Game On!

Video games are a multibillion-dollar industry where few african americans manage to get at the controls. Some insiders are taking aim at this sector's invisible hurdle.

Offroad Fury. It was her first title as producer and her first title for the PlayStation 2 platform. One year later, ATV Offroad Fury 2 debuted, followed by ATV Offroad Fury 3, which debuted in 2004. Today, the series has sold more than 4 million units.

Standifer is now fast at work putting her racing game on Sony’s PlayStation Portable, a handheld video game system that debuted in North America and Europe this spring.

She, like many of her African American colleagues, would like to see their numbers increase. “I think one of the things that might help a lot more African Americans get into the field is making sure they are informed and perhaps letting them know of some of the industry functions like the Game Developers Conference and about internships.” The GDC, which was held March 7 — 11 at the Moscone West in San Francisco, is a convention where game developers, hardware developers, and press get together to preview new and upcoming products and to discuss game development in general or to look for new talent. For information on the 2006 event, visit the GDC at www.gdconf.com.

ROB GATSON, SENIOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, SOFTWARE ENGINEER, VISUAL CONCEPTS INC. While most 9-year-old boys spend their afternoons playing video games, as a boy growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Rob Gatson spent his free time learning how to make them.

“When my mom would go to the mall to shop, I would go to the bookstore to read computer books,” says Gatson, who taught himself C++ and BASIC (Beginners All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), an early programming language. “And if I wasn’t reading a computer book, I was outside dribbling a basketball because I was either g
oing to be in the NBA or I was going to make video games.”

Though his plan to become a basketball star ended in 1993 when he dropped out of Purdue University, he’d accumulated enough knowledge of computer science to start his own game development company, E Entertainment, that he ended up selling to The 3DO, a San Francisco-based gaming company. By 1997, Gatson was in Chicago working as the lead programmer on NBA Showtime for an arcade game development company called Midway. In 1999, video game giant EA Sports recruited him to program NBA Street.

Today, Gatson, 34, is a software engineer for Visual Concepts Inc., the major development and production arm of 2K Sports video games brand and video game franchise. As a programmer for the San Rafael, California-based company, Gatson writes complicated code for some of the most popular basketball video games on the PlayStation and Xbox platforms. Since joining Visual Concepts in 2001, Gatson has programmed titles such as NBA 2K2, NBA 2K3, ESPN NBA 2K4, and ESPN NBA 2K5. He is currently working on NBA 2K6.

Gatson is one of only two African American programmers at Visual Concepts. He says the number of blacks working in the industry, particularly as engineers, is small because the idea of making video games a career path is simply not encouraged.

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