This is the first entry of my new series Gaming While Black – A Wookie Named Hellraiser. For now, it will be my own personal experiences but I’d be interested in hearing from or featuring others in the future.
In the Summer of 2004…
My brother and I started playing an MMORPG called Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) with our father. Our father preferred the loner approach, camping out in the middle of nowhere as a Ranger. My brother and I sought epic adventures, joining the Rebel Alliance, and the quest to discover new people in this galaxy far far away. Whilst out exploring Tatooine, my brother a Zabrak Smuggler and I, a Twi’lek Creature Handler and Tera Kasi Master (well at the time nowhere near a “Master”) were approached by a Wookie named Hellraiser.
He was riding a Speeder!!
We were so excited. We were still very new to the game and had not learned how to acquire a vehicle. Hellraiser changed all that. After finding out we were mere N00bs he gave us both 10k in credits and me a Speeder. He informed us we wouldn’t survive long with what we had currently equipped and we were going to need to find new gear. He pulled out his two-seater Landspeeder <insert fangasm> and told my brother to hop in and we sped off into the desert.
For the next few months, we three were inseparable…
Hellraiser helped us quickly adapt in Star Wars Galaxies. My brother became amazing at flipping gear and earning credits. I tamed Rancors for pets and acquired a multitude of rideable mounts. We joined an awesome guild and participated in Rebel vs Empire PVP events. We talked about things we liked IRL. Especially when there was a 10 minute wait between shuttles to different planets. He introduced us to one of the best Star Wars Parody Raps Ever.
We later learned he was a young White kid but that mattered not to us.
One day we were joined on our adventures by a Bothan named Snoopdogg (because Bothans are an Anthropomorphic Dog’sque Species).
Snoopdogg gushed at how great we were, accepting and helpful. At one point Snoopdogg inferred that Hellraiser might be Black because of the way he talked (via text chat in-game). He was excited to meet another Black person playing SWG. Hellraiser was taken aback and quickly made it known that he was in fact, White. Snoopdogg didn’t care either way, but my brother and I were now ecstatic that WE had found another Black person. We quickly told Snoopdogg that we were siblings and Black as well. This revealed apparently shocked Hellraiser and he quickly logged off.
Over the next couple of weeks…
My brother and I constantly tried to get in contact with Hellraiser but to no avail. After about 3 weeks we finally saw Hellraiser log on and quickly partied up with him to ask why he hadn’t contacted us in so long. To our surprise and dismay, Hellraiser explained that he’d been shocked to find out that my brother and I were “Black People” (as well as Snoopdogg) and felt uncomfortable. Hellraiser explained that he did not know any Black people. We exclaimed that he knew us, but he insisted that he was scared of Black people and was now uncomfortable playing the game with us. After going back and forth on the topic Hellraiser said he would like to continue playing with us once he got more comfortable. When he logged off that day we never heard from him again.
To my fairly sheltered teenage self, this was devastating.
How could my brother and I be “scary Black people” and through a game no less? Why were we, as Black People, scary? What was wrong with our blackness? We both thought we’d grown to know Hellraiser and that he would be a friend far into the future. Though I continued to play the game, it felt less like a safe space in a galaxy far far away. It was a little less of the place I thought I could escape to, to just a be Jedi Twi’lek I knew I was. In SWG, I am Black. I am Scary.
I’ve since come to learn that revealing your identity as a Black person is not always a good idea.
It can come with unsolicited alarm, backlashed, and disbelief if you’re a woman. Many times people have demanded I “prove” that I’m a woman when I’ve revealed my gender. Often times over voice chat people accuse me of lying when I state that I’m Black. Because a Black woman, of course, can’t speak with Non-Regional Diction. This memory, this little nugget of joy was thrust into mind while playing a game called Black Desert Online (BDO). Certain aspects of BDO have caused me to wonder if video games can truly be a safe space for Black People…
Have you had an encounter like this when? Share your story in the comments below…