In our latest Federation Diversity Spotlight, we talk to Kish Hirani who’s a self-employed Chief Technical Officer by trade and dedicated volunteering Founding Chair of diversity-driven community, BAME in Games. As Kish so rightly points out, if you’ve got a mobile phone today, then you can be classed as a gamer, and let’s face it, that’s a vast majority of the economically-developed population.
In 2020, the British video games industry generated more revenue than film, TV and music combined, for the third year running. Games are for everybody and it’s time to start seeing the video games industry for the valuable and viable career path it is. So, what has been done and what can be done to champion diverse talent in games? Let’s find out more.
Fed: Tell us more about BAME in Games and everything it stands for?
Kish: BAME refers to the official government acronym for Black Asian Minority Ethnic and we chose to rhyme that with games to create BAME in Games. BAME in Games is a grassroots, non-profit, volunteer-run organisation, dedicated to advocating for ethnic diversity within the video games industry.
Fed: What does your role as Chair generally encompass, and how did you come to be involved?
Kish: BAME in Games was formed four years ago and I’m the founding Chair. Effectively, we took the blueprint from Women in Games, which was formed six years before. We gathered around a table to ask if anybody thought we needed an ethnic minority group and almost everybody said yes because there wasn’t one.
I was keen that if we were going to form this group, it had to make business sense. It wasn’t just about doing it because it’s the right thing to do. So, I said I would volunteer as Chair for six months and here we are four years on and I’m still Chair! Everything is self-funded so my role is all about leading a team of volunteers, and collaborating on initiatives to see what differences we can make.
Fed: What is BAME in Games doing to improve access to industry for talent from diverse backgrounds?
Kish: Our main networking activity are our monthly meet-ups, which are by far the most effective in making a tangible difference. The aim of them is to foster a space for BAME developers working or wanting to work in the industry. We put a lot of our energy and resources into these. The meet-ups have been at development studios, or bodies associated with the industry, mostly in and around London but since COVID, have become virtual. The Virtual meets have given us a much wider audience as well allowing us to cover studios all across Britain. In addition to that, we’ve also got our mentoring programme that we launched at the end of 2020 which we’re developing throughout 2021.
We really want to change the perception of the video games industry as being only for young people, or not a serious career. Doing this will help us attract new talent and then enable us to increase diversity within the industry. Right now, it’s only 10% BAME in the video games industry but it’s never been the case that the industry is not welcoming – it’s more parents, mentors and teachers, who wish well, but don’t see the games industry as a real career path.
Fed: What is your advice on how to grow a large scale network like BAME in Games?
Kish: The grassroots approach is the best and allows it to be inclusive as well as allowing all volunteers and the network to grow organically. If you look at it historically, the BFI and BAFTAs, and other organisations fifty or sixty years ago, that’s how they all started out. It just requires passionate individuals to get something off the ground. It’s not just about throwing money at it – then you start leaving behind the real passionate people who want to make a difference; your allies.
Appreciating that individuals have full-time jobs and allowing that flexibility is also incredibly important. Certain growth techniques that apply work practices like setting business goals and SMART objects don’t work here. Grow it organically and slowly or you will end up losing passionate volunteers.
Fed: How have you seen attitudes in the industry towards diverse talent change over the past 5-10 years?
Kish: Women in tech – not just the games industry – have had good momentum in the last ten years. A change of attitude from both sides has resulted in more women applying for roles, as well as more companies seeing the importance of a diverse team. That has been followed by ethnic minorities, as well as other minorities like LGBTQ+ in the last five years as people started to recognise that more diversity means more creativity within teams. More recently, the attention has also gone all the way into neurodiversity and mental wellbeing. They should have been important subjects all along but now, there’s more awareness right through to the people at the top running companies.
Fed: What more do you think needs to be done to make the games and digital entertainment industry even more inclusive?
Kish: Our biggest challenge right now is a lack of apprenticeship programmes and initiatives from creative councils and various other bodies. We have the standard academia channels all the way to university now well-set in providing the industry with qualified graduates, but those that do not pursue the academic path are completely neglected when it comes to apprenticeships. As I said earlier, a change of perception is also key. A large portion of the media, parents, mentors, and teachers still don’t see games and digital entertainment as a viable or serious career. Once government-recognised apprentices are in place, that will really make a tremendous difference to how people view careers in the games industry.
To stay in the loop with the BAME in Games meet-up calendar, head to www.meetup.com/BAME-in-Games/, or to find out more about the expanding mentorship programme, go to www.initiatives.prospela.com/big.