Think about the first Black character you saw in a video game. What about in a comic book series or anime? How were they represented? How about the first woman or queer-identifying character you saw? 

Nerd culture has had a fraught history when it comes to inclusivity and representation. Fortunately, there are creators like Michael Pondsmith, a founding father of cyberpunk, and Chicagoan Tanya DePass, founder of I Need Diverse Games. Both are carving space for more diverse stories with characters of color.

The American Writers Museum is introducing visitors to these creators through their latest special exhibit, Level Up: Writers & Gamers. The exhibit guides visitors through the history of game writing, from Dungeons & Dragons to The Last of Us, the latter which became a recent HBO hit. The exhibit will be on display until May 2025.

In June, The TRiiBE spoke to South Side native Keisha Howard, a curator for the Level Up exhibit and industry expert, about what it takes to achieve better representation in the gaming community.

“I’ve seen more representation than ever before in these last four years, and it has been desperately needed. However, the caveat to that is that we still need to tell our own stories, we still need to be in the room making decisions about how we built the worlds that we’re represented in,” Howard said.

Her organization, Sugar Gamers Labs, creates a community for underrepresented geeks and gamers from all walks of life. 

“We can’t depend on someone who’s never lived our lives, or who’s never walked in our shoes, who doesn’t understand our culture, to tell our stories effectively,” Howard added.

Howard and Sugar Gamers will have an event at the American Writers Museum on July 25. The goal is to bring creatives together to learn about game development. 

You can visit the American Writers Museum at 180 N. Michigan Avenue, 2nd Floor. It’s open everyday except Tuesdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission into the museum is $16 for adults. Museum entry is free every third Sunday of the month. 

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.