Diversity and Inclusion in Gaming – interview with Dan Bernardo

As part of the series of articles around Diversity and Inclusion we completed an interview with Dan Bernardo founder and Game Director of Playtra Games. Gaining an insight into his experiences in the games industry and advice on how we can continue to create diversity in our industry. 

With the Black Lives Matter campaign continues to gain support and in the wake of the recent protests around the killing of George Floyd, we thought it the perfect time to discuss Diversity and Inclusion in the games industry through a series of articles, as we support the call for change.

Interview with Dan Bernardo

Please introduce yourself and your studio/games.

My name is Dan Bernardo and I’m the founder and Game Director of Playtra Games. We are currently working on our first title for Switch called Grid Fight.
Interview with Dan Bernard

What got you into gaming and working in games?

As far as I can remember I always loved games. I have some fond memories of getting into trouble with my older brothers and parents for sneaking out to play arcade games against the other kids in the neighbourhood. Then I got hooked by western strategy games like X-COM, Command and Conquer and Civilization as well as JRPGs like Crono Trigger, Illusion of Gaia and, of course, Final Fantasy. That series had an immense impact on me and my love for storytelling. Final Fantasy 7 was actually the first piece of media, apart from books, that got me sobbing.
I’m lucky enough to have had many interests as a young adult so when it came the time to pick a career path, I choose Anthropology, probably because I thought I would never be a good programmer. My next career choices brought me closer and closer to gaming. First Graphic Design then Creative Direction. Two years ago I decided it was the time to fulfil one of my life’s dream and started Playtra, a London based studio dedicated to creating games as magical as the ones that made me fall in love with videogames again and again throughout my life.

Did you find there was a barrier for entry?

It would be disingenuous to say that the barriers I faced (and still face) to enter the games industry are all related to my ethnicity. The demographics of gamers is as varied as it gets but when it comes to game development things tend to get much more homogeneous. I think the barriers I need to overcome as a developer are the same as women and LGBTQ communities. We don’t have the educational opportunities that white males do. And when we get in the industry, we are expected to fulfil very specific roles. Normally with reduced salaries.

As a founder, it’s also harder to be taken seriously by investors. They don’t see a black person as entrepreneurial or business-savvy, so I have to open up conversations listing my accomplishments just to have a chance of being heard.
I don’t want to blame it on the white males in the room. The vast majority I know are talented, hardworking people who fought for their place in the industry.  But although they have nothing to do with the creation of the centuries-old systemic racial bias that minorities face, they are crucial in its destruction.

Interview with Dan Bernard - Grid Fight Logo

As an industry, have you always been made to feel welcome?

When it comes to game events and community activities, the industry is quite friendly. Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily translate into business and work opportunities. But I think the gaming industry, just like the rest of society, is going through a deep awakening and the decision-makers at least are aware that we are not going anywhere and that there’s an opportunity in embracing a more diverse industry.

Are there any cultural or systemic obstacles that have prevented your progression?

Personally, it comes to get investors to see beyond my skin colour. In business events you can’t help but, at occasions, feel that you are the least interesting person in the room. It usually changes when I manage to show Playtra’s work, team and business plan.
In general, it’s the lack of education opportunities. Some of my colleague founders around the world think people from minorities are less talented and/or competent. It’s not about it. It’s lack of accessible formal education that has been historically denied to those groups. I’m one of the lucky ones and I don’t find myself especially gifted. I just had educational opportunities.

Are there any specific experiences where you’ve thought ‘hey that’s not right’?

Well… a few. I remember this one time when I was scheduled to give a talk and take part in a roundtable in a big event, which shall remain nameless. After the briefing with the producers, I was sat with the other panellists waiting to be summoned on stage when the presenter came to greet us. After going around and talking to everyone but me, he asked where his water was and if I knew where Dan Bernardo was. I said I would be happy to bring a glass of water and that the producer would certainly know where this Dan’s whereabouts. It was very awkward for everybody (except me) when the producer finally presented me to him. Let’s just say that he spent the rest of the event avoiding eye contact. It would be funnier if it was not the symptom of a society eager to dismiss black people and other minorities or if it was an isolated incident. Unfortunately, it was not.
Interview with Dan Bernard - Playtra Logo

What can we do to get more diversity and accessibility into gaming?

I think the name of the game is equity. Many people would like to dismiss things that happened in the past and believe that we should just use the “equality stick” to measure everybody from now on. Although I appreciate the sentiment, I don’t think that is enough to erase centuries of inequality. Generation after generation of cumulative privileges that get a specific group of people an immerse headstart in life. People ask me if I would hire someone just because they are black. My answer is probably no. But I wouldn’t deny her a chance to show me what she got, understanding the compound disadvantages that she carries from her own life and generations before her.

Any advice for someone looking to break into the games industry?

I think that if you are trying to get into games you should try to join a smaller, more flexible team, for two reasons:
1 – Smaller teams tend to be more receptive to people with talent that may not necessarily have a formal education and;
2 – You will be exposed to all facets of game development and will be able to understand it much better, much quicker.

The other advice I have is to take advantage of the educational opportunities that the internet can offer. The gap between you and the job of your dreams can be bridged by the fantastic skills that you can acquire mostly for free with so many tutorials and communities online these days. Finally, don’t give up. It may not look like it but there is a space for you here.

Thanks for reading our interview with Dan Bernardo , for more from our Diversity and Inclusion series and interviews with members of the Games Industry, visit our features pages. To find out more about Dan’s games visit Palytra’s website.

This Article was written by: Harry Cole

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