Dr. Matsemela Odom
Vice President, InPDUM
Two multinational conglomerate corporations, Sony and Microsoft, announced the release of their new gaming consoles. The official release dates were in November but millions of units were presold.
Respectively titled the Playstation 5 (or PS5 for short) and the Xbox Series X, the prices of these new consoles range as high as $900 depending on the retail bundles purchased.
It is estimated that, by 2024, Sony and Microsoft will sell over 100 million of these new gaming units.
Video games have changed drastically over the last five decades. The first commercial video arcade game was released in 1971. It was produced by students at Stanford University, a leader in the academic-military industrial complex.
The same technology that created video games has created genocidal drone technology. Video gaming directly reflects the political and economic reality of society over the last 50 years.
Through the 1980s, most video gaming took place at public arcades. By the 1990s, most gaming took place on individually owned consoles, in the privacy of people’s homes.
The October 1985 release of the Nintendo Entertainment System caused a boom in home gaming and video game selection.
In 2000, Sony introduced multi-player online gaming to their Playstation 2 console.
Forty-two percent of people in the United States, and over 1 billion people globally, regularly play video games with the average gamer spending six hours per week online.
Video Games, Colonialism and Parasitic Capitalism
The video game industry is a mechanism of parasitic-capitalism.
Billions of gaming consoles have been sold since the 1970s. Nintendo alone has sold 750 million units. Sony has sold 535 million units. Microsoft has sold 150 million units.
With a lowball estimate of $200 per unit, the top three firms have made nearly $300 billion off of the theft of African labor and African resources from video game consoles alone.
This does not include other electronics and software; it does not even include the retail sales of video game titles.
Reuters estimates that the video game industry will have an annual revenue of $159.3 billion in 2020 and a 9.3% annual growth that surpasses $200 billion by 2023.
The mass production of video games and gaming consoles is reliant on pillaging Africa’s precious minerals such as coltan, cobalt, and copper.
Coltan is used to create tantalum capacitors which power everything from mobile phones to video games systems. Sixty percent of the world’s coltan comes from the Congo and Rwanda.
As many as forty percent of the people working in the mines that produce these materials are children. The link between video game production and neocolonial violence in Africa is so steep, that some call the decades-long conflict in the Congo and Central Africa, “The Playstation War.”
Video games are used as U.S. military recruiting tools.
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 the 2010s. Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops II contained scenarios where American counterinsurgents invaded Haiti, killing Africans and also assassinated Fidel Castro.
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 U.S. 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 black character 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 making Africans icons but not giving power; Tecmo Bowl and Double Dribble 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 and intelligence of his African trainer, Little Mac defeats a host of colonized people including a Polynesian, a South Asian, a Turk, a Russian, a brutish African, and eventually Mike Tyson.
Punch-Out!! was American Cold War propaganda.
Neocolonialism and Video Games
The crisis in imperialism has replaced colonialism with neocolonialism: colonialism in blackface. We saw 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.
An African petty bourgeois concern 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 Maroon African born in the Asante 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 anti-colonial African forces in Ptolemaic Egypt with a Nubian hero named Bayek.
Yet, producers made Bayek’s skin much lighter than the African actor; 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
This article is the outgrowth of a lecture the author gave at the Black Nerds Expo held on February 29, 2020 at MiraCosta 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.
Colonialism in the gaming industry will not be resolved through more integration.
Africans have created independent video 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 refrain used in the culture industry is “Representation Matters.”
Over the past 50 years, the African representation in video games has reflected the African relationship to colonialism: from the “negative” imagery of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! to the “positive” imagery in Assassin’s Creed.
The struggle over representation in video gaming is meaningless without the struggle for power.
The International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement says “Black Power Matters!” These expositions have the opportunity to build Black Power in the gaming industry. More specifically, they can build dual and contending power.
In defining dual and contending power, Chairman Omali Yeshitela writes: “The victory of our Party will come as a consequence of our success in transforming every colonized African community into a conscious, active opponent of colonialism.
We will take organization and ideological development to the heart of the African working class communities where the colonial contradictions are concentrated.”
Those contradictions are concentrated in the video gaming community and the tech industry more broadly.
The video game and tech industries owe reparations to African people.
InPDUM also calls on Africans in the gaming and tech industry to return those skills to African people for the development of the African nation and African liberation.
Build the Uhuru Movement in the Tech Industry!
Create African Internationalist Culture!
Demand the Return of Africa’s Resources!