GI 100 | Game Changers - C - E
All 100 profiles of individuals and organisations working in diversity, accessibility, charity, mental health, progressive politics, uniting communities, and much more
Despite what some publishers have to say on the matter, video games are political. And that's something that Ars Games understood long before it became a mainstream debate.
"At ArsGames we have been thinking and experimenting with video games since 2006, in all its facets and in its relations with art, radical pedagogy, philosophy, technology, politics, and civic engagement," co-director Eurídice Cabañes says. "We believe in its potential to foster social change."
Cabañes, and the rest of the Ars Games team, do not think of themselves as "industry people," she says. Instead, they call themselves "punk-academics." They're hackers, educators, social workers, academic researchers, and they delve into projects that explore the cultural nature of games and new technologies. Cabañes herself is also a professor at University Isabel I de Castilla and at the Open University of Catalonia.
"[We're] trying to create a hybrid practice between academy and social movements," she continues. "While some of us collaborate with universities, our projects are community-based. We foster social change using gaming culture as a method to enable critical thinking with local communities.
"It is not just a matter of representation of alternative and marginalised identities, or to visualise what is hidden or underground from the industry. We promote to rethink the concept of audience and the very idea of video games as commercial goods. In recent years we have been working with different communities promoting the concept of video games as digital commons goods."
Projects go from workshops to book publishing, art exhibitions, academic research groups, roundtables, and more. The whole point of Ars Games is not to just get more representation of marginalised identities in the industry, but also to redefine practices around games in general. There's also a strong accent on promoting the development of experimental video games under a "co-design open workshop methodology" that Ars Games calls Playlab.
"We invite participants to work on some socially relevant topic and by mixing theory with practice and creation," Cabañes explains. "This is the case of Homozapping, a videogame about our sexual imaginary, or The Last Hope, a simulation about homeless life using real time data. Currently we are developing a huge project about our digital right to play, claiming our digital rights in video games in matters of users data protection, accessibility for diverse people, and promoting different ways to make games with social economy models."
Improving diversity in games will go hand in hand with changes to the way talent is found and recruited. Education has an important role to play in presenting the industry as a potential career choice, and Declan Cassidy has worked for the last two years to make sure that's the case.
"Into Games was launched at the end of 2018 by Kirsty Rigden from FuturLab and myself," Cassidy says. "It was inspired by a small game jam project we had run for young people on free school meals in our hometown of Brighton. We had such a great reception, and our young participants got so much from the experience, that we were interested to see what else existed on a national level around developing career skills in games for underrepresented groups."
The pair noticed pockets of activity around these themes, but a lack of overarching initiative for career signposting or support. They ran some research sessions with studios, educators and students, and the non-profit, industry-led organisation Into Games was born.
"We want to eliminate systematic inequality in accessing support and guidance around games careers," Cassidy continues. "Everything we do is free at the point of use. We focus on developing access for people from underrepresented groups where possible, [and] we always work in partnership to maximise the impact and quality of output."
In just two years, Into Games launched the Video Games Ambassadors network with UKIE, providing over 500 industry staff the chance to volunteer their time at over 150 educational organisations, representing nearly 100,000 students from a range of backgrounds. It also has its own game jam, SideQuest, which led to the creation of over 400 games this year, many of them from first-time developers.
"We built a digital mentorship programme for 250 relationships with many of our mentees going on to find work in the sector," Cassidy adds. "As well as this, we built the world's largest online collection of games careers information, with over 120 roles mapped out with educational pathways for different age groups. We look forward to showcasing upcoming work on Virtual Work Experience for [further education] students, and our rollout of the government's Kickstart scheme to UK games studios, providing funded work placements for over 100 young people aged 16 to 24 in 45 studios.
"We are totally non-profit and very lean. Everything goes back into our programme work. We would love studios to sign up to become an Into Games Partner Studio, meaning that they support our general work and, in return, we help give them access to diverse talent, provide internal mentorship to staff and generally promote their studio and its culture to our educational network. To see how they can support, they can email me directly at email@example.com."
Sandra Castro Pinzón
Tan Grande y Jugando
The progress of any given country's games industry is influenced by a variety of factors, many of which have little to do with the quality and frequency of game launches. Support from the government and collaboration between different organisations is often required for a national industry to evolve -- this is what Sandra Castro Pinzón is trying to achieve in Colombia.
"The biggest issue I have found is that the games industry in Colombia is not properly recognized to the fullest of its capacity," she says. "Video games can be a conduit to create the next generation of educational platforms for the 21st century. By utilising them, it is possible to draw more people into STEM careers, but in my country only a few important organizations recognize games as suitable tools for achieving these goals."
The Tan Grande Y Jugando community platform was established to address problems such as this, and Castro Pinzón is its executive director. Her background in journalism, academia and working with political organisations leaves her well equipped to identify where change needs to be made, and the best strategies to make it happen.
