Joy in the Moment

Death feeding pigeons in an anonymous, American city square. Rayman and Globox swimming loop-de-loops in a wide-open, undersea valley. Kate Kane dancing with a woman she likes at a high-society ball. Countless moments spent rapt by music and atmospheric light, on the coast at Arcadia Bay and in the shade of Kentucky’s more mysterious transit routes.

All these narrative memories which I have taken to heart have one thing in common: I was able to take charge of the flow of the story in which they sat, and metaphorically hit ‘pause’ – remaining in the moment long enough to savour it before I decided to let the story progress again.

It seems basic to remind ourselves that games progress only through interaction by the user, or that comics display a story in frozen moments of time – but I was only reminded of the true impact of this quite recently, in the course of a PBS Idea Channel discussion on single-frame fancomics. In it, Mike Rugnetta explains how a single frame can allow the reader to remain suspended in a moment for as long as they wish.

As a consumer of these media, I believe it’s important not to forget the importance of being able to stop and enjoy a moment – something which a few recent ‘indie’ games in particular have taken to heart. In many ways, Max and Chloë listening to Amanda Palmer on Chloë’s stereo as the morning sun filters through a makeshift curtain is the standout moment from my entire Life is Strange playthrough.

It may be that such moments feel more potent because they appear in linear narratives. Indeed, when such a moment strikes in a game like Minecraft it feels less like a narrative pause, and more like a particular arrangement of an ongoing scene. Instead I think of these pauses in linearity in the same light as Mamoru Oshii’s Niihama-shin montages in Ghost in the Shell:

It would seem that a key aspect of these moments’ potential lays in the player or reader being able to engage with them at their will, and on their terms – and so they are an inherently tricky thing to author. Nevertheless, I hope that game-makers continue to consider these ‘montage moments’ as part of a wider narrative/design lexicon. I find that as I mature alongside games, my own tastes have led to my favouring this technique most highly.

Spring Round-up

I’m stepping into a blogging trope here, but what follows is an article in which your humble author has to apologise for having been quite busy lately. I’m starting up a business, annual meetings have been held, and talks have been given – it’s all dragons, democracy and diversity. To summarise, starting with the biggest news first:

For the past couple of months, myself and Delia Hamwood have been collaborating to found a games studio. We’re keeping most of the details hushed-up until the launch of our debut title, but I can say that the games and tools we make will pay close attention to inclusivity and accessibility. Delia and I last worked together on A Planet Wakes, as part of Antholojam; this whole new venture will see us working with the business incubator at Sweden Game Arena.

I’ve also begun spreading awareness and tips regarding inclusive game development at conferences, primarily through a talk entitled The Art of Letting More People Play Your Game. A summary version debuted on the fast track at this year’s Nordic Game Conference (below left), and a more detailed version will follow at Castle Game Jam in July. I also spoke at Gotland Game Conference, on a panel discussing games’ past and future (below right).

Photo by Ian Hamilton
Photo by Ian Hamilton
Photo by Gotland Game Conference
Photo by Gotland Game Conference

A few annual meetings have come and gone too, and as I step up to chair TjejHack for 2016, I’ve stepped down to the position of vice chair at Diversi. Both organisations have a focus on expanding their networks this year, and the latter is set to institute an exciting new membership scheme, to help better fund its activities.

LadyCADE has also been busy recently, as once again I hosted the women-friendly fika at southern Sweden’s Creative Coast Festival. We were invited to run a booth during the festival as well, and so across a span of three days, visitors were invited in to play a variety of women-made games – including TjejHack’s #GemmaHat.

LadyCADE Meet-up; photo by Sebastian Bularca
LadyCADE Meet-up; photo by Sebastian Bularca

Looking forwards, the next couple of months contain some pretty solid development time as we work towards an early access/prototype game release in late August. The intention is to maintain a development blog during this; articles will be posted at our studio website (link to come soon).

I’ll also be a proud host to this year’s Lyst Summit in Hamar, Norway – acting as conferenciér to a typically marvellous array of talks and interactive experiences on the subject of love, sexuality and romance in games.

As long-form writing proves to be a bit more challenging of late, I would humbly invite you to follow these and further exploits of mine on Twitter until normal service can be resumed!

“Ripple Effect” at GDC 2016

I’m very proud to say that I’ll be speaking at next year’s Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, at a session entitled “Ripple Effect: How Women-in-Games Initiatives Make a Difference“.

I’ll be joining Stephanie Fisher, Sagan Yee , Rebecca Cohen-Palacios and Zoe Quinn to discuss my path from an all-female game jam initiative to my career and the works I do today: including encouraging girls and women to create games at TjejHack and providing safe social spaces for gamers at LadyCADE. Naturally, I also look forward to exploring the conference and exposition itself – swapping game development ideas and providing insight to Sweden’s diversity efforts for those who are interested.

