Web Site's Game Plan



When AAGamer.com made its debut in August 2002 it ushered in a new era of multicultural game sites.

Part educational site, part hip Web portal, AAGamer.com was started by Roderick Woodruff and his wife, best-selling author Connie Briscoe, after they noticed that they didn't see characters that looked like them in video games.

"I always loved to play online games but I would always ask myself, 'Where are all of the black [characters]?'" says Briscoe, a New York Times best-selling author who likes to play games such as Star Wars.

"It always amazes me that when you Google 'black gamers' that you don't get any results related to black gamers, black games or anything else despite our high rate of consumption [of video games]," says Woodruff. "It's almost as if we don't exist."

To fill the void, the couple from Ellicott City invested $100,000 into AAGamer .com, which in part advocates the Afrocentric perspective on gamer industry news, rates new games and offers games such as blackjack and solitaire that can be played on the site.

A March study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that blacks between ages 8 and 18 played video and computer games about 90 minutes a day -- 30 minutes more than their white counterparts.

At its start, AAGamer.com's strategy was to siphon away African-American users from immensely popular Web sites such as IGN.com, Gamespy.com and Gamasutra.com.

However, the early returns were not promising as AAGamer.com was drowned out in a sea of start-up Web sites that were all starting to fade out.

To remain afloat, Woodruff refocused his energy on the social issues surrounding gaming for African-Americans. He, like others, took issue with the negative portrayal of African-Americans in video games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and True Crime: Streets of L.A., a video game that features rapper Snoop Dogg.

"I'm the father of an African-American child who attends a mostly white school, whose friends probably play Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," Woodruff says, referring to the gang warfare game often criticized for using racial stereotypes and epithets. "I don't want them to get desensitized to the N-word."

"In order to change the menu, you have to sit at the table," Briscoe says.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has recently been criticized for its sexual content, raising even more concerns about the video game. Its rating was changed to adult-only last month.

Woodruff called on the video game industry to address the issue of diversity in video games at the Digital Arts Technology Symposium last October in Silver Spring.

The symposium "showed me that there was a need to get this [diversity information] out into a wider venue to high school gyms, college campuses and the classrooms to get African-Americans who are usually just consumers and turn them into producers," Woodruff says.

To further the cause, Woodruff and others started the Urban Video Gaming Academy this summer in Baltimore, where African-American children are taught about gaming, its invention and the need for positive characters that look like them.

"If you don't want to see [the video game] Grand Theft Auto and you want to see the likes of Hannibal or Dr. [Martin Luther] King in a video game then you have to develop the skill sets in African-Americans who can become the new storytellers," Woodruff said.

Diversity in gaming has gotten a huge response. Others are taking notice.

AAGamer.com "is a very good idea. And it's about time," says Omar Wasow of BlackPlanet.com, the Web site that receives the most African-American traffic. "Not only can AAGamer.com speak to, but they can speak for, black gamers to stop some of these stereotypes."

It is the couple's hope that blaxploitation characters in videos will usher in more respectable portrayals, similar to the way the roles of African-Americans have evolved in the film industry.

"Before you had Denzel Washington you had blaxploitation characters that led up to Denzel," says Briscoe. "I think that the video game industry will go through that same sort of change."


Carmelo Anthony -- The Denver Nuggets star loves to play Madden, NBA Live -- of which he was the cover athlete -- and NCAA Football but word has it that 'Melo's secret stash includes role-playing games Dead to Rights and Halo.

Larenz Tate -- The actor has soul -- as in Soul Calibur II -- one of his favorite games in which Tate, who will play "Quick" Lyles in the movie Crenshaw Blvd. co-starring Nelly and Meagan Good, loves to play the demented, dementia characters from the mind of Hiroaki Yotoriyama, director of Soul Calibur II.

Source: G4-Video Game TV

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