During a recent session featuring Black women in gaming at Adweek’s Nextech event, COEXIST founder Jaye “Letta J” Watts’ opening remarks pointed to how the industry’s top two games—NBA2K and Madden NFL—prominently feature athletes of color, citing their popularity as strong indicators of the importance people of color hold in the space. Watts also noted that mobile gaming, the most lucrative revenue generators in the industry at over $100 billion, is predominantly led by women.
Yet, with millions of Black gamers, many of whom are women, and years of sophisticated software developments enabling the creation of more realistic hair and skin texture depictions for video game characters, there remains a significant stride to be made when it comes to more accurately depicting the texturized hair and the natural and protective styles worn by people of color.
Armed with this awareness, along with data showing that 85% of Black gamers believe video games currently depict textured hair poorly, with 91% showing an eagerness to see characters reflecting their own experience, Dove and Open Source Afro Hair Library, working with creative agency partner, Edelman, have launched “Code My Crown,” a free guide for coding natural hairstyles in video games.
The guide—now available at Dove.com/CodeMyCrown—provides “step-by-step instructions, 360-degree photo mapping, and full open source code so that any developer—anywhere— can code more diverse, true-to-life, depictions of Black hairstyles and textures in 3D.”
To create it, Dove and Open Source Afro Hair Library partnered natural hair experts with a team of Black 3D artists, programmers and academics from across the globe and Black diaspora to develop 15 hair sculpts which can then be used to further develop “hundreds of virtual hair possibilities.”
In a video released by the brand, in which gaming enthusiast Atari Woolley says “Naturally, you want to spend your time playing with a character that looks like you,” we see a glimpse of the process of developing the styles and excited reactions of gamers when shown the results.
“In the real world, there is an incredible variety of Black hairstyles,” A.M. Darke, lead “Code my Crown” contributor and founder of Open Source Afro Hair Library, said in a statement. “But this is rarely reflected in the gaming world. When Black hair is absent from the games we play or are consistently low-quality, it communicates that Black players and our culture are an afterthought, that our stories aren’t worth telling. How else can we explain the ubiquity of matted Cornrows, bald patches instead of parts, giant disco ‘Fros, and the messy, Unstyled Locs? Why is a common Fade or Twist Out rarely an option?”
A CROWNing achievement
For Dove, which in recent years has co-founded the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) Coalition to help advocate to end hair-based discrimination and was instrumental in the passage of the CROWN Act legislation that protects against race-based hair discrimination in workplaces and schools, the initiative is a continuation of the brand’s mission to create “real impact in the virtual world.”
Last year, the brand dovetailed into the virtual space with the launch of Real Virtual Beauty, described as “a series of commitments challenging the representation of beauty online,” specifically targeting negative stereotypes of beauty and representation in gaming. It also launched SuperU Story, a video game designed to build kids’ self-esteem, on the Roblox platform.
“At Dove, we believe every single person should see their beauty represented in the world around them—this is no different for the virtual world,” said Leandro Barreto, senior vp, Global Dove Masterbrand, in a statement. “The importance of accurately and respectfully depicting textured hair in video games cannot be overstated, and we are proud to play a small part in taking action to set a new standard for diversity and representation in video games.”
Barreto continued: “There is more to be done to ensure Black gamers see themselves in the games they play, but we can’t do it alone. We are calling on gaming developers and industry leaders to join us to help make virtual beauty a reality with Code My Crown.”
News of the Code My Crown initiative was announced during the NexTech session prior to its launch and was met with understandable enthusiasm from CEO and founder of Black Girl Gamers, Jay-Ann Lopez, who was speaking on the panel along with Watts and *gameHERS board member, Nicole Lapointe Jameson with host, Blake Newby, moderating.
“That representation is especially key, and it also provides skills not just to Black developers, but to all developers of all backgrounds to enable them to actually think outside of their self-representation box which has also caused a problem,” Lopez. She says she also believes that seeing such representation will resonate with Black children, who may consider a future career path in the space as “a character rigger, a game designer, a character designer.”