allows Africans interested in gaming, comics, and art to convene. It is an example of the yearning for self-determination and dignity amongst African youth.
In opposition to ComiCon, San Diego’s premier entertainment event, its format could be used to build dual and contending power for the African nation.
Video Games and Capitalist-Colonialism
The video game industry is a mechanism of parasitic-capitalism. The mass production of video games and gaming consoles is reliant on the pillaging of Africa’s precious minerals such as coltan, cobalt, and copper. As many as forty percent of the people working in the mines that produce these materials are children.
Video games have become a tool of military recruiting. In 2008, the United States Army opened the Army Experience Center–a recruiting arcade. Activists forced the center to close but the expansion of online gaming has made the center obsolete.
The first-person shooter franchise Call of Duty made seven of the top ten and ten of the top 15 video games of 2010s. Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops II contained scenarios where American counterinsurgents invaded Haiti, killing Africans and also assassinated Fidel Castro.
Video Games and African Workers and Consumers
Africans are overrepresented in gaming consumers but underrepresented as workers. About seven percent of whites and eleven percent of Black youth define themselves as gamers. Seventy-four percent of white North American youth actively play video games whereas only 24 percent of colonized youth in the US actively play. Access to resources and the leisure time that bourgeois lifestyle produces for white North Americans explains this difference.
Africans are consumers of the games but make up less than three percent of the workforce. When they are employed, they are underpaid and overworked.
Video Games Misrepresent the African Working Class
Video games have presented colonial tropes of Africans as bestial manual labor. African men were always Athletes and African women were non-playable cheerleaders and dancers. The earliest Black character was in Sega’s Heavyweight Champ (1976). The first to appear in color was in Atari’s Basketball (1979).
In the 1980s, increased presence of Africans in video games mirrored other forms of colonial media–namely sports, film and television. White power profited from by making Africans icons but not giving power. TecmoBowl or Double Dribble games represented this trend.
Consider Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! (1987). The first game named after an African, the hero was Little Mac, an average and undersized Irish boxer. With the aid of his African trainer and intelligence, Little Mac defeats a host of colonized people including a Polynesian, a South Asian, a Turk, a Russian, and a Brutish African and eventually Mike Tyson.
Punch-Out! was American Cold War propaganda.
Neocolonialism and Video Games
The crisis in capitalism has placed blackfaces on colonialism. We can see this in the presidency of Barack Obama.
Recently, more complicated African characters came to the sports games and Africans appeared in action and adventure games. Still, these characters reinforce American colonial ideology.No more Little Mac, now in the Madden, NBA 2K, and FIFA series, hard working African men ascend to greatness by hard work.
The video game franchises Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed highlight similar contradictions.
African petty bourgeois concerns over the GTA franchise is that it “promotes violence.” Colonialism and parasitic capitalism promote violence. GTA San Andreas and GTA V had African male leads: CJ and Franklin. Like Little Mac, these Africans ascend from the lumpenproletariat to the petty bourgeoisie through intelligence and hard work.
Like the “big scores” of the Blaxploitation films, these African men outsmart the police and white gangsters but Africans never find collective liberation.
The liberal Assassin’s Creed franchise depicts the struggle for power between the Templars and Assassins. In AC 3, an indigenous character struggles to create his own utopian society while helping American revolutionaries. The game ends with slave ships pulling into the harbor.
AC3: Liberation and AC: Black Flag are set in the prelude to the Haitian Revolution. Liberation was set in Louisiana and starred Aveline, an African woman. Black Flag featured Adowale, a Marooned African born in the Ashante kingdom, enslaved in Trinidad, and now living as a pirate. In the add-on Freedom’s Cry, Adewale and his compatriots liberate slave ships, plantations, and assist maroon rebels.
However, both games were the creation of white game creators, either minor add-ons or relegated to obscure platforms. Also, as one Black video gamer noted, Ubisoft carefully depicts slavery but not its current impact on African lives.
Most recently, AC: Origins depicts a struggle between colonial Roman forces and anticolonial African forces in Ptolemaic Egypt with a Nubian hero named Bayek. Yet, producers made Bayek’s skin much lighter than the African actor who played as an appeal to European and Arab colonial ideals. In the end, Bayek’s struggle became one for multinational integrationism.
Need for Dual and Contending Power
Colonialism in the gaming industry will not be resolved through more integration.
Africans have created independent video game games and consoles. These games and consoles will allow Africans to not only “tell their own story” but build the contending power needed to gain the support of the African masses, mobilize the masses, seize control of the industry and return the resources and labor to the African nation.
A normal refrained used in the culture industry is that “Representation Matters.” In InPDUM we know that “Black Power Matters.” Let these expositions be springboards for Black Power. This requires InPDUM forces meeting the masses where they are at, mobilizing and organizing.