Celebrating Black History Month
Inside Insomniac, we have worked diligently to advance diversity and inclusion. Still, we want to do more.
One of our core tenets as a studio is that great ideas come from anyone. But to truly live that, we must help educate, challenge, inspire and most of all, learn from others as we help grow the global game development community.
For us, our journey continues by having more open and honest dialogue about representation, both internally and externally.
As we commemorate Black History Month at Insomniac, we asked members of our studio to share a black hero — real or fictional — who has inspired them. These are among the replies we received from our teammates, spanning different cultures, ethnicity and genders.
We wanted to share our Insomniacs’ stories with you. Some of them are deeply personal. We thought they might resonate with you the way they resonated with us.
Although he is a villain, out of all the black movies I’ve seen Black Panther’s Erik Killmonger is the first black villain that I can sympathize with. In most black films, the villain is always this douchebag guy or gal that you just absolutely hate because of their demeanor and how they treat the protagonist. I liked Killmonger because I felt that I could relate to him and connected with his character. My Marine Corps background made me connect to Killmonger on the level of a warrior. Becoming a Marine was one of the toughest challenges in my life, and Killmonger had a military background too, so I know he went through some tough training sculpting his mind and body.
Killmonger also didn’t have any luxuries growing up, starting from the bottom and working his way up to where he was then, although in the name of revenge he persevered through a lot of struggles which I understand. I grew up in a single-parent household, my mom was always working and we didn’t get to see her most of the time. But she always made sure we were on the right path. She would always warn us about who to stay away from and made sure we knew who drug dealers and gang members were and to never interact with them.
I grew up in the ghetto in LA and moved around, eventually ending up in a safer area in Apple Valley (Calif.). I remember hearing gunshots back then late at night and thinking it was fireworks. It wasn’t until we lived in San Bernardino that our neighbors were shot at. Luckily, no one was hurt but that’s a lifestyle some black people live.
When I was in middle school, my brother and I were jumped by these two black kids and they had a crowd following them. Later one of the guys talked to my brother and said he hoped we didn’t have any hard feelings about it because him and his buddy were trying to get initiated into a gang. Its kind of sad that they chose that route in their life and some people can’t even escape that life.
I could go on further but yeah, I know Killmonger is a bad guy but at any point in my own life I could’ve been a bad guy. Luckily I had guidance and Killmonger didn’t. I still understand where he’s coming from. He inspires me through his strength and determination, which I can respect in any hero or villain.
– Mikal C, Associate Environment Artist
TJ Hughes is an artist and game designer from St Louis, Missouri, creating a playful, chill-game, called Nour. TJ is a musician, inventor, programmer, fashion-extraordinaire ^.^, and an all-around stand-up guy and friend of many. His game, Nour, is highly innovative, creating an experiential play-space like no other. Nour accepts a variety of alternative MIDI controllers, tapping into TJ’s musician roots and inviting the player to leave their preconceptions of “games” behind. Nour is also aesthetic perfection with TJ’s self-programmed shaders and experimental playful design that comedically challenges the videogame status quo both on the screen and the IDE. TJ and Nour inspire developers and gamers new and old alike to have fun play with their food-game.
– Christina C, Associate Designer
Jerry Lawson revolutionized gaming forever with the invention of the video game cartridge. Without Jerry Lawson, it’s very likely that the game industry as we know it would not exist. His inventions gave me some of the happiest memories I had as a child, and shaped my career as an adult.
– Bryanna L, Lead VFX Artist
Growing up, I heard stories of my parents fleeing Cambodia during their Civil War. As a child hearing these stories, I never fully appreciated or understood the hardship they went through in this journey. My parents ran through active war zones, got separated from their friends, faced discrimination at the Cambodia/Thailand border, and helped shoulder my cousin throughout, who was a toddler during this time. All things I have forgotten about in my adult life, until reading N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. This book stirred my memories of my mother’s stories and I found myself often reflecting on my parents’ struggle while reading through. This book gave me back these memories and a deeper respect for my parents and for all of those who go on these difficult journeys for a better life.
