So Here’s What Happened at the Ubisoft’s Toronto Black Game Pros Mixer

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Ubisoft Black Game Pros

Gaming and the industry upon which it is built is for everyone, including Black people. There is space for us, and if not, we make it ourselves. Do what you have to, seize that opportunity, despite whatever doubt you may have. These were just some of the messages given to attendees at the Ubisoft Toronto’s Black Game Pros Mixer. Hosted and moderated by Andrien Gbinigie, Ubisoft Toronto’s product marketing manager, the event was an opportunity for those in the gaming, media and film communities to hear from panelists about what can be done to make it in the industry. On the panel was I Need Diverse Games founder and director Tanya DePass, Leon Winkler, Ubisoft’s director of international events, and Raymond Graham, technical director of Unity Technologies.

For Gbinigie, the main goal of Ubisoft Toronto’s Black Game Pros mixer was to encourage young Black people with an interest in joining the gaming industry, to pursue their passion and show that diversity is about more than just having a seat at the table. As Black people our experiences allow us to see the world differently, which in turn, influences how we can contribute to whatever we’re involved in. “Diversity is as much getting people of diverse backgrounds into the room and at the table as it is the inclusion part: Making them feel like they have a voice, and they’re included and belong.”

Gibinige went on to further share his thoughts on how diversity and inclusion are approached in the industry. “I’m probably preaching to the choir here,” he said, “but a lot of the discourse surrounding diversity [and inclusion] is always focused on the ‘D’ part and not the ‘I’ part. Because diversity is as much getting people of diverse backgrounds into the room and at the table as it is the inclusion part: Making them feel like they have a voice and they’re included and belong.”

The night started off with a brief speech given by Winkler, who discussed how he started out as a DJ, and working for MTV in Holland, changed careers after going bankrupt to working with Ubisoft, despite not having the qualifications for the job he initially applied for. Gbinigie led a Q&A session where the audience asked questions about how to navigate the industry.

“But I had nothing to lose, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll show you why I disagree with you,'” Winkler said. “So I sent him an email with like four pages of arguments for why I thought he was wrong. And now I’m here.”

DePass also spoke to how she created her own space as a gamer and expressed frustration at seeing the absence of significant representation for Black women and men at industry events. It’s not that there aren’t enough people who can speak n panels, it’s that they don’t get invited. DePass was very open about her feelings about the need for Black people and those from other marginalized communities, to be more bold and honest when we notice a lack of true inclusion. “…Stop accepting those crumbs of inclusion and go, ‘Hey, you said you want to be diverse. But where’s your CTO? Where are your other people that are folks of color, that are safe to be openly out and queer, that are safe to be openly out and trans?”

I spoke to Alanna Smith, video editor and post-production supervisor an Archipelago Production Inc., who was in attendance to get her thoughts on the mixer, and the gaming industry.

“It was really something special to look around and see folks who look like us, professionals in their industries, making connections and getting inspired. Openly discussing everything from potential opportunities to advice on working in environments with less diversity. As a gamer and cosplayer, I’ve seen the landscape evolve as people of colour felt more and more comfortable showing themselves in these spaces. Like Tanya mentioned during the panel, we used to go to conventions and see the same handful of Black folks, those 5 or 6 familiar faces. But those numbers have grown every year, and a lot of the time all it takes is folks seeing others like them there to get encouraged.

“Having a room full of Black professionals in gaming, tech, film, media – it’s hard to describe how good that feels. It’s really validating to know that we’re not as scarce as people might have us think. People like Leon and Raymond have been in the industry for 10 – 20 plus years, so we’ve definitely been out here the whole time! I rarely see Black folks represented as both pros and up-and-comers in these spaces, and suddenly we were in a room full of them. That was big, that was important. I remember ‘meeting’ Andrien on Twitter because he was a cosplayer, finding out he worked at Ubisoft and realizing ‘oh the game industry? We can do that? That’s an us thing too?’ We’ve always existed in these spaces, but that doesn’t mean we always feel welcome. Visibility has power, and reaching out to specific communities has real impact and value.”

Ubisoft Black Game Pros

After the panel discussion, guests were invited on a short tour of the studio that culminated in the state of the art Motion Capture theatre, where stunt performers and technical staff plan and execute action shots seen in games such as the internationally popular Assassins Creed. After the tour, everyone was lead back to the presentation center, for cocktails and encouraged to network by Winkler.

As social media continues to create pathways for people all around the world to connect, events like the Black Game Pros Mixer are essential for those of us in the Black community to interact with each other. There is nothing quite like being surrounded by people who not only look like you but understand why and how you get excited to talk about games, films or books. That sense of community makes us stronger and more confident, which is vitally important when gatekeeping exists.

You can follow the panelists on their Twitters: Andrien Gibinigie @Escoblades; Leon Winkler @drsleon Tanya DePass @Cypheroftyr; Raymond Graham @Wadarass; and Alanna Smith @AlannaMode.

Photos by Jason Probst Photography