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Malcolm Gaymer X

Malcolm Gaymer X

When I look back on my experience as a Black gay kid, I think of my love of video games as fated. I was always the “different” one, but it wasn’t until I started middle school that I began to realize this. I transferred from a city school to a small, private Catholic school in the suburbs in fourth grade. Out of the 60 kids that made up my grade, I was only one of three Black kids. My entry was pleasant enough. A teacher had the entire grade greet me with handmade cards to make me feel welcome. I did, and I continued to be my outgoing, bubbly self. That all changed when we were tasked with a certain group project.

This is an article I wrote for The Tenth Magazine’s fourth volume titled, ‘The Technology Issue’. It serves as an introduction to the interviews that are printed afterward, but my feelings about Black / gay culture and its relation to the gaming industry are pretty strong. So I wanted to share it with those of you who may not be familiar with the magazine.

We were reading Jumanji in class and had to split up into groups to create our very own board game. I got teamed up in a group of four with Larry who was already going through the ostracization that I would soon face. I didn’t know why the other kids didn’t like him, but I’ve never been one to blindly follow the pack, so I didn’t mind working with him on the project. Apparently, simply treating him like a human being was enough to kickstart the process of my own isolation. I soon faced angry retorts to normal conversation and nasty glares to how I sometimes responded to topics in class. I had an apple thrown in my face without provocation and was forcefully told to “just wait” by a classmate who had taken my assigned seat and proceeded to chit-chat to another. I even remember being taunted and called gay for a couple of weeks—years before I realized it was actually true. It wasn’t only those instances that changed my life’s trajectory, but also what I experienced at home.

I couldn’t handle my father’s parenting style. I suppose he wanted my brother and I to be smart and tough, but for me, it did more harm than good. Almost constantly by the time my brother and I woke up to the time we went back to sleep, he would holler, fuss, and criticize us. My brother seemed to take this more easily, but I, of course, was different. I remember a recurring theme coming out of my dad’s mouth, “What is wrong with you?” and I took it to heart. It was hard not to when your own father and seemingly all the kids at school had something negative to say day in and day out. There must have been something wrong with me. On top of that, my inability to fix it was enough for me to retreat further and further until all I spoke at times were soft whispers. If I couldn’t be me and be successful, what other choice did I have? Video games were my answer.

When you play a video game, you step into the shoes of a character in a world built for them to win. Yes, for me there were challenges, but the sense of achievement I got when getting past a level or defeating a hard boss felt far better than the nastiness of the real world. And it comes much faster and regularly than in the real world, too. In fact, no type of game gives you an immediate, repeated sense of achievement than in fighting games. I used to to be really big on Street Fighter and Virtua Fighter. Every time the game announced “Winner,” I got a rush of positivity and appreciation that was sorely lacking elsewhere. Those are the moments I craved. Those are the moments that validated my existence as opposed to questioned it. Those are the moments when I did something right.

But then I noticed something that changed my whole perspective. Despite these games’ huge casts of playable characters, there weren’t a whole lot of characters that looked like me. And if they did, they didn’t act like me. For a time, Street Fighter featured only one token African-American character, Balrog, while Virtua Fighter had only Jeffrey, who was an Australian Aboriginal. Both were big, burly, aggressive types. So while they had a similar skin tone, neither was treated with the seriousness of the other characters, nor did they resonate with who I was. It was because of this type of treatment, in these games and in others, that I began to feel the slow erosion of my cocoon. And by the time I came out to my family at seventeen years old, I understood that games were just another place where people like me were not appreciated. It was at that time that I discovered I could bypass that feeling by playing games where you could create your own character.

