By Annabel Guo
In continuation of our series celebrating Black History Month, USC Games held an interview with MFA student Taylor Dinwiddie (he/him). Dinwiddie is passionate about Black representation, and he seeks to find ways in which marginalized voices may be better heard in the games industry.
Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: To get us started, tell me about yourself! What are you passionate about in games?
A: I’m really, really interested in the idea of representation and how we can improve what marginalizes voices in games. One of the things that has always been a little bit alarming to me is that the industry is actually only two percent Black. That’s just insane to me, especially because here in my program we actually have a pretty solid number of Black people. Black people are really interested in games, but I don’t see it reflected in the same way in the industry—so I’m like, what can I do to really advance that and then also get even more people who look like me interested in this field?
Q: That’s incredibly important. Either professionally or personally, what does Black History Month mean to you?
A: Good question. I don’t know how I can do it justice, to be perfectly honest, but I think it just speaks to resilience. That’s the first word that comes to my mind when I think of the strength of my culture, because we have really gone through a lot and suffered a ton. But still, we rise, as one of my friends in my program, Olivia Peace, likes to say. That’s really stuck with me, because I really do feel like that is true. Whenever I think of Black History Month, I think of our strength and resilience—our ability to keep going even in really difficult circumstances that we’re obviously still experiencing today in different forms.
Q: How do you feel your identity as a Black person intersects with your identity as a game developer, and how does that alter your experience?
A: Really good question. I think the two definitely intersect in terms of the interest I’m pursuing in general. A lot of the experiences that I’ve been creating up until this point, even my thesis project right now, have been about either the Black experience or trying to find ways to infuse the Black experience into more traditional genres, games, and themes. That’s actually one of the pressure points of my thesis that I’ve been running into. I am making a 2D visual novel about a detective who’s forced to balance his wit and his heart to solve mysteries and misunderstandings. It’s detective, mystery, noir—those genres that are very familiar—but it’s trying to infuse Black voices. That actually has run into a couple of problems, because it’s like, how do you stay true to the idea of a mystery and noir film that people associate with whiteness but still keep it Black? There’s a lot of intersection, and it’s really interesting finding how many things are just not considered when it comes to incorporating more marginalized voices into what we know and consider to be the norm.
Q: How do you think Black representation should manifest in games?
A: That’s also a tricky one for me to properly answer, just because I feel like the only way for it to really manifest is for more opportunities and access to resources to really be provided. I still feel extremely fortunate to even be in the position of being a student here, because there are plenty of people—again, Black people and other marginalized folks—that, for whatever reason, cannot be in a similar position, whether it be financial or just access to particular education or support. It’s like, how can we really break into the industry if we can’t even get those prior steps on an equal footing as well? In terms of how I’d like to see it manifested, really, is thinking about the difference between equality versus equity—just getting those resources out to more people who really do need them, and given the right circumstances, they could be in the exact same place I am right now or doing even better.
Q: Who is a Black hero from either a game or real life that inspires you?
A: I don’t know if it really counts as a hero, but I have to pick my mom. Even though she’s not some super well-known fictional hero, my mom actually went to USC as well. Having someone like her being the trailblazer really pushed me to pursue education itself and not be ashamed of my interest in school and learning. It’s super cheesy, but I have to say her because she really, really laid the groundwork for me.