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What Pushed Keisha Howard to Create an Inclusive Gaming Community

Photo: Courtesy of Sugar Gamers

Keisha Howard is the founder of Sugar Gamers, which started as a community for female gamers, and has evolved to become a diverse group of trendsetters and aficionados within the worlds of technology, gaming, and the arts. We asked her about what led her to start the community, and why representation of women and minorities in the gaming industry is so important.

What inspired your passion for gaming and how did that lead to founding Sugar Gamers?

I’ve always loved playing games, solving puzzles, and storytelling since I was very young. When my older brother received his first console, at some point I realized video games combined all the aspects of play I loved, and I was hooked. 

My older brother, a young teenager at the time, worked incredibly hard to acquire the games we played, and that taught me work ethic. However, it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that it occurred to me that people actually made the games I was consuming, and there were no women being highlighted in the space. In fact, there were many types of people that I didn’t see as part of this growing multi-million dollar industry. 

My search in looking for a gaming community that would support a person like me ended in me creating it myself back in 2009, in the form of Sugar Gamers. 

From your experience, what positive impacts do video games have on education, self-confidence, socialization, etc.?

Video games are a form of play. As humans, we use play to enhance our creativity and imagination. There are so many types of games that help develop emotional strength, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking. Also, online team games teach sharing,  negotiation, conflict resolution, and even self-advocacy skills. However, because we look at video games as fun entertainment, the skills we learn from gaming are often overlooked. 

I attribute a lot of my best skills to my lifelong love of gaming. And gaming is also a great topic to speak with anyone on, especially in an educational space, because it’s so relatable. We may not all be esports players, but it’s my belief that all of us are gamers. 

How would you describe the current state of diversity in video games and the industry? What advancements have you seen for women and minorities?

Diversity and inclusion efforts have improved in the video game industry, however, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. Sadly, our rate of technological advancement and financial gain is not in alignment with our social responsibility efforts and ethics. This is why it’s so important for minorities to be a part of this conversation, and contribute to the decisions that are changing the way we all engage in this within tech and gaming.  

Diversity fosters real innovation and creates a chance to explore different data sets. Within an industry like video games, it’s the innovations that are the cornerstones that keep this space exciting. 

Why is it important for young, up-and-coming gamers and creators to see successful people in the industry that represent underserved minorities?

Representation may be our most powerful tool in promoting confidence and equal opportunity for women and minorities in technology. Members of underrepresented communities need to see themselves in these important roles in tech and gaming. It’s fundamental that when we see people that look like us, we have an easier time having the confidence, awareness, and familiarity to proceed into highly competitive fields. 

When I was a teenager, as much as I loved games, it didn’t occur to me as a career path. It wasn’t because someone told me I couldn’t do this, it was because there was no highly visible representation of women (much less, black women) in this space at the time, and my family was unfamiliar with the industry. “You can’t be what you can’t see.” 

It wasn’t until I saw Aisha Tyler’s Comedy Central special back in 2009 that I really felt like, maybe I can do this. I often think that maybe if I had a role model in this field earlier in my life, it would have radically affected my educational and career choices. It’s currently a major driving factor that allows me to never give up. I want to be an example of the possibilities that can exist.  

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