When games where you could customize the look of your character began to be released, I nearly lost the ability to complain about representation. Games like Mass Effect or The Elder Scrolls allowed you to customize the look of your virtual avatar and play the game as a super-powered version of yourself. Finally, there were games that were accepting of whoever I was and whatever I wanted to be. But, actually, this wasn’t the case. The only way you could be Black in The Elder Scrolls was by picking a specific “race” of people (in this case it was elves, lizard people, humans, etc.) called Redguards—the game’s version of Black people. I had no problem with this, except I wanted to be a strong magic user, and the Redguards were weak on magic. So I had to pick an elf character and darken him as much as possible (which wasn’t much) to play the game the way I wanted. In Mass Effect, color wasn’t so much an issue as was sexuality. In the first installment, there was the ability to have a same-sex romantic storyline with another character. The catch: you could only do this if your character was a woman. So in order for me to enjoy a romance storyline with another man, I created a straight black woman. While I enjoyed seeing a different type of character, both instances stung. They only reinforced the belief that I was not really a valued part of any world I inhabited, virtual or otherwise. And if that wasn’t enough, online gaming drove that idea home.
Online gaming was new and ripe with possibilities of connecting with like-minded people and building a community that accepted you. It wasn’t long, however, before I saw that these communities didn’t fully accept me either. As a college student, I was very isolated. I had found a way to survive and that was by myself. My M.O. was to get through classes and go plug into a game; that way, I limited the hurt anyone could cause. I remember enthusiastically getting home every day to go play World of Warcraft, an online game where you team up with other players to defeat enemies and tackle tough quests. This was yet another game where you could create the look of your character and, when I started playing, I felt I had struck gold. I was able to create a black man who was a strong magician, and since romance was not a part of the game, my sexuality never had to be addressed. With the exception of giving the ugly Trolls a Jamaican accent, I had no issue with this game in particular. It was the online interaction through this game and in others that caused problems. I remember one interaction where another player looked at my avatar and asked, “Is your character Black?” I responded, “Yeah,” to which he then asked, “Why?” He couldn’t fathom that the person sitting at his computer may have been Black and wanted his character to represent him. It’s this ignorance that pervades the online gaming community. The harassment one gets as a Black queer person online is insane—especially when competing against other gamers. Shooting games like Halo or Call of Duty and even fighting games like Dead or Alive (my favorite), would many times end with a great feeling about a win, and then I’d get knocked down by being called a nigger or a faggot. This would happen even if they couldn’t verify that I was either one. I even felt it from other Black gamers who would listen to my voice and say, “You can’t possibly be Black.” My search for a space where I could completely let down my guard and just have fun was getting more and more bleak. Nothing showed me the reality of how people really thought about these issues than my use of the precursor to social media: online message boards.

When you’re in college, a lot of deep issues about society are openly discussed, and I certainly made my concerns heard online. Whenever an issue in minority representation in gaming came up, I would talk about it in forums. Unfortunately, there was always a backlash from people who didn’t want to hear how the games they loved were in many ways rather damaging. The response, “If you don’t like it, don’t play the game,” was commonly echoed amongst other more insensitive remarks. This type of back and forth online is what’s called a “flame war”. You’re familiar with it if you read any comment sections on racially-charged blog posts and YouTube videos. While I thought the gamer (and even gay gamer) community would be receptive to constructive discussion about the media we loved, I was getting flamed for speaking my truth and calling for change. This same behavior is what sparked the whole Gamergate controversy, where female video-game professionals received threats of assault, rape, and murder. It seems the more one speaks out, the more we get this toxic response from the communities we call home. Yet, I know that if I ever want to be able to play a game without thinking twice about stereotypes or lack of inclusion, I must still speak up. We must all persist.

Whenever anyone speaks up about the faults they see in a game or any other form of entertainment, it’s because they see its potential and want it to be better. We want inclusive casts—both racially and in terms of gender and sexual orientation. Yet, when we take our arguments to the big developers, their response is that it’s too risky. So what do we do now?

In the following pages, you’ll be introduced to four people with a close connection to video games and technology, who talk about their experiences and discuss solutions to make the virtual world one that’s welcoming to all people. You’ll meet Tanya Depass, founder and editor-in-chief of the Fresh Out Of Tokens podcast, who discusses the birth of the #INeedDiverseGames movement and what gaming studios need to do to avoid resorting to harmful stereotypes. You’ll enjoy a conversation with DJ Kirkland, comic book artist and illustrator, who ponders the possibilities of gay storylines as well as what makes many of us pick female characters when we play. You’ll take a turn for the techy side with Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler; a man of many accomplishments including being a filmmaker, the founder of Trans*H4CK, and a co-founder of BlackStarMedia. He brings a focus to trans visibility and what it means to be a person of color in today’s tech industry. And finally, you’ll get enlightened by Wynton Smith, retired Super Smash Bros. commentator and current co-host of the Melee It On Me podcast. If you’re not a gamer, you may be surprised about the reality of the demographics of LGBTQ people of color in the competitive gaming scene. He also dishes about the more prominent players in the tournament community. Hopefully, with these ideas on the table, we can begin to move this multi-billion dollar industry into a direction of real inclusion. And I say “we” because it’s going to take efforts by all of us to make a difference.