"We constantly create spaces within universities and academies so they can get more information about the games industry and work to break the talent gap," she says. "I am also frequently asked by government institutions to work as a consultant for their initiatives to promote the games industry, and to share how this can be implemented by speaking at panels and interviews about the state of the industry and areas of opportunity."
Castro Pinzón is also deeply involved with improving diversity. In addition to supporting initiatives across the LATAM region, she is the Colombian ambassador for Women in Games, and a director of the Women Game Jam, an event that takes place across 13 Latin American countries. She also created a new organisation, Colombian Women in Games, to address the specific needs of her country.
"According to research that I conducted myself, the LATAM games industry is made up of less than 10% women, and the best way to break this is for everyone to work together towards the same goal," she says. "This is why I strive to work with all people no matter their gender, race, religion."
In all of these endeavours, Castro Pinzón has not acted alone. She emphasises the work of the Women Game Jam's other directors, the 100 people who have already come together under Colombian Women In Games, and the support of her family. But there is still work to be done, and Castro Pinzón believes there are many ways to show support, from Patreon donations to simply paying attention to Tan Grande Y Jugando's communications channels.
"Each Follow, Share and Like makes a difference and allows more people to connect with the video game industry," she says. "And of course, finding Colombian and Latin American games that are breaking schemes and are bursting with talent -- supporting these games and developers is the best way to support this incredible industry."
Video Games Without Borders
Francesco Cavallari is the founder and director of Video Games Without Borders, "a nonprofit organization and a global community of people that believe in digital games to change the world for better." Cavallari started the organisation in 2015 after ending a 15-year run making games for Ubisoft.
"I needed a change," Cavallari says of the decision to leave the AAA publisher. "On one side I wanted to learn more about the third sector, and on the other hand I was looking for ways to give back to the community."
He started by taking six months to live in Burkina Faso and create a game with local talent that would teach players about game development. That project didn't make it past the finish line, but subsequent efforts like Antura and the Letters did. The 2017 literacy game intended to help Syrian refugee children learn to read Arabic won a number of awards, and an independent study concluded it was effective in its goal.
VGWB followed that up this year with Flatten Island, a game where players take over as governor of an island of cartoon animals and implement policies to manage a COVID-19 outbreak until a vaccine can be made.
"I was the initiator of VGWB, but I could not have done much alone," Cavallari says. "Since the beginning several people offered their help and we are now an international community of more than 300 people from 30+ countries, including game developers, educators, translators, psychologists, etc... In a few words, we apply the collaborative economy approach to game development for the common good!"
Cavallari invites industry professionals who would like to support VGWB to join that community and help directly with its projects. As for companies, Cavallari says financial and in-kind support is more than welcome as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts.
Julie Chalmette and Audrey Leprince
Women in Games France
Julie Chalmette, managing director of ZeniMax in France, and Audrey Leprince, co-founder at The Game Bakers, both joined the industry in the mid-1990s. Their desire to create an organisation championing female voices in a male-dominated industry came from the realisation that it isn't necessarily more welcoming now than it was two decades ago.
"When we first discussed creating the organisation with Julie, we talked to a lot of women in our network," Leprince says. "We were hoping to hear from the younger generation that it was better for them than it had been for us, as a result of a general progress of society and mentalities. We were surprised it was not the case."
That's how Women in Games France emerged in 2017, as a non-profit organisation dedicated to the advancement of diversity and gender equality in the French games industry, through training, education, networking and overall support. The keywords to the organisation's initiatives? Staying pragmatic and result-oriented.
"We work so that more women and people of marginalised genders can find their space in our industry and contribute their voice to push the medium forward, especially today when half the players identify as female and only 20% of the developers," Leprince continues "Some of our key actions are for instance building a list of 200 expert women ready for public speaking about games in any area of expertise, or our esports incubator that coaches promising women players to help them get into pro teams."
Three years on, Women in Games France is now a team of 50 volunteers and about 2,000 members across the country, bolstered by the support of big names such as Riot Games and Ubisoft, as well as French games trade body SELL, of which Chalmette is the president.
"SELL is very committed to promoting a culture of gaming that is both diverse and inclusive: not only to women, but also to seniors or disabled people," Chalmette says. "Video games are mainstream today and it is very important that everybody feels welcomed."
Leprince is also co-founder of Wings Interactive, a fund targeting game creators from underrepresented genders.
"Wings is in many ways born from our work at Women in Games," Leprince says. "It made it clear how money was the key to change. And how many additional hurdles women game entrepreneurs -- already very rare -- had to go through to access funding for their games. We believe the success of diverse teams will lead to more unique ideas coming to life, new voices heard, new games catering to a wider variety of tastes. That it will help accelerate the change of our industry in terms of diversity and inclusivity."
