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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

USC scholarship aims to help Black, Indigenous workers enter games industry

(The Washington Post illustration; iStock; Photo courtesy of USC)
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The University of Southern California is fielding applications for a new scholarship dedicated to diversifying the video game industry. In the nearly two-years since George Floyd’s murder, and number of U.S. corporations, including video game makers, have pledged to make racial justice a priority.

The scholarship, first announced last year, is named after electrical engineer, game company founder and video game technology pioneer, Gerald A. Lawson, who invented the commercial swappable cartridge. It will initially benefit two students of Black or Indigenous descent. USC is the nation’s top-ranked undergraduate video game design program, as ranked by Princeton Review. The application window for the scholarship closes April 22.

Black representation in the video game industry has been low historically, with only 4 percent of respondents to the 2021 International Game Developers Association survey identifying as Black, up from 2 percent in 2005.

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USC’s scholarship was created by Jim Huntley, professor and head of marketing at USC Games — a joint program orchestrated by USC’s film and engineering schools — and Danny Bilson, a screenwriter, producer and video game writer who is the chair of USC’s Interactive Media and Games Division and director of USC Games.

The scholarship is currently being funded by Take-Two Interactive and Microsoft. USC’s estimated cost for freshman living on or off campus is about $86,000.

“We sat down after Floyd’s murder and asked, ‘What can we do in our neck of the woods?’ ” Huntley said. “The games industry has always had an issue with Black and Indigenous representation, it’s been lagging for decades.”

Lower representation persists in the gaming industry despite high levels of interest within the Black community. Black teens were the most active gamers in a 2015 Pew Research study, with 83 percent of respondents saying they played video games, compared to 71 percent of Whites and 69 percent of Hispanics.

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USC’s program currently has 400 students in the Games program, including 100 in design and 300 in engineering. Currently, 12 percent identify as Black and 1.5 percent identify as Native American, according to the University. Over 50 games from all students will be highlighted May 12 at the 6th annual USC Games Expo, which Huntley leads.

“Students of all races, creeds, and religions should get a chance to enter the games industry,” Huntley said. “We are looking for diversity in applications.”

The recipients of the Lawson scholarship will be selected in July.

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