As much as I’d like to, I know I can’t change the gaming industry all by myself. And after experiencing such negativity in both my real life and my virtual one, I had to take a step back from my feelings about society and focus on the only space that could ever truly have all of my best interests at heart. Me.

At age 21, everything hit a head. And while games were not the root cause, they weren’t the help they were supposed to be. My self-esteem was completely broken and I began to question why I was even dealing with life when I could simply close my eyes and no longer feel the hurt. As a last resort, I began to see a therapist once a week to talk through my issues, and it was exactly the help I needed. I was able to forgive my old classmates, restore a fantastic relationship with my father, and begin the process of loving myself for who I was regardless of others’ opinions. I still play video games, but they are no longer my primary relationship. The most important relationship I have is with myself. And it shall remain that way even after we get to that place where entertainment is a reflection of all of us.


To read more fascinating, insightful, and funny articles about gaming, technology and its use in the Black LGBTQ community, purchase your copy of this issue now.

Follow The Tenth Magazine on Instagram and other social media outlets.

*Article reposted with permission.

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My Stories

Gasp

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We were supposed to meet for coffee for the first time today. I sat at a table in a small neighborhood coffee shop with my
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Authors

Shad O. Walker – King of the OWLS

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When I first began this journey of seriously doing the work of becoming an author, I did my research to see who else was in the space to which I was writing. At first I found it hard to pick out who wrote fantasy involving black, gay characters. The scarcity of such material – or, at least, a way to find it – was shocking, but I eventually came across someone attempting to change that. Shad O. Walker, author of the One Warlock’s Love Story series, has created a world that’s part fantasy, part paranormal romance, and very erotic. He’s amassed a dedicated following that’s stuck with him through six books. After interviewing him about his personal experiences and his work, it’s become clear to me that he’s just getting started.


JK It’s hard to find a picture of you anywhere online. Why the secrecy?

SW Great question! I’ve been told that I am as elusive as the vampires in my series. There is a reason for that. Prior to finishing the One Warlock’s Love Story series, I had the opportunity to meet a phenomenal author and spirit by the name of L.A Banks. She is the author of the Vampire Huntress series. If you haven’t read it, then you have to check it out! She gave me lots of great advice, but the one thing that she admonished me to do was to put the focus on the story (and not on myself). She talked to me about how easy it is to get caught up in the hype of being a popular author and she suggested that I learn from her mistakes. I loved her as author, but I grew to love her even more as a mentor. Unfortunately, I had no idea that she was sick. Not too long after we met, she passed away. I was devastated. So in honor of her and all that she taught me, I am not planning to put myself out there until my entire series is released.

JK Have you always wanted to be a writer? Have you had any desire to do anything else?

SW I have always been an avid reader! I didn’t realize that I had a gift for writing until much later in life. I went to bed frustrated one night because I couldn’t find a paranormal series with gay, Black characters. I woke up that night at 3:06am (I remember it like it was yesterday) and the entire story of Zander Knight was running through my mind like a movie. I started writing and I wrote all weekend long. When I was done, I had the outline for the entire series. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else. This series has introduced me to so many wonderful readers. My “super fans” call themselves OWLS after the series’ title. This entire experience has blessed me more than I could have ever imagined.

JK What was your experience like growing up as a black gay male? And how has it influenced your work?

SW Growing up as a black gay male who liked to read meant that I never found science fiction, fantasy or paranormal stories with characters that looked or loved like me. When I was growing up, black gay boys weren’t validated at church, at school or at home – and not even in books that I was reading. The stories were all about unassuming, confused little white girls. I didn’t know it then, but I know now that it had an impact on my impression of my self-worth.

JK Your website mentions that Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, and E. Lynn Harris are all authors that you admire. What is it about their works that inspired you?

SW I could talk about them all day long! Let’s start with Queen Mother Octavia Estelle Butler! I think her work was ahead of its time. Her ability to create entire worlds for her characters was amazing! I felt (and still feel) connected to her because her books literally saved my life. As a result of childhood abuse, I stopped communicating with my family. I literally shut down and stopped talking (kind of like I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings). They thought I had lost my mind. To make a long story short, I found myself through reading Octavia Butler’s books. I was able to forget my own problems by losing myself in her stories.  As for James Baldwin, I’ve always thought his writing was poetic and beautiful. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind or write from a place of truth. He was a proud gay Black man when it wasn’t cool to be either. You’ll notice that one of the main characters in my series is named Giovanni after Baldwin’s book, Giovanni’s Room. And then there is E. Lynn Harris who broke ground for all modern black, gay male authors. I actually met him at a book signing before he passed away. I suggested that he write a science fiction series with gay black characters and he didn’t even miss a beat before he said to me, “why don’t you write it.” I didn’t know it then, but he sowed a seed.