International Games Summit on Mental Health
Mark Chandler has worked in and around the games industry for more than 20 years in a variety of roles, but much of his resume is made up of consulting gigs because, as he explains, "It's kind of impossible for me to hold down a full-time, nine-to-five job because of my illness."
"I am a person with a mental health illness and I openly talk about it, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, face-to-face, pretty much everywhere," Chandler says. "Mental health illness affects everyone in my family; we have schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar (type 1 and type 2), and other personality disorders like paranoia and suicide ideation in my immediate family."
Chandler has bipolar type 2 mental health illness that was diagnosed in 2003. It's something he has dealt with ever since. After a particularly difficult stretch about five years ago, he decided to start a conference specifically about mental health in gaming, "so that others would realize that they are not alone in their daily hidden struggle."
That led him to create The International Games Summit on Mental Health, or TIGS. With the help of mental health non-profit Take This, Chandler organized the first TIGS in Toronto in 2019. Despite a global pandemic and an industry exhausted by a summer packed with virtual conferences, Chandler put together the second installment of TIGS this year as a two-day online-only conference, featuring an impressive lineup of industry veterans like John Smedley, Chris Charla, Mike Wilson, and Chris Metzen discussing mental health issues publicly, in some cases for the first time.
Chandler says Eve Crevoshay from TakeThis has been particularly important, both to TIGS and himself.
"She has learned how to work with me and also work with and around my illness," Chandler says. "There would be no TIGS, in its current state, without Eve and her help. I also get help from industry friends like Mike Wilson and Mark Rein and some others that prefer to remain in the background."
As for what the industry can do to support Chandler, he says getting more people and companies involved with TIGS both as sponsors and attendees is the focus for 2021.
"Ubisoft and Microsoft were our sponsors this year," Chandler says. "But all of our industry needs to acknowledge and understand that one out of four to five of their employees has some sort of mental health illness or issue at any one given moment."
The last decade has seen the emergence of many organisations challenging the status quo of diversity representation in games. Represent Me is one of them, the result of years of hard work from Alayna Cole.
In addition to being Represent Me's managing director, Cole is a producer at Sledgehammer Games and co-chair of the International Game Developer Association's LGBTQ+ special interest group. When Cole started her not-for-profit research and consultancy organisation in May 2016, it was named Queerly Represent Me, and consisted of a list of games featuring LGBTQ+ representation that she was exploring for their own research.
"The support for the project was bigger than I could have imagined, and it made me aware of how hungry marginalised people are for more games, more research, and more resources," she says. "This is the knowledge that helped us grow our team of employees and volunteers, tackle an array of projects, and become incorporated as a not-for-profit."
The charity was renamed Represent Me this year, to reflect the evolution of its mission: diversity work has to be intersectional, and the organisation wanted to be as accessible as possible.
"It felt unrealistic to expect anyone to come to us to discuss one form of representation and go elsewhere to discuss others," Cole says. "There is no way to work for and with the LGBTQ+ community without also considering the impacts of other facets of identity: race, culture, religion, disability, mental illness, age, class, and more."
There are three aspects to Represent Me's work. First is representation, with the organisation championing visibility of diversity in games. It gave birth to projects such as the queer games database. Second is education, which encompasses Represent Me's consultancy work.
"[We] help studios to appropriately represent diverse characters in their games, and support workplaces and events in making their physical spaces accessible and inclusive. We also create a number of resources each year to support groups that cannot afford consultancy, to give marginalised people the best chance to see themselves represented."
The third aspect of the organisation's mission is elevation, giving opportunities to marginalised voices. Represent Me interviewed more than 100 game industry professionals to talk about representation, and regularly commissions writers from underrepresented backgrounds to pen its resources. The organisation also has travel and textbook grants for marginalised folks.
Cole is not alone in her endeavours, and she notes that Represent Me couldn't exist without its contract workers and its board of directors, which consists of Jess Zammit, Dakoda Barker, Ash McAllan, and Chad Toprak. The organisation is always on the lookout for more support, though, and like all charities, funding is where the biggest impact can be made.
"We make our resources and services as cheap as possible -- and often free -- to ensure as many people have access as possible, but this limits what we can pay our hardworking team. Everybody who works for Represent Me also has other jobs because we don't have the funding to guarantee financial security for anybody. We [also] can't support people who haven't found us, so signal boosting our projects and mission is a great way of encouraging more people to access our services."
As the founder of itch.io, perhaps the indie-friendliest storefront around, Corcoran might have been on this list anyway. But in addition to the day-to-day responsibilities of running and growing itch.io, this year saw Corcoran use his platform to help put together the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality.
"2020 was a tragic year for many reasons," Corcoran says. "The Black Lives Matter movement came to the forefront to challenge the institutionalized racism that exists in the United States and many other countries, as we witnessed the murder of Black men and women throughout the year. As a platform, the best way we can take action against injustice is to rally together the game developers we host."