TjejHack Pyjama Jam - an all-girl game creation event held at Stockholm's Royal Technical College in 2015.
TjejHack Pyjama Jam – an all-girl game creation event held at Stockholm’s Royal Technical College in 2015.

Continue reading ““Ripple Effect” at GDC 2016″

#GameDiversity in Action

With due apologies for my recent quietude (even in regards to my ongoing Patreon campaign,) these have been decidedly Interesting Times as far as my games diversity efforts are concerned.

TjejHack Pyjama Jam in full swing, with a Scratch workshop by Inger Ekman
TjejHack Pyjama Jam in full swing, with a Scratch workshop by Inger Ekman

On the 15th of May, I was involved in TjejHack‘s efforts to host a wildly successful ‘Pyjama Jam’ at Stockholm’s KTH (Royal Technical College). Girls between the ages of 11 and 16 gathered for 24 hours of tuition, geekery and game development with a wide variety of tools at their disposal. Around 8 games were made in all, expressing various and novel aspects of touch.

Days later, I caught a train to Malmö and represented Diversi at the Nordic Game Conference, as part of a team which not only hosted 14 female students as part of an all-inclusive outreach for the conference, but also put together meet & greets, a diversity mixer and a stellar panel on world-changing games.

The Diversi Summit at Nordic Game Conference 2015, hosted by Karin Ryding with panellists Åsa Roos, Ann-Sofie Sydow, Annika Fogelgren, Dajana Dimovska and Rami Ismail
The Diversi Summit panel at Nordic Game Conference 2015, hosted by Karin Ryding with panellists Åsa Roos, Ann-Sofie Sydow, Annika Fogelgren, Dajana Dimovska and Rami Ismail

I write a mere two days before I take another train to Sweden’s south coast, this time to host LadyCADE‘s first social outside of England, as part of the brand new Creative Coast Festival. It forms part of an exciting, cross-media programme which is sure to set me in an excellent headspace for Lyst Summit the week after, and Castle Game Jam some weeks after that.

Suffice it to say, my calendar turned rather busy, and it’s not for reasons directly associated with game development. I am, however, content with this. I still receive no income for this sort of outreach, which does turn every decision into a financial battle – these demands on my time are vying against things which would otherwise help keep the roof over my head. Nevertheless, I take small pride in the fact willing sponsors like Intel Software are now coming forward to cover costs for such events, and as somebody working to try and improve this medium from within, that is gratifying to see.

Paradox Interactive's Susana Meza Graham gave a particularly informative talk on workplace diversity, and invited CEO Fredrik Wester to 'defend' the inclusive vacancy to which she had once applied
Paradox Interactive’s Susana Meza Graham gave a particularly informative talk on workplace diversity, and invited CEO Fredrik Wester to ‘defend’ the inclusive vacancy to which she had once applied

Nordic Game Conference was, itself, something of a reflection of this changing attitude within games. It is of course the Nordic region’s largest games conference, hosting at least 1,000 attendees for a programme stretching two-and-a-half days. That programme is an eclectic one, meandering smoothly between the concerns of big-budget studios, independent developers, business and artists. The talks I saw included a trailer-heavy, business-minded keynote from Ubisoft Annecy’s Rebecka Coutaz, a spoken essay on games critique from freelance writer Cara Ellison, and a humourous-yet-informative session of straightforward PR experience from Coffee Stain Studios’ Armin Ibrisagic. There’s no ‘indie summit’ here, and nor are the diversity sessions herded off into their own track where they can be ignored; instead lessons from all aspects of the industry are smoothly incorporated into an open and friendly conference programme.

The people we meet at conferences are almost always the best reason to attend, and the crowd at Nordic Game is uniquely friendly. More than that, though: through attending in my capacity as chair of Diversi I was able to meet dazzling individuals whose enthusiasm for games, encouraging others to take up their craft, and the change that this medium can wield were inspirational beyond reckoning. I was also honoured to meet the many fine and talented students we were able to bring along, learning much about the quality of education in this region. Here too are we starting to see change, although it’s clear there is much work yet to be done – especially in encouraging more women to apply for these courses, and keeping them there ’til graduation.

Intel Software's sponsorship enabled Diversi to bring 14 female students from across the Nordic region to attend this year's conference
Sponsorship from Intel Software allowed Diversi to bring 14 female students from across the Nordic region to attend this year’s conference, including travel and accommodation

Gratitude, awe and inspiration are powerful motivators, and I’m riding high on them at the moment. Flippant though this may sound sometimes: more power to this sort of thing. I do what I can, but I’m glad those with the power and money to facilitate this change have decided that they ought to step in as well.


