Black Women Gamers Talk Beauty, Opportunities and Challenges
Beauty brands are just starting to wake up to the lucrative video gaming industry, which has a massive female following.
Within that, various platforms — such as Black Girl Gamers and NNESAGA — have emerged to give voice and support to Black women gamers, a powerful subset.
ColourPop Cosmetics, MAC Cosmetics and Urban Decay are among the brands starting to enter into the gaming sphere, which in 2020 was estimated to be worth $159.3 billion, according to Newzoo.
In the U.S. last year, nearly 41 percent of gamers were female, Statista data shows. Yet, despite the high proportion of women, gaming is still largely considered a white man’s game.
“Gaming mirrors the real world,” said Jay-Ann Lopez, founder of Black Girl Gamers. “For a long time, the default in a gaming advertisement was white men. What does that say to the other consumers?”
“It’s never been a thing for men,” contended Stephanie Ijoma, founder of NNESAGA. “Gaming is gaming, whether you’re a man, woman — anything. Growing up as a gamer, I never saw it as being a guy’s hobby. I just saw it as something that I loved.
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“There’s a lot of gatekeeping that, unfortunately, a lot of men do within the games industry,” she continued. “I try to ensure that gaming should be an equal playing field for everyone.”
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Here, some prominent members of the Black female gaming community share insights on beauty brands, what they like to play and challenges being faced.
Jay-Ann Lopez, founder of Black Girl Gamers
Jay-Ann Lopez began gaming at a very young age and began Black Girl Gamers in 2015.
Jay-Ann Lopez Courtesy of Jay-Ann Lopez
“I started it because there was a need,” she said. “I didn’t have any other Black women who were my friends who played games. Gaming can be very toxic because there’s a lot of non-amenity when the people play. They can say racists and sexist things to you — and get away with it for a lot of the time.”
Black Girl Gamers has not only grown to include more than 7,000 members now, but it also hosts events, such as Gamer Girls Night In, created with the gaming and entertainment platform NNESAGA.
“We had beauty brands, gaming brands, women of all different shapes, sizes, creeds, religions and backgrounds there as a safe space, but also a women’s gaming event because a lot of gaming events are formed from the male perspective,” Lopez said. Sponsors included Makeup Revolution and Palmer’s.
Lopez has also cofounded a platform called Curlture, focusing on natural hair and beauty.
“My favorite games have always had a kind of fantasy element or an element of diversity,” she said, naming among them: Guild Wars 2 and Mirror’s Edge — “because it has an Asian American female lead, and she’s really badass, she does parkour and martial arts. Enter the Matrix is a game that focused on two diverse leads: an Asian man and a Black female. So those were my favorite games back in the day, and nowadays a lot of social games are my favorites. Currently, I’m playing a game called Spellbreak.”
Lopez lauded the first Sims and MAC Cosmetics tie-in, when they offered new makeup skins.
“Sometimes, though, brands are behind the curve what it comes to what creators can create by themselves,” she said. “Sometimes they try to offer the official brand thing in a game. It’s like we can create this as well. Why do we need to pay for this?”
Lopez suggests brands work with creators who understand where the market’s gaps are. Lopez liked the Levi’s x Super Mario collaboration, with customized jackets and dungarees that could be purchased in the real world.
“It was just so cool and fashionable,” she said. “Sometimes companies try a little bit too hard. They’re not really listening.”
Lopez was part of a T-shirt collaboration with Asos’ Collusion and Space Invaders, where one could use a Snapchat filter making a design on a T-shirt virtually come to life.
She’s partial to Fenty Beauty, due to its extensive shade range. For cosplayers, watercolor eyeliners — like from By Melolops — are key since they allow people to paint their faces like game characters, Lopez said.
“Glossier [Perfecting] Skin Tint is my savior, because I love a glowy look,” Lopez said. “And then Milk [Makeup], their Hydro Grip Primer.”
Stephanie Ijoma, founder of NNESAGA
“I have been a gamer since I was four years old,” said Stephanie Ijoma, founder of NNESAGA. “Sometimes life is stressful, and you just want to be in your own world. That’s where gaming takes me.”
Stephanie Ijoma Courtesy of Stephanie Ijoma
In 2015, she created NNESAGA, “to champion diversity and inclusion within gaming,” she explained. “Growing up as a gamer, I never really saw video game characters that necessarily look like me. There were one or two characters here and there, but it was very scarce. My role in this industry is to make sure that we’re visible and granted the same opportunities as everyone else.”
Ijoma’s favorite game is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. “That’s what helped me mold my branding aesthetic,” she said. “It really opened a new world when it came to beauty, fashion and music, in particular.”
Growing up, she loved Final Fantasy VII, while more recent games Ijoma enjoys are Spider-Man: Miles Morales, starring an Afro-Latino character, and Ghost of Tsushima.
Although the gaming industry is making progress, there are still few female protagonists, and even fewer Black female protagonists.
“Gaming should not be seen as one particular spectrum,” said Ijoma, who noted EA Game Changers, such as EbonixSims, have improved the variety of custom content for Sims of color.
“Brands that are now looking at gaming as the new thing, they need to be very careful when it comes to stepping in the games industry,” she said. “The games industry and the gaming community are very protective, because we’ve been on our own for so long.
“A lot of times when you do see beauty brands trying to mix with gaming it’s not done well,” Ijoma said. “That is because there’s not the right people on the team to actually consult.”
