Get Ready, Playa One

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S1: This is a word, a podcast from Slate. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. Video gaming isn’t just for kids or for a bit of white guys living in their parents basement. Lots of us kick back with our consoles every night for fun or just to blow off steam. And for some folks, it’s big business.

S2: Now, what do we want to play on? Player, hustla thug, gangsta genius, soldier? Honestly, who are we trying to impress? Let’s see a play

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S1: on the challenges of breaking into professional gaming while black. Coming up on a word with me, Jason Johnson. Stay with us. Welcome to A World, a podcast about race and politics and everything else. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. Get ready. PLAYER one At a time of pandemic and depressing headlines, millions of Americans have turned to online video gaming for a good time and an escape. But playing games is even more fun with friends and for thousands of fans across the country. Brianna Williams is that best buddy who can turn a gaming session into an actual Mario party.

S2: Time was over. Why did you break my back in like that? I know what I said, but he did break my back.

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S1: And when I won better known as Story Mobay, Brianna Williams is one of a small but growing number of black women tapping into the multibillion dollar online gaming business. Williams is an avid gamer, content creator and Twitch ambassador. She has been profiled by InStyle magazine and Yahoo! And recently got verified on Twitter. And Brianna Williams joins us now. Welcome to A Word.

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S2: Thank you so much for having me.

S1: OK, so, Brianna, in preparation for this, I was on your channel and was following you as you were playing in Jehuda Presents Bulletproof, which is which is a fun and ridiculous game and an example of like all the things that 50 Cent Hey man to get his fingers into pretty

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S2: sick on the streets felt that I thought I would do the same if I had my own video game. This level of dramatics and extremeness. Yeah, I understand. I came even be mad and they.

S1: How do you find it more fun when you get to play video games that are actually like based on like pop culture figures? Like is it more fun to play The Avengers? Because, you know, The Avengers is a more fun to play, bulletproof because you listen to 50 Cent’s music or is it more the gameplay and less the characters you get to play?

S2: I feel like it’s a little bit of both. So on my YouTube channel, I’ve been trying to experiment and figuring out what I want to do and I’ve been playing a lot of PlayStation two games. Not only is it nostalgic, it’s my favorite console of all time. I find it really interesting that there were so many older games with celebrities and pop culture references and based off of movies and shows, and they don’t really have that anymore. Now, with that being said, you know, oftentimes these older games are clunky. The gameplay isn’t always where I would like it to be. But ultimately I had fun. And it’s relatable because, yeah, I listen to 50 Sanjit and they’re back in the day.

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S1: For listeners who aren’t familiar with online gaming and content creation, just give everybody a brief idea about what you actually do.

S2: Well, I feel like the, you know, big assumption is that I sit down and I play video games and people pay me for it. But there is so much more that goes into it. It’s really creating content and putting yourself out there for the masses. And sometimes it’s very nerve racking. Even when I started creating content, I didn’t use a camera because I was extremely nervous about putting myself out there and having people judge me just on the way I look being a woman, being black. And I was like, no, I’m I’m just going to get comfortable a little bit. But, you know, now I love it as time consuming as it can be, sometimes creating content and putting yourself out there. So it’s a lot of work that goes behind it, honestly.

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S1: What brought you into gaming, because demographically, right, the image of gaming probably wouldn’t have been what attracted you with a particular game or was there something about the experience? What brought you into this area?

S2: Well, I have been playing video games since the 90s. My first introduction to video games, I was, I don’t even know, so young, three, four or five maybe. And I remember going to my dad’s job and he was at his computer at work playing this game called Doom. And doom is such a it’s a it’s a classic game, but back in the 90s, it was Bloche and pixellated. And so what is going on? What’s happening? But as a kid, I was just so amazed by what I was seeing. And I was like, oh, my gosh. Like, I got to get in on this so fast for a couple of months or however long it was. My parents bought me my very first PlayStation one. Crash Bandicoot two was my first game ever and the rest was history. Since then, I have had some sort of controller or mobile device stuck to my hand.

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S1: With that in mind, what are some of your favorite games, right, and for the people who view your content, what have you found is is sort of your feedback? Why do people like you and what kind of games do you like to play?

S2: You know, the name story, Mobay, it comes from me loving to play story based games. I love games with a good narrative, something that makes you feel emotion, whether it’s sadness or angriness or happiness, something that really, you know, captivates you. And as far as me personally, what to expect. Hmm. I am just sometimes a ball of bubbly energy and I can’t help it. I do think I’m funny. On occasion I try to, you know, crack a cute little joke here and there. I might be a little corny sometimes, but ultimately I am a huge lover of video games, but pop culture as well. I am unapologetically black and everything that I do, I feel like for so many years working in jobs at restaurants and retail and, you know, even going to college, I had to code switch so many times. It’s like I had to hold back who I truly, truly was in. So, you know, with streaming and content creation, because this is me and my brands, are you going to get all of me? And you’re either going to like it and relate to it or you’re not going to like it and you’re going to click off and that’s fine, too.