Corcoran put out the call for developers to add games to the bundle and the industry answered. Indie studios like Finji, Matt Makes Games, and Laundry Bear Games threw in celebrated titles like Night in the Woods, Overland, Celeste, and A Mortician's Tale, and they were joined by hundreds of their peers.
The pay-what-you-want collection of 1,704 games from 1,361 individual creators had a minimum price of $5 and was purchased by 810,000 people, raising more than $8.1 million for charities related to the Black Lives Matter movement.
"The bundle stressed our systems unlike anything we'd ever seen before," Corcoran says. "I'd like to thank Spencer, Amos, Lisa, Charlene, and Allen for being there to help keep things running."
The bundle promotion has ended, but people can still donate to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the ActBlue community bail fund directly. And if they want to support Corcoran, he says the best way to do that is to buy games on itch.io.
"This will earn our creators more money, make our platform more sustainable, and help smaller marketplaces get more attention in a market dominated by huge platforms," Corcoran says.
Spanish indie studio Relevo has been producing games since 2009, with last year's PS4 release Treasure Rangers turning heads in particular. The game aims to promote teamwork, gender equality and inclusion, and one key character is a young boy with autism -- a concept that was important to director and founder Jon Cortazar.
"I am a father of three, and my eldest -- a 12-year-old lad -- is a kid on the spectrum," he explains. "I wanted to do a video game -- not a 'serious game' but a fun game that everyone would like to play -- in which one playable character was a kid with autism."
The challenge was to build this into the character without text, just game mechanics. The result is Randy, a character with the power of photographic memory, the only one that can memorize the exact position of runes in order to open gates further on. Randy can't enter loud zones as he can't handle that level of stimuli, so needs the zone cleared ahead of him. Equally, he can become transfixed on something beautiful, such as butterflies, and his teammates need to make them move so Randy can regain focus.
"There are also some other non-playable elements, like the funny dancing movements Randy makes when idle, or the little toy that he always carries on his right hand to handle stress. All in all, a fun exploration game with a soul, not explained by boring text but using game mechanics for the player to understand -- because that's what inclusion is all about."
Relevo received support from Autismo España, a group of more than 70 associations that forms Spain's biggest confederation on autism. It also gained the attention of Sony Interactive Entertainment, which added the game to its PlayStation Talents program -- an initiative that promotes indie games. Cortazar is particularly thankful to two people: PlayStation Iberia's new business director Roberto Yeste, and former PlayStation indie champion Shahid Ahmad.
Cortazar is keen to see more developers not only explore autism in games, but also improve how it's depicted: "Media always tends to present autistic people as those lacking social skills but really successful in their careers. This is quite a romantic approach, as multiple kinds of ASD disorders present higher handicaps. Asperger's is the one most highlighted in the media, but in this case, the goal was to include a non-verbal child with ASD and auditory processing disorder -- just like my eldest son.
"We can all make people closer to autistic persons by gaining awareness with products like Treasure Rangers. It's not a game for autistic persons, as they play a lot of different games... It's a title for everyone to enjoy and also understand that you can have a partner in your team with autism and still have fun on your adventures."
Allan Cudicio has spent years organising queer gaming events for his local development community in Berlin.
He has also organised the official LGBTQ+ party for Gamescom since 2018, has pushed for the inclusion of people of colour, and even served as a cultural consultant on games such as Curious Expedition 2.
"As a politically-aware queer Black person, I have always felt like I had no choice but to fight the status quo," he says. "I was an LGBT activist before joining the industry, and when I became a game developer that energy turned into bringing inclusiveness both into game development and our creations."
In 2019, he founded Twin Drums, which is currently working on Afro-fantasy MMO The Wagadu Chronicles. With his studio, as with his activist work, Cudicio has gone to great lengths to push for inclusivity -- helped in part by the fact Twin Drums is a four-day-week remote company.
"This makes room for people with diverse lifestyles and requirements," he explains. "I have always made sure the messaging towards the team is about solidarity, nurturing and having a positive impact on the world with our work.
"I am very happy with the results. We are an ethnically diverse team, with a third of us queer and the majority women. It was not 'hard' to find such amazing and varied people once the company and the work processes were set in the right way."
Work on Twin Drums' debut game has also enabled Cudicio to get more involved with the African development scene. In fact, the game's mission to bring Black ancestral escapism back into gaming was partly driven by his own quest to reconnect with his Ghanaian heritage.
"As a half-Italian I know well how frequently and accurately a culture can be represented. That never happens for any African culture, or the continent as a whole -- especially in our industry," says Cudicio. "I believe games are going to play an even bigger role in our media landscape, and we need to make sure all of our cultures are represented. I am making my part."
