Storymode Bae on Representation and Redefining Gaming
For all intents and purposes, Briana Williams is a professional gamer. The 28-year-old California native goes by Storymode Bae, a callback to her affinity for story-based video games, which she started playing at age 5. A '90s kid at heart, she's got a bubbly personality which she puts on full display on Twitch, alongside nostalgic paraphernalia like an OutKast Stankonia microphone cover, and rap-artist graphic tees.
Williams was introduced to Twitch, the live-streaming platform popular among DJs and gamers, after a short stint on YouTube. Once there, she found a larger presence and constant engagement with her 20K-plus followers in real time. And as that engagement grew, so did Storymode Bae's income. Now, she broadcasts live four days a week, allowing followers to watch her game and interact with her. And though the stats will tell you nearly half of all gamers in the U.S. are women, the $159 billion industry's female creators hover around 20% — and we don't have to point out why Storymode Bae stands out in the Twitch crowd.
Featured as one of the 50 Badass Women in the February 2021 issue of InStyle, she uses per platform to speak out about racial inequalities in gaming, while also highlighting the overt disparities between Black female gamers and their white male counterparts. She is also a part of Black Girl Gamers, a group that champions gamers of color.
“The gaming industry is so predominately white-male run. There’s not a whole lot of representation, so I feel like, first thing’s first, a lot of these companies need to hire Black people and people of color in general. We need them in the meetings, in the boardrooms. Our ideas need to be heard. People need to understand why things could be interpreted as offensive or tone-deaf," she says. "If we have more people pushing for representation, it might be less of a rarity to see it in games. Black Girl Gamers has really been influential to me and to so many other Black women who game and feel like there’s no room for them.”
No stranger to belittling sexist and racist commentary, Williams made her own rules for engagement in her streaming chat: “No racism, sexism, or hate speech” allowed. But that doesn't mean everyone respects her boundaries.
“When people come to my channel, they’re always surprised that I’m playing video games. They say things like, ‘well I didn’t know Black girls play video games.’ That irritates me because why wouldn’t we? Male viewers feel like they need to help us out more. They call it 'backseat gaming.' So when I’m streaming there’s often someone in the chat who’s constantly telling me ‘You need to turn here,’ or ‘Go back, you forgot to do this.’ That happens a lot to women because male gamers treat us like we’re helpless. It’s hard because I have to deal with racism as a Black woman, but I also have to deal with sexism. It’s difficult just trying to exist and game."
Many of Williams’ gaming enthusiast followers appreciate her ability to invoke both levity and educational value as she streams through these unprecedented times. Her audiences on Twitch, Twitter and Instagram are just as vocal about current events, Black culture, and racial and gender-charged microaggressions as they may be about a step she missed in her game (lately she's been playing Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption).
“There are so many different people from different backgrounds within my community, but I would definitely say the majority of my community is Black,” she shares. “It’s refreshing because you’re talking with people who get it, and we’re all sort of experiencing the same thing. Even people who are part of my Twitch community who aren’t Black are still listening and trying to educate themselves and learn." While she expresses her appreciation, she also notes that putting herself out there online right now is a double-edged sword. "[It's] hard because there’s just so much going on with the pandemic and racial uprisings and I know a lot of people click onto streams because they want a distraction — they want to get away — but then there comes a point where, okay, what happens when the streamer needs a distraction and needs to get away?”
For now, she's not getting away so much as she's getting her spotlight. In October 2020, Storymode Bae joined a Twitch-hosted panel, Unfinished Business: Race and Equity in America, alongside influential figures like Soledad O’Brien, Rev. Al Sharpton and Lee Daniels, enabling her to use her voice and likeness to empower individuals striving for equality. "People are always going to have something to say, but I do see companies trying to make progressive efforts, so I’m hoping that sticks,” she says. Eventually, she would like to expand her range and work with more Black-owned businesses — she's got her eye on Fenty Beauty and Pattern Beauty, so heads up Rihanna and Tracee Ellis Ross.
Garnering well-deserved mainstream attention, this spirited Twitch Ambassador is dedicated to managing a brimming streaming schedule, combating ignorant internet trolls, and most importantly, “seeing Black people win.”