JK In your bio, you mention that you’re armed with your grandmother’s dictionary. What’s the story behind that?

SW My grandmother was a brilliant woman, but she wasn’t able finish school because she had to go to work to help her family. Getting her GED and going to college wasn’t an option for her, so she saved up her money and bought a dictionary that she used to read over and over to teach herself new words. I can remember sitting in her lap and learning words with her. So when she passed away, I kept the dictionary. I can still feel her presence every time I open it. Sure it is easier to go online, but using her dictionary is so much more meaningful to me.

All Knight Long

JK You mentioned noticing a lack of LGBT characters of color in paranormal romance pushed you into writing this series. How has this affected you? And since you started writing the series, have you seen a change?

SW Although I have started to see a few other science fiction and fantasy stores that feature LGBT characters, my work is different in that it is an eight-book series that includes elements of science fiction, fantasy and paranormal romance. I am honored by all of the aspiring writers who reach out to me and say that reading my story has encouraged them to write and publish.

JK What is your series about?

SW One Warlock’s Love Story is the coming out and coming of age story of a young, Black, gay warlock named Zander Knight. I wanted to capture all of the wonderful “firsts” associated with being young and Black and gay – your first time going to a gay club, meeting your best friend, and your first time falling in love. The twist is that the series also includes magic, vampires, shape shifting and sex – lots of sex.

JK What has been the reaction to your series? And how did you feel about the positive and the negative reception?

SW The reception has been OVERWHELMING! I have a loyal legion of fans and there are new readers joining the fold every day.  It is very humbling. I had a young, gay man write me and tell me that he found the series after his religious parents kicked him out after they found out he was gay. He went on to tell me that this series helped him realize that he could create his own family just like Zander Knight.  Like all authors, I will run across a negative review every now and then, but that is just a part of the game. Like Jill Scott says, “everything ain’t for everybody.”

JK Who’s your favorite character and why? Is it the same for all of your readers?

SW Asking me which character is my favorite is like asking a mother which of her children is her favorite. I love them all. They are all a part of me.  With that said, I do have an affinity for the main character in the series, Zander Knight. I guess mothers do have a favorite child. I think I need to call my mother and ask a few questions.

JK There’s a line in your first book that Kindle notified me was the most highlighted line. It was when Zander was driving back home to see if his family was safe after an attack: “He was sixty miles out when he started to get angry for not having been given the magical training that was his birthright. He knew that his parents loved him, but he was starting to think that they had made a critical error in judgment in raising him in the ways of mortals.” This is a line I think a lot of people could connect with. What was the inspiration for that moment? Was it all about Zander or was there something more personal behind that?

SW I had no idea that that was the most highlighted line! Thank you for sharing that with me. I think there comes a point in all of our lives when we start to evaluate ourselves and see our parents’ failings and shortcomings. It is an introspective moment that is both humbling and empowering. As an author, I wanted to give readers a peak into Zander’s thinking. This is also the beginning of the end of Zander’s relationship with his parents as he knows it.

Knight and Dae

JK You just published Book 6 this past April. Without spoiling anything, how has the series changed, if at all? And what has been the reaction to this entry?

SW One of the challenges of writing an eight-book series is that you have to maintain the integrity of the story while keeping readers engaged. The series needs to follow the eight-pint arc with stasis, a trigger, a quest, a surprise, a critical choice, a climax, a reversal and a resolution; but so does each book in the series. And that is an artistic challenge. I think I was able to accomplish this with this series. Readers also want to see the characters grow and evolve, but not so much that they don’t recognize them any longer. The series started out as a paranormal romance, but by the sixth book you’ll notice that I’ve incorporated elements of fantasy and science fiction.

JK What’s next for you and for these characters?

SW As for the characters, you’ll have to read the last two books in the series to find that out. The seventh book is due out on January 4, 2017 and the eighth book is due out on April 12, 2017. I have four other series that I am waiting to publish. I am not sure which one will be next. I am still trying to figure that out. I am currently taking suggestions from my readers as to what they’d like to see next.  Beyond that, I am just living and loving life!


Follow this author on Twitter or connect with him on Facebook and get started on a magical journey by making a purchase on Amazon. You can also check out his website for more info on the series and additional buying options.

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