Part of her work is to help brands see how to make things inclusive and diverse.
She thought ColourPop’s collaboration with Animal Crossing, involving anime, was well done.
“I’d love to see more Black-owned beauty brands do collaborations [in gaming],” said Ijoma, adding it would be great, too, if some well-established brands, such as Estée Lauder, move into the gaming sphere with their long history of quality and solid audience-building.
She noted Urban Decay has been gifting makeup to some Twitch streamers.
“It gives gamers the freedom to do whatever they want,” she said. “It’s very exciting, and I want to be able to see more of that.”
Ijoma added: “For women in general, and especially for Black women, don’t be afraid to try something different. You are absolutely important and valued in this industry.”
Kason aka Cupahnoodle
Kason, also known as Cupahnoodle, began gaming at about the age of three, when her five-year-old brother was given a Nintendo.
Kason Courtesy of Cupahnoodle
“Between the two of us, we have owned every console, with the exception of the Sega Saturn and Sega Dreamcast,” she said. “Not matter what I did, I always went back to gaming. Before I knew it, I was an adult — and I was still gaming.”
Today, she is a content creator across various platforms, such as Twitch and YouTube. She was also the first Black woman to host TwitchCon.
“We’re building communities,” she said. “[Games-wise], I’m here for the stories, the challenges. Every game is different. You get to go on really fun rides or immerse yourself in different timelines, time arcs and storylines.”
Kason likes fighter games and is getting into the shooter genre. “I have fallen in love with Apex, even though it’s mean to me,” she admitted.
Among all-time most adored games include Resident Evil 2, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Parasite Eve.
Kason has noted brands moving into gaming. “It’s new — everyone is trying to find their footing,” she said. “Makeup in gaming is extraordinarily new.
“We play video games, but we still wear makeup,” Kason added, about female gamers. “If we can incorporate it into gaming, it’s pretty cool. I’m here for it.”
It’s key that brands are sure their products have to do with the game with which they’re linking up.
“ColourPop did a really great job with Animal Crossing,” Kason said. “I’d love to see makeup companies collab with gamers, to make different palettes. Gaming as a whole is an untapped market, especially for the beauty industry. You can’t be one foot in, one foot out [or] be lazy about it, because we take our games pretty seriously.”
Kason’s favorite beauty brands include Pat McGrath Labs, Anastasia Beverly Hills, Becca Cosmetics and Milk Makeup.
Rabbit Plays Games
Gaming has been a lifetime hobby for the gamer called Rabbit Plays Games.
Rabbit Plays Games Courtesy of Rabbit Plays Games
“I grew up in a family that was very big into tech,” she said, explaining that her father was an engineer. “He bought us computers early on — all these different types of video game consoles. It’s something that we all did together, since I can remember.”
Rabbit focuses on retro titles, fifth-generation console and prior, and genres such as Japanese Role-Playing Games and others that are narrative-driven, which provide immersion opportunities.
“There’s just so much characterization, and lore- and world-building,” she said. “I like to be wholly sucked into something. I really enjoy the whimsy of the old-school, narrative-driven video games.”
Rabbit sees opportunities for beauty brands in Esports, such as League of Legends or Dota, when there are all-female teams of gamers who might be sponsored. Also in gaming cosplay or roleplay, where people copy gaming characters’ looks.
“The beauty industry is starting to tap into these various outlets,” she said.
Beauty-wise, Rabbit personally focuses on hair care.
“I really have found myself gravitating more toward inclusive brands that have launched products that are targeting various hair textures,” she said, naming Swag as an example.
Briana Williams aka Storymodebae
“I have been gaming since I was about four or five years old,” said content creator Briana Williams, known as Storymodebae. “I used to go to my dad’s job, and he would be at his desk playing a computer game. Just watching him play — I was so mesmerized. Fast forward a couple of months, and my parents got me my very first PlayStation, and the rest was history. I could not imagine my life without video games.
Briana Williams Courtesy of Briana Williams
“I really love games that tell a story,” she said. “I love being captivated and transported.”
Among her favorites are The Last of Us, Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto.
“One of the things that I strive and fight for the most is representation. To play something and see yourself represented on screen is almost life-changing,” she said. “I can maybe count on one hand how many Black women characters you can play.”
She came upon Black Girl Gamers while looking on YouTube.
“I had a hard time finding gamers that look like me,” she said. “That’s what actually got me into streaming in the first place. I was like: ‘I want to represent for all the Black women out there.’”
Williams has noted more of a broad brand drive into gaming.
“It’s definitely been a goal of mine to branch out with brands outside of computers, PCs and games,” she said. “There’s so many brands we use in our everyday life, and while I do love playing video games, I would love to get those other brands included, as well.”
MAC Cosmetics, Urban Decay and ColourPop’s entries into gaming have been on her radar. Sims, she said, is the most diverse game, as it allows users to make modifications to create custom content to either alter game features or introduce their own when it comes, for example, to skin tone.
“I would like to see, of course, more options that work for characters of all colors and backgrounds,” Williams said. “But there has definitely been more of a push to make that change happen.”
Williams appreciates inclusive brands, such as Urban Decay or Fenty Beauty. With a penchant for winged eyes her must-have products include eyeliner, mascara and lip gloss.
“There’s so many amazing women out there in the gaming realm,” she said. “I would love to see brands [used in everyday life] partnering up with them.”
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