He isn't alone in his work, and in particular thanks Twin Drums' tech director Martin Raue for being "the definition of an ally" and art director Iga Oliwiak for "bringing a perspective that I, a cisgender male, don't have" -- for example, featuring only women in initial concept art.
As he says, Cudicio believes there is no choice but to fight for diversity and inclusivity, and while there has been some progress, he encourages others to join.
"We need to acknowledge that the world, and therefore our industry, is broken. That the status quo is bad," he says. "Then we can start tackling things.
"This needs to come especially from above -- CEOs, big streamers, they have massive responsibilities towards these topics and unfortunately they don't always seem to be fully aware of this. Luckily, I feel like this is slowly changing. We feel it at Twin Drums as well -- baby steps."
GDC Relief Fund
The Game Developers Conference was cancelled on a Saturday. By Monday morning, Wings Interactive was accepting applications for its GDC Relief Fund, a partnership with more than a dozen sponsors to help developers hurt by the cancellation of the conference on such short notice.
They'd already raised more than $75,000 for developers in those first two days, and by the time the fund ended they wound up with more than $290,000 to distribute to 177 indie developers in need of a hand. There was even some money left over to establish the Elevate 2020 accelerator, giving stipends and mentorship to developers impacted by the pandemic.
"For GDC Relief Fund, we knew that a cancellation or postponement of GDC would be a disaster for many struggling indie game developers, who in many cases will borrow money or save for extensive periods in order to afford to attend and meet game publishers and investors in San Francisco," said Cassia Curran, Wings Interactive co-CEO when the Relief Fund was put together. "The fund literally saved multiple studios from going under."
Curran credits Wings co-founder (and fellow GI 100 Game Changer) Audrey Leprince with the original idea for the GDC Relief Fund, as is grateful for the help of key early sponsors like Redbeet Interactive, Raw Fury, and Modern Wolf. Then there was the help from Google, Facebook, Landfall Games, and gamedev.world's GDC Relief Fund bundle fundraiser, to say nothing of the marketing and PR help from Neonhive and Ready Player Two, respectively. Curran says Jae Lin, James Wells, and Anita Sarkeesian also helped make the project work.
"It really has felt like a village of people rallying together to help out," Curran says.
The help is ongoing, as gaming-focused online education outfit Code Coven is handling the operational aspects of Elevate 2020. When asked what people can do to support Curran's efforts, she points in their direction.
"Elevate 2020 is still looking for mentors to help the indie game developers on the program! These up-and-coming studios are facing the challenge of networking and learning the latest games industry developments in a year when all in-person game conferences are cancelled," Curran says. "If you're an awesome person who'd like to offer them your mentorship - whether it's in the form of direct mentorship or guest presentations, please email firstname.lastname@example.org."
As for Curran herself, she transitioned from her role as co-CEO at Wings into an advisory role earlier this year, and has since been building her own consultancy Curran Games Agency, which will focus on connecting publishers and investors with game studios from underrepresented/marginalized backgrounds.
Saleem Dabbous started KO_OP in 2012 with Bronson Zgeb, having been inspired by the local independent development community in Montreal.
"We were inspired by indie record labels in the music scene, where you have an umbrella group that was supporting a bunch of different artists all doing their own thing," he says. "That's how we started out, but we found sustainability was really hard when we didn't know what we were all doing, so we shifted to something more traditional. But the record label model DNA was there from the beginning, and that's what inspired us to restructure as a worker's co-op.
"Folks in our community pointed out how we shared a lot of values with worker co-ops, so when we looked at that model it was a no-brainer to us. Making games involves so much hard work and sacrifice and learning. It didn't make sense to consolidate ownership in my hands just because I had the privilege of accessing some money."
As Dabbous describes, KO_OP is structured so that while Dabbous is also the studio director, he has to solicit votes and buy-in from the team before executing on business strategies. The studio is currently working on Goodbye Volcano High, which Dabbous is directing alongside his partner Kyle McKernan.
In his spare time, Dabbous assists with Game & Colour, a grassroots volunteer group advocating for BIPOC spaces and initiatives in games in Montreal.
Dabbous thanks KO_OP's co-owners for their support: Samuel Boucher, Lucie Viatge, Marcela Huerta, Nick Rudzicz, Graeme Lennon, Omar Dabbous, Hope Erin Phillips, Kyle McKernan, G.P. Lackey, and Hazel Fraticelli. He says it's remarkable to work with a group that aligns with one another politically, while also being able to challenge one another and move the studio forward with mutual input and support.
He's also thankful to anyone else who believes in the vision of a studio owned by its workers, supporting queer and BIPOC folks in positions of authority and ownership over their creations, and helping them make the games they want to make.
"The best way for the industry to support us is to rethink their relationship with toxicity," he says. "It is not enough to put marginalized creators in positions of visibility on platforms if there's no protection of what that visibility brings. This industry needs strong moderation support, disavowals of hate and toxicity, and simply the prioritization of creators and their integrity to make games in an environment free from harassment.
