This essay serves as an introduction to a recorded panel discussion on the subject of sports, gaming, and Blackness. Discussion participants include Javon Goard, Stephanie Jones, Jaymon Ortega, and Dr. Kishonna L. Gray. The discussion video can be found at https://archive.org/details/WeGaminBasketball.
With the rise in popularity of online games like Fortnite (2017), Among Us (2018), and Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), social-media spaces, especially Black Twitter, have been sites for sharing new and old recordings of gameplay. The public conversations on social media about these recordings have propelled conversations forward on continued racial hostilities and in turn created a cultural lexicon around what it means to be Black in online gaming spaces.
As public discourse around Blackness and gaming continues to expand and scholarship continues to grow, we will need to confront our assumptions about Blackness, esports, and gaming, and factor in Black contributions to popular culture. From Vines to TikTok, from hip-hop to Reddit, Black culture is intimately embedded into popular culture (sometimes in exploitative ways). As this video essay illustrates, Black culture has always been intimately connected to sports culture, and the associated video provides a detailed exploration into the intersections of sports, gaming, and Blackness.
Screencapture from recording of NBA basketball stars playing 2v2 Starcraft before the 1999 NBA Finals, as seen on Twitter. Posted September 27, 2019, 6:29 p.m., https://twitter.com/Slasher/status/1177711990111899649.
For this special issue of ROMchip dedicated to esports history, the four “authors” produced a recorded panel discussion about one specific recording that surfaced on Twitter in 2019: unaired footage of four Black NBA basketball stars enjoying a Starcraft LAN party in a hotel room just days before the 1999 NBA Finals at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.1 All four players—Tim Duncan, Malik Rose, David Robinson, and Sean Elliott—were teammates with the San Antonio Spurs, set to face off against the New York Knicks [see fig. 1]. The footage showcases team camaraderie, Black joy and excellence, and impromptu gaming sessions among friends. It affirms both the meaningful history basketball holds in the Black community, as well as the important intersection between digital gaming and basketball. As an artifact, this recording provides important context for Black gaming history, a context underexplored in the cultural memory of competitive gaming.
In our panel discussion, we explore the importance of Black representation in gaming culture as it relates to sustaining BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) histories in gaming spaces. Traditional athletes were not aligned with the hegemonic understanding of what a “gamer” was in the 1990s. By interrogating this contradiction, we treat the video as an archive unto itself, discussing the many threads that would lead four Black male star athletes to play Starcraft, a real-time strategy (RTS) game set in outer space (which was released for Microsoft Windows on March 31, 1998). Our goal for this discussion is to not only add to the digital conversation about/around Black gaming but also to highlight Black contributions to gaming and esports. Coming from different disciplines, we offer intersectional approaches to how we might better understand the importance of a Black legacy of gaming within gaming discourses.
In the video essay, we engage the following questions as we complicate gaming culture and game studies discourse by focusing on Black gamers and content creators as central to the development to more intersectional approaches to Black history within gaming spaces:
What was the intent behind the filming/dissemination of this recording?
How are famous Black people used in social-media spaces to promote a particular image of Black people and/or further marginalize their own communities?
Why has the narrative of Black athletes as gamers been excluded in gaming literature?
Has Black popular culture obfuscated the importance or influence of gaming to notions of Black identity?
This panel discussion was recorded over two hours via Zoom. Guest editor Iris Bull edited the footage into its final form, which resides on the Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/WeGaminBasketball.
1. ^ Rod Breslau (@Slasher), “Reddit dug up footage of the Spurs playing Starcraft 2v2 between games of the 1999 NBA finals[.] the track balls mice, the old laptops the intro music, Timmy getting mad losing to the Admiral. It’s all amazing (thx r/NBA),” Twitter, September 27, 2019, 6:29 p.m., https://twitter.com/Slasher/status/1177711990111899649.