Q&A: Black Girl Gamers founder Jay-Ann Lopez talks inclusivity, gaming music and more

·6-min read
Black Girl Gamers
Black Girl Gamers

Black Girl Gamers started with a realization.

Jay-Ann Lopez, who founded the gaming collective in 2015, looked around and saw a space that didn’t seem to represent her — or the other Black female gamers she was starting to meet.

So, she decided to change that. Lopez founded Black Girl Gamers with the simple hope of creating the safe haven she needed. Now, the group — which has more than 7,000 members and more than 26,000 followers on Twitch — has come to mean so much more to so many more people.

Lopez says she thinks a lot about stereotypes and the ways she can use her platform to break them down. It’s true in her collective, which has grown in size and popularity while showing others just how diverse the gaming community really can be — when given the chance.

It’s true in her personality, too — including her taste in music. Lopez recently partnered with Spotify to curate an all-new gaming playlist, called StartSelect, which is now part of the platform’s Gaming Hub.

The playlist, which features artists ranging from Rico Nasty to Goldlink to Avatar: The Last Airbender composer Samuel Kim, is centered around Lopez’s own tastes and her knowledge that there are plenty of stereotypes about what kind of music gamers are “supposed” to listen to, and what it’s supposed to say about them.

Lopez talked to In The Know about all of that and a lot more, including her favorite music for gaming and her advice on how gamers can make their spaces more inclusive. (Note: This interview has been edited for brevity.)

ITK: I’m sure you get this question a lot, but I’d love to hear a little bit about how your interest in gaming started. What were the first few games that drew you in?

Lopez: I started gaming at a really young age — around 6 to 8, between those ages. My uncle bought me my first console, which was a Nintendo, And then I used to play Doom on PC, and the next game that I remember playing quite a lot was Crash Bandicoot on PlayStation.

I think the passion grew from just my love for worlds that are imaginary. I love fantasy stuff. I love escaping to different worlds and exploring different worlds. That’s really where the passion came from.

How did that passion ultimately turn into starting Black Girl Gamers? What was it like getting the platform off the ground?

So, I didn’t expect it to get where it is today. [In college I knew someone], who started his own channel. I watched some of his content and I just noticed that a lot of the jokes — a lot of the humor, the way they would entertain the audience — came from African American vernacular English. So imagine this coming from a white British man and a Turkish-British man … [there’s] no real correlation whatsoever. And then [also] it would just be like, women were the butt of the jokes, or gendered terms would be the butt of the jokes. I just couldn’t relate to that content.

So I said, “Fine, I’m going to start my own [channel].” It started to grow, and during that time, I met others, specifically black women, who kind of shared the same experiences [with] racism and sexism.

Experiencing that really kind of put me in the area of like, “OK, I’m gonna stop doing my own thing. I’m going to create this community, and then you [all] come in, and we’ll start this.”

What would you have thought if someone told you Black Girl Gamers was going to get this big? 

I would have said, “Damn right.” This is not the first platform I developed … so I knew things could grow big. So I wouldn’t have been shocked it’s gotten to this place — I just didn’t plan for it. I planned for it to just be the safe haven that I’ve always needed.

What role has music played in your life as a gamer? Are there certain songs or genres you like listening to when you’re gaming? 

Music is integral to gaming. I do think there is a stereotype when it comes to gamers and what type of music they like — everyone assumes we like EDM.

I mean, EDM is cool. You know, I’m partial to a little bit of it sometimes, but It’s not my main go-to. I would love to listen to like, Amapiano, which is [a genre of] South African music. I love [to have] that playing during certain calming games. When I play games [I also love listening to] Samuel Kim, who wrote the Avatar: The Last Airbender theme. I love that kind of [original soundtrack music] because it really gets me in the zone.

I think when it comes to music and gaming there are two generalizations. There’s a generalization of who you are as a gamer, and then there’s a generalization of what kind of music you like to listen to. And I think in my case, both of them are wrong.

How did this partnership with Spotify come together? What made you excited to work with them and curate your own gaming playlist

I mean, I listen to Spotify all the time. Spotify is my hub for music … I literally curate playlists [all the time], so when they approached me to do the gaming one, I was like, “Great, I do this anyway and this is a way to make my mark as a gamer, contrary to what the popular belief is in terms of music that we like.”

Spotify has been integral in terms of my mental health as well. I love listening to podcasts. And there’s this specific podcast called “The Friend Zone” that I listen to whenever I’m down. So when they came to me, I was like, “Of course, what do you need me to do?”

What advice would you give to gamers about how they can make their own space — whether that’s Twitch streams, Discord channels or anything else — more inclusive?

I mean, I’m not gonna go and tell everyone that their streams have to, you know, have 50 percent of their [viewers] be Black women and all that. Like, your space is your space. I think it’s just about curating the principles around your space, so even [with Black Girl Gamers], just because someone’s a Black woman doesn’t mean they can’t be problematic. So even within our space, we say: no homophobia, no transphobia, no body shaming, no body negativity.

I think anyone within the gaming space that wants to make an inclusive space has to think about the principles around the space that they’re trying to curate. That’s the basic thing. And I think that’s something everyone can do because it literally takes you saying, “Don’t do that,” in your space. It doesn’t take that much work.

If you liked this story, check out this article on Dr K., the Harvard-trained psychiatrist turned Twitch streamer.

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