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S1: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, more on race and representation in the gaming industry. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson. Today, we’re talking about race and representation in gaming with Brianna Williams, also known as Story Mode. You created a show called This is Dope. Here’s a brief clip.

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S2: Happy Wednesday. Happy Hump Day. Happy Black History Month. What is going on, everyone? I am your host story, Mobay. And we are back with another fantastic episode of Black Excellence with this is Dope podcast. Everyone, welcome on then. Hello, Twitch Chat. Hello, my regular chat. Hello, friends. Hello everyone. Thank you so much for joining. I appreciate you. We have such a fun filled show today. I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am to get started.

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S1: What made you decide to create this kind of show? Was it sort of a personal expression of what you saw lacking in content in the gaming industry, or was it something that was sort of requested by your fans and viewers?

S2: I have to give one hundred percent credit to Ommen, who used to work over at Twitch. He actually approached me and this was actually his idea and his vision and he took a complete chance on me. This is dope was my first time hosting anything late at all. I was completely nervous out of my element. And, you know, I’m supposed to highlight some amazing people and they don’t want to let them down. But, you know, once I found my rhythm during that first show and saw how it was being receptive so positively and so many people were like, oh, my gosh, yes, where has this been? There’s such an issue on these online platforms with discoverability and being able to find more specifically black creators for whatever reason, that algorithm. That’s a whole different conversation.

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S1: I want to dig a little bit into the algorithm because I think even people who don’t know the gaming industry, you know, many people, some of the listeners are aware that that Jimmy Fallon had on this woman, Addison Rae, who was a white woman who is like the second biggest person on tick tock. He had her on to do the history of dance thing. And basically she appropriate a lot of dances that had been made famous and gone viral on Tick-Tock with mostly black creators. And none of those black creators got the shine, but she got to be on Jimmy Fallon. So I think people are becoming aware of the fact that, like, you know, black people are coming up with stuff and they’re getting overlooked. How is that looked in the gaming industry? Do you find that like you’ve got to push yourself out there more with a show in order to get the sort of sponsorships or endorsements? Like how how’s the algorithm been overlooking black gamers, even though especially black women gamers are an increasingly large part of the people consuming?

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S2: What’s interesting with the Jimmy Fallon thing, I. Appreciate that so many people were speaking out and like, I know you need to credit the correct creators because she’s not even doing the dances right. And honestly, I feel like it takes a whole lot of that. It takes a whole lot of pressuring these companies and these brands to do the right thing, because nine times out of ten, they’re not going to do the right thing, you know, with the gaming industry and again, with that algorithm, it’s hard being a black content creators sometimes because oftentimes people are going to look at your stream or look at your video. They’re going to see your face and say, oh, no, I’m not clicking on her. She’s she’s going to be too loud to out of control to this to that. I’m not going to do it. And, you know, I don’t know the science behind the algorithm, but again, I keep hearing these things on these different platforms, not even Twitch and YouTube, tick tock, even. It’s so often where black content creators are, you know, not being shown in. It’s like, why, why, why are you being hidden or shadow band? It’s just real convenient sometimes. And it makes me feel a little funny if we’re being honest

S1: and for the audience to understand what we’re talking about. The algorithm sort of in a colloquial sense, that is the mathematics behind where YouTube or where Twitter or any social media outlet sends you. And more often than not, even black content creators who have huge following, sometimes followings that are much bigger than, you know, similarly positioned white people. For some reason, the algorithm often doesn’t point to them. And that’s what we’re sort of talking about here for people to understand. Now, the undercurrent of that and you talk about this a lot in your programs, is you say, look, anybody who turns into your stream, there’s no racism, no sexism or hate speech, you know, how much sort of direct racism and sexism you experience or at this point, people are like, well, we’re going to leave her alone.