"As a studio making games that has a lot of us in our work, we are exposed to a lot of damaging toxicity and at some point we have to say that it's not okay to just accept this as the cost of doing business. Continuing to support BIPOC and queer people in opportunities and visibility is critical, but so is standing up for them."
A M Darke
Open Source Afro Hair Library
"I remember being in a painting course when a professor told us we have 30 seconds to capture a viewer's interest before they decided to stay with the work or move on. Painting takes a long damn time. My work always felt like it required so much from me, literal blood, sweat, tears, heartache, and more. I wanted to create work where the amount of time an audience engaged with it was at least equal to the amount of time I spent crafting it."
A.M. Darke created his first "real game" (as she puts it) in 2012, though he's been designing games since at least 2006. Her most recent game, Ye or Nay? -- a polemical take on Guess Who? where all the characters are Black and half of them are Kanye West -- was recently nominated at IndieCade for awards in both the tabletop and impact categories.
"It's meant to examine the language we use to describe Black men, dealing with representation again, but the more interesting aspect is the culturally subjective commentary. Each character gets hot take assessment of what they have given or taken from The Culture (Black culture). The game centers Blackness succumbing to self-fetishization or uncritical glorification."
Darke describes himself as an artist and game designer focused on polemical work, saying that all of her work has focused on systemic oppression in some way -- often from a personal and subjective perspective.
"My games are sometimes perceived as 'empathy games,' a term I find harmful and reductive, which is why a lot of my recent work aims to go beyond facile representation," he says.
She is also the creator of the Open Source Afro Hair Library, which he made "to provide material support to Black creators to author their own depictions of Blackness, as well as rethink the way we display and commodify Black bodies in virtual space."
Darke says that she is fortunate enough to be a professor at an R1 university, which means he has time and financial support for her creative and research practices while also earning a salary. This enables him to pay collaborators such as Nick Yonge, Tajae Keith, Seren Sensei (programmer, illustrator, co-writer, Ye or Nay?), H.D. Harris, and Estevan Carlos Benson (3D artist and web designer/developer for Open Source Afro Hair Library) for their time.
And she also gets to work with student residents at The Other Lab, an intersectional feminist lab for experimental games, XR, and new media. It was through this program that he met Annabel Maokhamphiou, who was the first to assist with the Open Source Afro Hair Library.
"I am always looking for collaborators, particularly for the Open Source Afro Hair Library," she says. "While it's not exclusive, it's really important that we provide opportunities to, and highlight the work of, Black 3D artists. Please spread the word to QTBIPOC artists who make work through a pro-Black, pro-feminist lens in particular. I'd love to work with them on a hair series for OSAHL. I want to go through different eras of Black hair and draw from cultural icons like TLC, FKA twigs and Missy Elliott. I can't wait to share the vision and get free, high quality homages to Black creativity and cultural influence in our games and 3D virtual spaces.
"And of course, donate to The Other Lab to fund this kind of work, which can only exist outside of profit-driven industry spaces."
Menno Deen recalls that the position and representation of marginalised groups in the games industry became a public debate around 2013. That discourse would significantly influence his work in the coming years.
"It was great to see underrepresented groups speak up and share their experiences," he says. "I wanted to take it a step further and show how diversity could incite new and innovative gameplay. I started close to home. Since I identify as a gay man myself, I initiated a game jam for the LGBTQ+ community.
"During the first game jam, it became clear to me that talking about tough subjects is an integral part of change. The jams facilitated dialogue about differing perspectives in a positive and constructive manner. Developers were keen to understand each other and develop a shared understanding about a subject. A design process is a powerful instrument to bring people together."
In the years since, Deen has formed and expanded Games [4Diversity], an organisation dedicated to improving the representation of socio-cultural minorities in both games and the industry, as well as boosting the profile of underrepresented developers. It primarily does this through events, from informal mixes to game jams tackling related subjects and themes. It even organises an annual boat entry in the Utrecht Canal Pride parade.
These events always bring a positive and constructive attitude that Deen would like to see spread across the industry: "Personally, the gatherings are always inspiring to me because they 'force' me to put myself in someone else's shoes. Dialogues and especially design sessions enriched my perspective of other socio-cultural backgrounds than my own. This translates to my design practice in serious games, where I am always attuned to make sure that the game feels inclusive to -- hopefully -- everyone."
Outside his work at Games [4Diversity], Deen is a serious games designer at Dutch studio Lapp, and has developed titles about fighting loneliness, helping children to talk about sexual abuse, and contributing to scientific cancer research.
He has also contributed to the local development scene as a former incubation manager at Dutch Game Garden, and as organiser of the annual Dutch Courage events at GDC and Gamescom, with the latter showing off games that demonstrate Games [4Diversity]'s mission.
