How one pandemic birthday resulted in a new inclusive gaming community
Yasmin Aboelsaud • March 2, 2022
“I am really happy I decided to do this because it’s changed my life.”
During her first pandemic birthday in October of 2020, Makeda Loney unknowingly changed the course of her life.
The 29-year-old Chicago native wanted to bring people together to celebrate her birthday, but it was just months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world was at a standstill indoors.
Makeda decided to stream and play Among Us for her birthday with some friends.
“I honestly only intended to do it for my birthday, maybe once or twice after,”Maked (aka Kedapalooza) said. “I never intended to pick it up as a ‘second job’.I had a ton of fun, I kept going at it, made a lot of friends and it has taken off from there.”
Prior to that, Makeda barely knew much about the gaming world, and the meaning of streaming online. She would ask friends what that entails, and would join games to support others when the pandemic began.
After her birthday, Makeda was fully immersed in online gaming. But it wasn’t always a ton of fun like it was when she began.
“It was scary,” Makeda said, as her usual smile faded off of her face. “There were a lot of times that I almost stopped myself from streaming. Being a Black woman, being a fat Black woman, being a queer person, I know that the internet and people are unkind to marginalized people.”
Online, Makeda’s personality bursts from the screen, and she has a contagious laugh that would make anyone smile. She is eloquent, ambitious, and creative, and had always wanted to be a content creator, but said she was “terrified” of what people would say about her.
“I had started, ended, and deleted YouTube channels,” she said, adding that “going on Twitch was the opposite of everything I had put in place.”
It wasn’t long until she felt the love from her online community.
“People would say ‘it’s so refreshing seeing someone that looks like me playing games or being public or being open, I’m so terrified I couldn’t do something like that,’” she explained. She admits that was also her train of thought just months prior to being a content creator.
“My community has helped me build that confidence to combat anything negative,” Makeda said, speaking about her Twitch community of 4,500 followers. “It has given me such a different outlook on life - a different outlook on myself. It made me realize that my dreams can happen. It’s opened me up to meeting so many people that I couldn’t imagine life without.”
Her community has become an outlet for positive conversations, ones that she said she couldn’t have at home herself when she was younger. It is within her community that she’s experienced some of her proudest moments.
“Someone said they had spent time on my chat and said it made them realize they were bisexual and came out to their friends. It was so cool to know that being myself, and being my authentic self, helped somebody else explore who they were and make some really big realizations for themselves that hopefully make them feel a lot freer and a lot better.”
And while some send negative feedback to Makeda, saying she is unhealthy and promoting obesity, she says others come in and just happy to see “somebody looks like me that’s on camera and doing well.”
“I have people that feel good, that feel important, that feel special because I was able to give that to them today. Because I was able to give them a community where they could feel good and feel like themselves,” said Makeda. “My proudest moments come when my community feels really good about themselves and shares that, and that’s the reason why I keep doing it.”
Makeda is generally streaming late at night so it doesn’t intersect with her day job. By day, she is still creative and works in advertising.
Having found another creative outlet in her life that has given her purpose and direction, Makeda wants to encourage others who may be hesitant to join the gaming community. “You don’t need to be perfect to start. You’re always going to find a reason to not do something. If I put all those roadblocks in front of me, we’d still be debating today if I should do it or not,” she said.
“The industry is terrifying, but there are uplifting women and non-men in gaming and finding those things, those communities, making friends, is possible.”
As for what’s next, Makeda is going to continue streaming, and chasing her passion of being an entertainer, but one with purpose. “One that has fun, but also wants to empower people that look like me and Identify the same as I do to go out and find themselves,” she said.
“Anybody that wants to do this can do this, and I am really happy I decided to do this because it’s changed my life.”