An easy burden: Carl-Edwin Michel and the duty to represent
As a journalist covering the tech and gaming worlds and the founder/CEO of esport production company Northern Arena, Carl-Edwin Michel is a familiar face to many in Canada’s gaming industry. By his own admission, he’s also “unfortunately” the most prominent Black voice on the scene.
“I would prefer to have way more people like me in the gaming community,” he admits, saying it was only in the last 2-3 years that it really hit him how underrepresented Blacks are in the industry.
His big awakening came at an event called the Black Game Pro Mixer in Toronto, which brought him together with Black employees of the city’s video game industry.
“At first it shocked me that there were so many other Black people. For the first time I was not the only one in the room,” he recalled recently. “We weren’t a ton, but we were still a decent amount. But then I realized that basically all the Black developers in the video game industry were in that room, and I was like, ‘oh my God – there are thousands and thousands and thousands of developers in the gaming industry.”
SEE ME, BE ME
Not usually one for activism, the experience left Carl determined to encourage more people in his community to consider a career in video games. Aware that his visibility was his greatest asset, he resolved to make himself even more visible.
“I’m a guy who’s often in front of a camera, so I figured I can utilize that skill to be more and more out there so people can see me,” he says. “And it worked because I started getting messages from random people, Black kids, who were saying ‘Hey, I always wanted to be in the gaming industry but my parents don’t want me to and I’m not sure if I fit in and it’s the first time that I see a Black guy like you in the gaming industry – how did you get in?’”
Helming the Canadian Game Awards, which Carl resurrected in 2020 and now runs as Executive Producer, has also become an opportunity to show a little skin. “I don’t want to be (The Game Awards Executive Producer) Geoff Keighley in the US, who is the show, but if I can have a presence once in a while and show myself as the guy behind the awards, people might think, ‘wow, this Black dude is doing this pretty cool thing.”
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A CODER
Carl also began to ponder how to create paths into the gaming industry for Black youth and young adults. “A lot of them are afraid because they don’t think they necessarily have the right skills. But there are all kinds of professions involved in gaming aside from coding, like artists, writers, actors, lawyers, accountants, etc.”
To raise awareness of this fact, he joined forces with Artscape in Toronto, a non-profit urban development organization that fosters community development through art and creativity. He paired with Artscape as an industry partner and used his contacts to bring in speakers to talk about their experiences and expose those attending to the different career possibilities in gaming. He says he’s hoping to have these talks occur on a more regular basis.
Carl also got involved with Mynno, a Toronto-based international collective that supports and fosters BIPOC talent in the video game industry. Mynno had a special focus on BIPOC gamers and Carl wanted to work with the collective to bridge the gap between players and the industry. “Kind of bring them to the dark side, you know,” he says with a laugh, “show them that the industry is really professionally diverse and you don’t have to be a coder; there are many different paths you can take.”
DIVERSITY BENEFITS EVERYONE
The number of gamers who identify as BIPOC is significant, Carl says, but the number of Black people working in the industry hovers around 3%. Bringing that number up, he believes, would mean better revenue for video game companies.
“I think that that would help create better games, more diverse games, and bring in different ideas, which is great for an industry that is all based in creativity,” he says. “Bringing in people with a different mindset and different ideas is just going to benefit studios. At the end of the day, it’s all about the money, and those fresh ideas can generate more revenues.”
OVERCOMING ATTITUDE AND DIVERSITY
Asked what might explain the low number of Black employees in the video game industry, he points to this own experience as one possible answer.
“In the (Black) community, saying you were going to work in video games, the attitude was like, ‘what are you doing? That’s not a career path. It’s not serious.’ And my parents were really strict. They saw video games as a little bit of fun, but not a job. But they were OK with computer science, not realizing that computer science equals video games!”
His love of video games and his boosterism for the industry leave him disinclined to be “too negative” but he says he has faced challenges as a Black entrepreneur in the video game space. “I’m always careful because I’m not one to put blame and find excuses and play the victim. My attitude is more ‘I don’t care – I want to do this’ and when things hit you, curveballs and all that, I’m like ‘it’s OK, this is my objective. I still want to go there.’ So maybe it takes a little more time, maybe your success is less big than others, but I’m still happy and comfortable with what I accomplished. And I still have more to accomplish.”
BLACK LIVES MATTER
The industry is also changing, he says, especially since the Black Lives Matter movement erupted around the world after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “Suddenly there was more money for Black entrepreneurs and programs. Stuff that was always there for other folks suddenly opened up to us.”
Raised by his parents to be proud and self-reliant, the influx of targeted funding for Black programs initially struck him as wrong. “I was always the guy who wasn’t into those Black specific things because I think it’s a form of segregation. We don’t need this – we can thrive in the regular world, right? But then I realized other folks have long benefited from similar opportunities and they weren’t ashamed of it, they didn’t see it as diminishing their accomplishments, so why shouldn’t I take advantage of it, too?”
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Carl says he doesn’t want to be the flagbearer in the push for greater Black opportunities in Canada’s video game industry, but he acknowledges feeling a heightened sense of responsibility given his position and prominence.
“It’s important, you know? As you get older, you start to become concerned about your legacy, what you’ll be remembered for (if they remember me at all),” he says. “Saying it’s a calling might be a bit too much, but I just feel a responsibility to at least set an example for others who may want to be in this space.”
And so, he’ll gladly keep in front of the cameras or moderate panels or take the podium to speak if that helps bridge the gap. “If I can give a little now, maybe someday someone’s going to be big in the industry and they’ll say they saw this guy Carl and it sparked their interest in gaming.
“That would be great, you know.”
About Behaviour Interactive
Behaviour Interactive was founded in 1992 and is Canada’s largest independent game developer and publisher with offices in Montreal and Toronto. In 2022, it expanded its international presence with the acquisition of Seattle’s Midwinter Entertainment. Celebrating its 30th year, and with nearly 1,000 full-time employees, the studio has enjoyed immense success with its original IP Dead by daylight, which now has more than 50 million players around the world and across all platforms. Behaviour holds co-developer credits for some of the gaming industry’s largest titles (such as Assassin’s Creed, Gears 5 and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 & 2) and developed an unparalleled, award-winning culture within the gaming industry. Winner of Deloitte Canada’s Enterprise Fast 15 and Best Managed Company awards and listed one of the Best Places to Work – Canada by GamesIndustry.biz in 2021, Behaviour is a leading development studio cultivating career growth and talent development within the gaming industry. Behaviour counts among its partners some of the world’s most renowned brands, including Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, and many more. For more information, visit: bhvr.com.
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