He thanks Dop Terlingen and Eva Nieuwdorp, who helped him organise various game jams, as well as other supporters, including Eline Muijres, Sabina Dirks, Roy van der Schilden, and Romy Halfweeg. As the debate around representation progresses, Deen is keen to collaborate with even more game companies.
"It would be great if other developers are willing to join us," says Deen. "We can also join them. Either way is amazing.
"The main goal of Games [4Diversity] is to contribute to more diversity in a positive and constructive way through dialogue and design. I do not care which flag they fly, as long as it happens."
I Need Diverse Games
In 2014, in response to an Ubisoft developer blaming the lack of playable women in Assassin's Creed Unity on "a reality of game development," Tanya DePass took to social media to express her exasperation at a lack of characters that looked like her in games. With it, she added the hashtag #INeedDiverseGames.
"I was just frustrated with how things were going in the games coming out that year," DePass says. "I was tired of the same brown-haired, blue-eyed dude protagonists in most games. I didn't set out to be an advocate or activist, I was just mad about video games at six in the morning a little over six years ago. It was very much a lightning in a bottle moment that has kept going."
A few years later, she founded the non-profit foundation of the same name, which seeks to elevate projects, works, and research by marginalized individuals, as well as analyze and critique identity in culture in games through a lens of intersectionality. The group publishes articles, attends conferences, speaks at conventions, holds talks, and participates in other activities that promote diversity across the industry.
DePass isn't just at the helm of I Need Diverse Games. She also does diversity and inclusion consulting, game reviews, editing and writing, consultation on RPGs, and is currently creating Into the Mother Lands -- a weekly RPG, streaming on Twitch, featuring all Black developers, cast, and crew.
She says she's supported in her work by the I Need Diverse Games board of directors and the foundation's community manager, as well as a board of industry individuals who help review applications for I Need Diverse Games' participation in the GDC Scholarship Program -- which allows them to send 25 people to GDC each year who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend due to cost.
DePass adds that anyone can support her individually, or specifically support Into the Mother Lands or I Need Diverse Games through platforms like Patreon and Ko-fi.
But more broadly, she asks that the industry "understand that inclusion isn't caving to an agenda, that the games people are making should reflect the world we live in."
French games trade body SNJV (Syndicat national du jeu vidéo) was created in 2008, and Anne Devouassoux was there from day one. By 2014, she had joined its board of administrators, focusing on financial areas, and since then has been reelected twice in her role as first VP in charge of social affairs, diversity and inclusion.
"As an executive producer [at racing games studio Kylotonn], my main concern is that creators are the most comfortable in their work to produce the best ideas and the best games," Devouassoux says. "With more than 25 years of experience now, I see the youngest generation entering our video games industry -- they are the same age as my older daughter. Their way of thinking, work, social relationships, life, career are different than my generation. I spent time understanding their motivations.
"Not only do they truly inspire me, but I'm convinced they will be the ones who write an even better future for video games. It's important that senior talent shares their experience and knowledge so these young, new, talented people create new games. Together we can help the industry mature and evolve into something unique."
Devouassoux was also among the founding team of Women in Games France, co-created by GI 100 alumni Julie Chalmette and Audrey Leprince. She also recently contributed to a huge step forward for the French games industry: a diversity charter for all development studios, announced on December 9. This project was a collaboration between developers, publishers, associations, related industries such as cinema and animation, as well as the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of the Economy.
"[The diversity charter commits] developers to promote all kinds of diversity [measures] in their company and in their network," Devouassoux says. "The best way for the industry to evolve is to [encourage] studios to take action for more diversity and respect each other, as these are the core values we need to keep to have this industry reflect all humans.
"Promote the talent and stories behind [your] creations, as this is the way to inspire young people, boys and girls, to join the industry in the future... Carry even more positive values and diversity through [your] creations so that all players from all backgrounds can find meaning. This is a really great and exciting moment for our industry. I'm happy to contribute at my level."
IGDA Muslims in Games Special Interest Group
In addition to his roles as lead designer at Warner Bros. Montreal and chair of the IGDA Muslims in Games SIG, Osama Dorias is also a game design teacher at Dawson College and the co-founder of the Montreal Independent Game Awards. In all his roles, he is passionate about advocating for all marginalized people in the video game industry, though his focus is on Muslim representation and inclusion.
Dorias began working in the games industry 13 years ago, and began advocating for diversity and inclusion a few years after that.
"As a junior in the industry I worked on games that misrepresented Muslims," he says. "The experience didn't sit well with me, but it's hard to speak up when you believe that your job may be on the line. I tried to make small changes here and there to address problematic issues, but didn't have the courage to do more than that.
"As I accumulated experience my courage grew and I became more vocal. This culminated in me speaking on the subject at several small events in Montreal. Eventually I was invited to speak at bigger and bigger venues."