– Sine G, Talent Development & Documentation Specialist
One of my personal heroes is game journalist Austin Walker. I’ve been following Austin since he was on The Giant Beastcast a few years ago. He has an academic background, and it shows in his thoughtful and analytical approach to game critique. He always does a great job framing discussions of game content within the context of the creator, the culture, and social issues around it.
I appreciate that he speaks from a perspective that is engaging for both the audience and developers. He often brings up industry news, including labor and crunch stories. I think the industry is stronger with Austin in it, and he represents the future of the industry that I’d like to see.
– Jenna R, VFX Artist
Someone that greatly inspired me was James Baldwin. I lived a generally sheltered life growing up, race and ethnicity was never really something my family talked about. Both of my parents were military, and I was born in Germany with German being my first language.
I lived and traveled to various places throughout my childhood but got a very narrow perspective of American history. I didn’t know what it meant when my mom mentioned that she’d attended the first integrated high school in Virginia and was the first in her family to do so. As I got older I had little understanding of why people began to classify me as a Black/African American, rather than just American, especially when the same was not applied to my white peers who adamantly claimed to be of Irish, English, Italian, etc. decent. People would question why I did “white people things”, played videogames, watched anime, listened to certain music, that I spoke articulately for a Black person.
I began to see “Blackness” as negative because it was never associated with the things I did or I liked or the dynamic of my family. In school, the history lessons never truly highlighted the contributions of Black people outside of the mild-mannered version of MLK. I began to disassociate myself from what I was told Blackness represented. It wasn’t until I attended a Historically Black University (HBCU) and was introduced to James Baldwin during a Black History Month and I realized that I was not ashamed of who I was, I was ashamed of the box people would put me in because of how they defined Blackness. As a writer, activist and key figure during the Civil Rights movement, he showed me I could take pride in who I am. He openly refused to fit into a box, was fierce, brilliant and unapologetic. He once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”– and when I faced the fact that I was ignoring a culture I could be proud of. That the Black experience is just as nuanced and varied as any other group and it’s filled with an extensive history of people with amazing stories and contributions that need to be shared.
– Natasha H, Quality Assurance
Serena Williams is my hero, both in spite of her race and also because of it. Because of it, because along with Venus, they literally burst through the color barrier of a sport that was almost exclusively white-dominated since its beginning . Their parents, Richard and Oracene, also deserve credit for this, as does pro tennis player Arthur Ashe, who broke that barrier decades before them. Now we are seeing young black women and men who grew up watching Serena and Venus, kicking ass in professional tennis, like young phenom Coco Gauff, Taylor Townsend, Francis Tiafoe, and others.
Serena’s my hero because she fights tirelessly for women’s rights and calls out all kinds of injustices when she sees them. She’s taken the issue of pay equity head on, and she speaks out loud and fearlessly about discrepancies between how women and men players are treated on the court. For instance, in 2018 she called an umpire a “thief” when she was accused of being coached during a match. Her response was this: “I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things and I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality… I’m going to continue to fight for women.” That takes incredible bravery, to say what others are thinking but might not have the courage to say it, or maybe they don’t want to open themselves up to criticism, understandably.
Everyone knows what an amazing, elite athlete Serena is but that doesn’t come from physicality alone. It’s backed up by a ridiculous amount of hard work, tenacity, inner-strength, passion for what she loves, dedication, bravery, fearlessness, confidence, and something that is so often talked about in tennis, belief in yourself. Every time I watch Serena play tennis I think to myself, “If I had a fraction of the confidence that Serena Williams has, I’d be ahead of the game.”
Serena Williams is someone we should all look up to, and someone who embodies everything that I believe a hero is made of.
– Carla S, Senior Project Manager
I grew up in a country that fought for its freedom just decades before I was born, and witnessed entrenched social inequality and a class separation based off a belief system while growing up. Nelson Mandela was a hero for me as he stood up against that fear of the “other.” Mandela fought for what he believed in, was punished for it and became an example and world leader. Always a reminder that the good things we have were battled for and that we should be courageous to battle again for what is right.
– Jason H, Lead Environment Artist