Narrow Focus, World Stage

A recent article by Mattie Brice, in which she outlines the apparent shallowness of some games diversity initiatives, has added further clarity to an argument which has been rolling around in my head for a while too. In her piece, Brice describes feelings of isolation and abandonment as the games industry chases the figurehead of diversity, leaving behind those creators who neither want nor require the kinds of coding camps and changes to education which so attract corporate money and interest.

Although I’ve been reflecting upon related issues from a different angle, it is worth acknowledging that hers is a very GDC-focused perspective, and while that is by no means a bad thing, I think it is where I both sympathise and disagree with Brice’s insightful yet negative position. I feel a need to draw distinctions here because of a very different-feeling climate where I reside in Sweden, and again in the UK, my home country. Activities undertaken in the former seem to be of a different order – more practical, and already yielding good results – whereas British efforts seem more likely to tackle recruitment over education in games as a craft.

With that having been said, I too have had cause to focus on GDC – the Game Developers’ Conference, which is held annually in San Francisco. It is but one of many worldwide games conferences, yet it’s one which commands a great deal of weight and emphasis within the industry. It is the de facto hub for many discussions affecting this medium (at least in the so-called ‘western’ hemisphere), and I state this both to provide context to my views, but also to introduce one of the problems I have with the way diversity initiatives in games are currently being addressed. Suffice it to say, I’ve never been to GDC in San Francisco, and in all honesty it’s unlikely I shall be able to any time soon.

The bottom line is that year on year, GDC is at least treated as the only conference with a half-way strong diversity focus. It is at least one of very few in the world to devote a whole discussion track to the subject. This isn’t a bad thing, of course – having a central hub like this can have many benefits. However, GDC is also a prohibitively expensive conference for many – not just for conference passes, but also in flights, especially for anyone outside of the USA. This is something Matt Duhamel has reflected on too, with attendance as an expression of privilege.

Initially it feels strange to apply ‘privilege’ to something like attending a conference, but the fact is only a handful of people can ever be part of the conversations which happen at GDC. The problems which may arise from that are manyfold. For starters, diversity’s raison d’etre demands that a variety of voices to be heard, and while no-one can be inclusive to everyone all the time, any recurring diversity initiative at this conference is going to wind up homogenised based on who can physically get there. The practical result of this is that while companies and the wider gaming medium look solely to GDC in San Francisco for guidance or as a barometer on inclusivity, what they’re getting is a non-representative view. More than that, those who turn up with cash to invest (especially those wishing to “appear diverse” as Brice puts it) will only end up doing so within US borders.

Photo by Emma Clarkson
Photo by Emma Clarkson

Take for example this slide from GDC 2015, and a panel entitled “Turning the Tide”, which sought to address inclusive recruitment to the games industry. Whether or not the author realised it, all but one of these organisations (apparently picked knowingly as “just a few”) are based in North America, and only one of those has an international focus. That said, and at the risk of criticising WIGI unfairly: I can only ever find events of theirs as being held in the USA. This is by no means a representative slice of women-focused community groups worldwide, but they are all groups which many have heard of. Why? They get noticed, year on year at GDC and in the gaming press which follows.

How can we fix this? The only solution I can think of involves other conferences making a much more concerted effort to offer a platform for discussing diversity and inclusivity, reflecting and involving their local attendees. I believe it actually damages the diversity initiative if we keep focusing on the same part of the world – just as much as it does when we focus on the same minority (a topic for another time, perhaps). Press attention would need to follow, as otherwise the effort amounts to nothing. The ideal alternative, of course, would involve more diversity advocates coming to GDC, but unless your organisation is already the recipient of corporate sponsorship, it’s very likely you have no budget at all with which to fund such a venture.

As a side note: it cannot be left to the ‘indie sector’ to cover this inclusivity angle, as I’ve seen happen at a few conferences and festivals. Indie game development may be a much more accessible medium than so-called ‘AAA’, and its works may be addressing more societal issues and diverse player bases, but that doesn’t mean it should be the sole forum for discussing inclusivity – and nor should it mean that diversity issues should crowd out discussion of the issues which already affect this sector of the gaming medium.

It is my hope that those with the wits to realise this risk of homogenisation, and the power to actually change it, will do so. I did not expect to be so disheartened by the imbalance at play between the sort of focus North American initiatives receive, when compared to European ones – let alone those enacting real change in Africa, Asia and beyond. The games industry is centralised upon the USA in many other areas as well, but at a time when inclusivity and diversity sit so far forward in this medium’s consciousness, it is galling to see so many efforts go unheard of – and to see opportunities go untapped.

So ends an uncharacteristic rant on my part.