Dorias says he has the Amplifying New Voices program to thank for his start as a speaker. The workshop group sent him to his first GDC and helped him launch his advocacy work. He also is grateful to the IGDA and the IGDA Foundation for supporting his work hosting Muslims in Games Roundtables and workshops, and providing mentorship and support.
And he's also grateful to Dames Making Games for inviting him to speak at DMG Camp in Toronto, his first speaking engagement outside of Montreal. And to WB Games Montreal, which recently invited him to speak to all of Warner Media on the topic of Muslim representation, as well as allowing him a flexible schedule to speak, teach, and share his experience with the industry.
"The industry has already supported me, and for that I am eternally grateful," Dorias says. "We've made some huge strides since I started as a lowly junior game designer. We have a long way to go, but we're definitely headed in the right direction."
As co-founder and president of Paris-based CapGame, Jérôme Dupire has dedicated his career for the past decade to making the games industry a more accessible place.
CapGame was created in 2013 to identify and document the assistive technologies available to people with disabilities who play games. In 2017, the organisation restructured around five core pillars: solutions, testing, R&D, consulting, and esports. This encompasses evaluating the accessibility of mainstream games, finding new solutions for better accessibility, educating and supporting health professionals, and imagining a future for esports that includes competitors with disabilities.
"Our first objectives were (and still are) to help people with disabilities to discover and use existing assistive technologies, hardware and software, that ease access to video games, and to convince people with disabilities that they are able play video games," Dupire says.
CapGame has been testing the accessibility of games since its inception -- its extensive database includes several hundred games tested for deaf and hard of hearing gamers, those with motor and physical disabilities, cognitive difficulties, and visual impairments.
"We educate people from the video game industry and students in video game schools about accessibility and inclusion," Dupire continues. "We provide experts to support developers to make their video games more accessible. In 2018, we created our inclusive esports event -- a first time ever, worldwide, as far as I know -- where people with and without disabilities could compete with/against each other. We continue to organise [this] event on an annual basis."
Dupire is also associate professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, where he teaches students about accessibility, prototyping, DIY, and mobile application design. As a researcher, his responsibility is also to develop and improve software for better digital accessibility and inclusion.
When asked about the key people that help him in his work, Dupire says it's people with disabilities first.
"They are experts of their condition and needs -- I need them to understand and design the more suitable and relevant things to improve their daily life," he says. "And people from the industry, to spread the word and good practices through the products and services they sell, but also into their company, by raising awareness among their employees."
Supporting the visibility of CapGame's initiatives, and sharing them within your network, is a great way to support its work. Funding also goes a long way -- CapGame is a non-profit organisation -- as does promoting the need for better video game accessibility and inclusion.
Just a decade ago, the Croatian games industry was "barely 100 professionals" employed by "a handful of studios," Damir Durovic tells us. Now? About 1,500 professionals across 60-plus studios. In ten years, Croatia became a buoyant hub for game creation, and the formation of Reboot Develop nine years ago has a lot to do with putting the country on the industry map.
When Durovic created the games events brand, he had 15 years of experience across games media, marketing and PR. The initial goal, he explains, "was, through media, conferences, but also association and community building, to interconnect the regional games industry's ecosystem, getting [it] to recognise its own potential and steer it slowly into position where it would benefit from local studios cooperating with each other -- and in the end finding some kind of unified voice of its own.
"I would say that was one side of the [coin], the other one [being] my personal crusade into pushing as much as possible to get both the Croatian and regional [Southeast Europe] games industry the international recognition it deserved, but which it honestly did not have."
The flagship event is the Dubrovnik-based Reboot Develop Blue, which started eight years ago as a small conference with the intention of bringing the regional games industry together. It's now a landmark international games event, which shines a spotlight on the Croatian games industry. And then of course there's Reboot InfoGamer and its 90,000 attendees every year in Zagreb.
"We primarily used that event to get focus from mainstream media and the general public, but also from the government, on our national games industry," Durovic says. "It was an event that vastly helped to change the perception of the general public about what games as a medium are in Croatia, but even more about how big and rapidly expanding an industry it is."
Durovic launched several initiatives over the years as part of Reboot, including being one of the founding members of the Croatian Game Developers Association that was established six years ago -- all while building Reboot into an impactful and unique brand within the ecosystem of global games industry conferences.
With the COVID-19 pandemic putting events in jeopardy this year, supporting Durovic and the entire Reboot team's work is more crucial now than ever.
"The very unfortunate developments in the whole world during 2020 hit events the hardest and without mercy," Durovic says. "[One] way to support us is [to stand] together with us in making our industry focused on bigger and better events than ever, with a very clear highlight being on stronger financial backing through sponsorships and attendance.
"If there ever was a point in time when we, as Reboot, as an organisation that was never focused on profit, needed the industry to jump in with an even stronger and friendlier helping hand, it would be right about now."