This week we had the opportunity to go to the Women in Games conference (10th anniversary!) in London and that was such an awesome event! It was great to be there but to also see a shift towards the culture of games.
Games are super powerful. From the talk of Catherine Bohler and Elin Festoy on “Surviving a Crazy Game Idea”, it was clear that games can create ethical reflection and empathy so we can learn and experience new things. My Child Lesbensborn, developed by them, was a BAFTA winner and is a game that tells stories of children born from conflicts. In the game you play as their parent and it is all based on true stories. During the talk, Catherine and Elin discussed many takeaways from their experience in the development of this game. One for instance is “Stick to your core”, reinforcing the importance of interdisciplinary research in games design. The other aspect that captured my attention was that the game sold in China and there was also similar issues there. This means that the impact of games are huge and global. Why are we not exploring this that much? What does it mean to build such games?
Games are interdisciplinary and diverse. Let’s embrace diversity. In the panel “The Age of the Heroine: Gender and Culture Representation in Games”, so many other characteristics of games and applications were discussed. The awesome and powerful panelists had different backgrounds and applied games in different scenarios. The main takeaway from the panel was that we need to reevaluate how to make games, because stereotypes are everywhere. We need to “stop categorising people”. This is why you need to “stick to your core” once more. But most importantly, we need to be able to lift the good examples and “subvert the companies”, by showing what is possible and what we can do.
Games for change, for real. Then we had the talk from super Jude Ower on “Playing with Purpose”. In a personal note, it was great to see a talk on games for change this time because it brought me back to the ideas discussed when I was doing my PhD, so thank you! Jude talked about how games are making a big difference in the world. Examples are: Pokemon Go to clean up beaches, Self-esteem squad to build body confidence, Dumb Ways to Die for the oceans, the Sustainable Development Goals games, Mission1.5 (a new game built around climate crisis) and so on. These games were all aligned to a main purpose and this was a shared purpose. As Jude mentioned (and I agree!), it is al about shared values, education and then, change. Values are in the core of games. We make games around these values and we communicate them with players via meaningful interactions; these become shared values. We can nudge people’s behaviour through storytelling – and games are perfect for that. The world needs so much of this now, we should be making more games like that!
Games for social good need a space. After Jude’s talk, there was a fab panel on “Games for Good: Using Games to Create Social Impact & Raise Awareness around Global Issues” (the themes were perfectly fit!). The awesome team of panelists discussed the many applications of games for social good, from rehab, childhood trauma, citizen science, mental health and so on. But most importantly, we need a space to create and make games that just change the norm and make us reflect about our choices in the world.
What is the future of games? Well, make them inclusive. The last talk was about the future of games and play and reflections on what is next for games design. The panel has discussed many trends, from embodied interactions, wearables, implants, brain-computer interfaces, accessibility and inclusivity. The main takeaway for me in this case was the word inclusivity. If we want to make games and have as many people playing them, why not making them inclusive first. That is, we should design for the extreme user, but most importantly, we need to “connect communities that need connecting” and we should “enable belonging”. These bold statements are key and should be in the core of games design. We should be thinking about widening participation. AI can also help through adaptive content, but we need to understand that AI is also biased. What is the type of data that we are feeding these intelligent agents/algorithms?
To conclude, I would like to suggest a few questions and reflections. These are:
Reflection 1. Games should reflect and incorporate social values. Why are we not making more games like that? If these games can change how people perceive the world, so why all the funding is on AAA or just entertainment games? If there are many games for social good out there where can we find them? I personally don’t like even categorising the games. Therefore I think all games should reflect societal values. This should be the real nature of games. We should be looking for inspiration from other disciplines, personal stories, communities, nature and reflecting these interactions in our game making process. This is why diversity is so important.
Reflection 2. Games need to be inclusive. How can we make them more inclusive? Where do we find more information about it? Where are the regulations and how can we incorporate this into our game-making skillset? We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I’m sure there are guidelines out there. We should be making more of them.
Reflection 3. What is the game you want to make? If you should stick to your core, then what is your core? Think about ethics. Think about values. Reflect, be creative but critical. And most importantly, show that this matters to you. Subvert the companies.
If you have any more reflections and ideas, please feel free to drop a line. If you didn’t have the chance to go this year, have a look at the talks. We are currently thinking about organising these thoughts into a special space. Adam Procter (our Games Design & Art programme leader) has also shared his thoughts in his blog. So let the games begin!