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El Paso, Elsewhere Dev Drags Industry’s ‘Sudden Silence’ In Uplifting Black Voices

El Paso, Elsewhere was a big game for indie studio Strange Scaffold when it launched in September 2023. The Max Payne-like, narrative-driven vampire shooter centered a Black male character in the leading role, something you don’t see too often in the games industry. Well, Strange Scaffold founder Xalavier Nelson Jr. isn’t too happy about that reality, criticizing the industry in a recent speech for the “sudden silence” he’s repeatedly seen when it comes to supporting projects by Black devs.

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During Black In Gaming Presents, an independent award ceremony that was held the same week as the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Nelson tore into the games industry. In a moving monologue he gave after winning the Black in Gaming Foundation’s Indie Developer Award on March 19, he said that El Paso, Elsewhere was “rejected by publisher after publisher” before going on to become a smash hit for Strange Scaffold. This irked him because, in his words, the industry capitalizes on Black aesthetics “because it’s become the shorthand for what it is to be cool” while remaining ambivalent about actually funding Black-owned games and “[promoting] Black professionals to direction and leadership” roles.

“When Black creatives come to the table with the full force of their creative vision and expertise apparent,” Nelson Jr. said during the speech, captured in videos he posted to X (formerly Twitter), “they are glad-handed to death and told how important their work is and how valuable it is while resources and visibility are placed elsewhere.”

Nelson Jr. thanked everyone for supporting him, Strange Scaffold, and El Paso, Elsewhere, but he wasn’t done dragging the games industry quite yet. He also slammed the industry for “rolling in profits” while thousands of developers lose their jobs left and right. Ultimately, he begged his people, Black people, to remember their value and not accept this treatment.

“I want to urge my people, the disproportionately talented 2% of this industry, to flee the city that starves you,” Nelson Jr. said. “The games industry, despite rolling in profits, is cannibalizing itself by the days, harming developers, destroying player experiences. We see the headlines. Do not—I’m gonna repeat this—do not lay yourself at its mercy. Do not depend upon its largesse. Do not…God…Do not play by its rules. Whenever and wherever possible, choose projects, scopes, and funding strategies that allow you to exist outside of systems that cannot even preserve themselves.”

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