“Good Troubles”, Xbox’s Celebrated Black Voices Initiative
Why this does not represent the gaming industry’s efforts in committing to building an inclusive community
By Nidhiyaa Anagananthan
Image Courtesy of Minecraft Education Edition Press Kit
Xbox introduces their campaign to celebrate Black History month by highlighting African American developers and creators by raising awareness of racial injustice. As part of their commitment, they encourage gamers and the wider Xbox community to discuss the importance of representation in gaming.
Xbox dedicates this month’s live streaming content to featuring Black protagonists in games, developers, content creators and streamers alike. Microsoft reward points from playing and purchases will go towards supporting Black communities, including Gameheads and Black Girls Code, both organizations that foster technological growth in young African Americans. Undead labs and makers of State of Decay Franchise team up with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to release an original T-shirt design by artist Ty Ferrell. Moreover, players can now customize their profile with special nameplates in Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
Merch and customized name plates aside, this event’s most proactive response to Black History month is perhaps Minecraft giving history lessons. Almost two years since its initial release, Minecraft: Education Edition expands its repertoire by releasing equity and inclusion lessons. To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month, Minecraft offers four new lessons and a free demo experience.
Minecraft has always been a game to channel creativity within its players, but the question remains – how good is it as a classroom equipment?
Lessons in Good Troubles, released in November last year, allows students to learn about the accomplishments of activists across the world by taking the players on a tour riddled with lessons and activities. “Good Trouble”, as named after the Civil Rights Leader and US Congressman John Lewis’s efforts, is a world meant to have kids engage in reflective thinking and use their creativity to pay respect to the actions of social justice activists such as Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, etc.
Next, I find myself opening Who’s Dr. MLK Jr.?, a world specifically designed to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black history month. The whites and grays of the museum walls are almost daunting, carrying the weight of Dr. MLK Jr. accomplishments.
Navigating through the world on my own was akin to walking to an empty classroom with a blank notebook and a choice to sit at any desk in the classroom. Naturally, I would gravitate towards the back of the classroom, away from prying eyes and an opportunity to participate less. It would not surprise me if the same feeling was evoked in other students who, with little knowledge on any topic, would choose to participate less. Now, who’s to say they cannot take a day off education.
As educators, the responsibility still lies in the hands of the teachers to engage students in the topic. Luckily, the creators of Minecraft provide suggested lesson plans to use on this empty template. However, a lesson is only good as the teacher’s knowledge on Black history and their approach to teaching. It is easy to get students to build museum exhibits to honor the efforts of great leaders, but it takes more than lesson plans to immerse in a reflective experience.
Existing criticism aside from parents and teachers alike, Minecraft: Education Edition may be on the right direction towards educating children on racial injustice. The game fosters creativity and engages kids in reflective thinking about leaders of social justice movements. The teachers are equipped with the technological resources and lesson plans, but how they approach it, is up to them.
Note: Lessons in Good Trouble is available as a free demo throughout February, upon downloading Minecraft: Education Edition.
Xbox’s initiative to celebrate Black History Month, however, does not justify the neutral stance most companies have chosen to take. Nor does it conceal the game industry’s internal racial biases. What it does is tackle educating kids and encourage positive behavior under supervision. It makes us all think, is this it?
Time to look back at 2020, minus the rose-tinted glasses and blind optimism. When social justice issues arose last year, the game industry were not the first, or the last to respond. Gaming companies took to the internet to address racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“We denounce systematic racism and violence against the Black community. We will continue to work towards a future marked by empathy and inclusion and stand with our Black creators, players, employees, families, and friends. #BlackLivesMatter.” PlayStation stated along with other brands, keeping their statements short and unproblematic.
Gaming companies took to donating to organizations that fought for the cause. While this seems like the natural response to supporting social justice movements, it did nothing to curb the inherent racial exclusion within the community. In fact, gamers who speak up openly about the lack of representation face more backlash.
It is not just the gamers’ responsibility to build an inclusive community. In fact, game companies should be providing a platform and the means for gamers to broach issues such as racial injustice. Celebrating the existing efforts of creators in representing people of color through playable characters does not hide the current state of silence. It only calls for more proactive acts from the gaming-industry as a whole.