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S2: Online gaming is just is just messy. Sometimes, you know, you log into a server and they’re calling you X, Y and Z. I love who I am. But with content creation and streaming and gaming in general, I feel like I already have two strikes against me. I’m a woman and I’m black. So you’re getting racism, you’re getting sexism, all of that. So as far as streaming goes, I feel like, you know, I’ve tried to protect my safe space as much as I can, you know, blocking out words that I assume people are going to call me, you know, Twitch and maybe YouTube, too. You can type in specific terms that you want automatically blocked out of your channel. So if someone types that, they’re automatically going to get deleted or whatever it is. And so even being a black woman, that has to type out 50 different creative ways, someone can call me the N-word is like, yeah, that that’s that’s something within itself. I hate to say, luckily, but, you know, I don’t really encounter that much on my channel. I definitely do on occasion. And when I do, you know, I love to talk message people. You can’t give it to me. I’m I’ll give it to you right on back. So I don’t want anyone to think that they can get a reaction out of me, because ultimately that’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to get you riled up. They’re trying to make you mad or make you cry on camera and oh, my God, look at what we did to her. So, no, I’m going to talk mess. Right. I’m back in. The community is going to laugh it off. And that’s just what it is. We’re going to move on. And then honestly, maybe it’s just me growing up with the Internet, so to speak. But y’all are not going to say this to my face. You’re really not you’re going to hide behind your keyboard because you think you’re safe. And so, yeah, I’m really not going to give it the time of day as much as I can.

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S1: We’re going to take another short break. When we come back, more on race and representation in gaming with Brianna Williams. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today, we’re talking about race and representation with gamer and content creator Brianna Williams. You’re part of an organization called Black Girl Gamers. What does that group actually do? And I guess also in general, like what’s your mission as far as sort of building up gaming in the black community?

S2: So with this group, it really has so many amazing women and people that do play games and they want to have that fellowship and sense of community. And, oh, let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about that. Can you help me with my stream setup in different, you know, ideas and things like that and ultimately be. In an area with people that you can trust, that you can relate to, who are going through the same things that you’re going through black women and gaming, we’ve been here since the beginning. Whether you choose to, you know, look out your basement window or not, like we’ve been out here and, you know, we’re going to continue to show that.

S1: Where do you see representation in gaming going? Is it still a constant struggle to say, look, you know, there should be more than one black character in this game? There should be more than one black female character that we can choose from?

S2: You know, I think that, you know, developers are starting to understand, but we still have a long way to go. I have a love hate relationship with social media because oftentimes it seems like, you know, everyone’s mad and angry and upset. It’s like, OK, let me go ahead and log off. But then on the other side, it really allows people to really voice their concerns and say, hey, why is it that there’s no black characters in this game or why is it that there’s a black character? But look at look at how you did. The skin tone is ashy. Look at the hair. I can see the scalp. Like, you can’t give us black characters as a way to say, here, here, here ya go. Stop complaining. I gave you all black character. Oh, no, you go here if we don’t like that black character. So yeah, I think that developers are understanding because people have been so vocal about, you know, what they do and don’t like ultimately. I think we still have a long way to go.

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S1: What would you tell someone who’s interested in gaming? They really like it and they want to turn this into a real job. What advice would you give them for where they need to go, how they need to start? And if not, follow your path? What’s what’s a good path to follow if somebody wants to get into gaming professionally?

S2: Well, first I say, you know, just give it a try, because you never know what’s going to happen. When I first started, I was streaming off of my PlayStation four. Didn’t even know that was possible. I thought I needed all this fancy hardware and this equipment. But, nope, I was just streaming straight from the TV. But, you know, in the same token of, you know, just give it a try. I almost want to say you can’t expect too much. Don’t go into, you know, streaming thinking, OK, well, it’s been a month. Where’s the money, where’s the people? Like, what’s up? You know, it takes time to kind of build that audience and networking and putting yourself out there and promoting yourself on social media. You have to be your biggest fan for a very long time until people start understanding why you are so amazing. I also have to say, you know, don’t try to follow anyone else’s path. I know it’s so natural for us as humans to compare ourselves to other people and say, well, they’ve been doing this for this long and they have this, why don’t I have that? But honestly, everyone’s path is so unique and you just have to really trust the process. And if this is something that you want to put time, money and, you know, really invest, then you have to take those steps and take that time to really build yourself up. It’s not easy when you’re putting yourself out there on the Internet, but if you really want to do this, just understand that it takes time to start slow. But you never know what could happen.

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S1: Brianna Williams is a content creator, gamer and Twitch ambassador. Brianna, Story Mobay, thank you so much for talking to us out of work.

S2: Thank you so much for having me. It was incredible. Thank you.

S1: And that’s a word for this week. If you’re enjoying a word, please subscribe rate and review. Did you know you could be listening to this show ad free? All it takes is a slate plus membership. It’s just one dollar for the first month. And it also helps us keep making our podcast sign up now at Slate Dotcom a word. Plus, the show’s email is a word at Slate Dotcom. This episode was produced by Ayana Angel and Jasmine Ellis. Aisha Solutia is the managing producer of podcast at Slate. Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for audio. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of podcasts late June. Thomas is senior managing producer of the Slate podcast network. Our theme music was produced by Don Will. I’m Jason Johnson. Tune in next week for word.