The depiction of Black nerds (or, as some say, “blerds”) is truly expanding its reach. There has been a sharp decline in the bespectacled, rather absurd, and often one-dimensional characters in the vein of Steve Urkel or a barely-visible Black nerd who occupies a stereotypical space. As “nerdy subculture” has become more mainstream, we now have characters like Miles Morales, a gifted artist and comic book lover who rocks Jordans and The Walking Dead’s Noah, who had an affinity for history and architecture but was also a skilled supply runner.
These characters often have a rotating slate of nerdy interests like chemistry, comics, mathematics, puzzles, collecting items, and more. However, despite a large swath of Black nerds loving games—including tabletop, video games, and more—we don’t see enough of that representation onscreen. It’s not clear why this is the case and, quite frankly, that’s a whole research article within itself. Instead, let’s celebrate a few Black nerdy gamer characters in pop culture and hope that their impact leads to more representation in entertainment.
Lucas and Erica Sinclair, the Dungeons & Dragons Aficionados (Stranger Things)
The Sinclair kids are undoubtedly the most popular Black gamer characters on TV right now. Lucas and his love for Dungeons & Dragons has been a steadfast part of who he is, even when he temporarily lost interest for a while. Sure, he’s at the point in life where he wants to be more socially accepted, even joining the basketball team in hopes of finding popularity. But his foundation will always be in the world of fantasy gaming. He even passed the torch to his younger sister Erica, who finally accepted that she is indeed a nerd… and that’s okay. It’s even rarer to see Black girl gamer representation in TV and film, so Erica’s presence feels extra special for many of us ‘80s and ‘90s kids.
Josh Johnson (Fear Street Part One: 1994)
Josh is truly the real MVP in Fear Street, thanks to his general curiosity about conspiracy theories and being an early adopter of the internet. But he’s also a big time video game nerd with an affinity for the Castlevania game series. Video gaming is so deep in his DNA to the point that he recites the Konami code to himself to calm his nerves or gain the courage to do hard things. He represents many of us ‘90s Black kids who jammed to rock music and spent way too much time in chatrooms.
Glen Whitman (Transformers)
Anthony Anderson’s Glen Whitman was not only additional comedic relief in the first Transformers movie. He was also a tech nerd who spent much of his time gaming in the basement at his grandmother’s house. Glen ends up being an asset, even though he’s (rightfully) terrified by alien robots that transform into vehicles.
Tiffany Quilkin (Paper Girls comic)
The TV series version of Tiffany was a nerd in her own way with her love for tech. But comic Tiff was a video game aficionado who spent perhaps too much time playing. However, her problem solving skills and comfortability immersing herself into otherworlds became an advantage in her time traveling shenanigans.
Mikey Trotter (8-Bit Christmas)
A new Christmas movie that may have gone under the radar, 8-Bit Christmas is an ’80s nostalgic adventure about a gamer and his friends trying to get a coveted Nintendo. One of his friends is Mikey, an intrepid and adorable gamer who truly deserves a film of his own.
Helen/Aech (Ready Player One)
Played by Lena Waithe, Aech appears as the complete opposite of herself within the game: a burly male figure. Exploring the intricacies behind that is a whole other post, but seeing a Black lesbian woman as a prominent gamer is a plus.
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. But hopefully there will be more examples of Black gamer characters in future projects.