#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.


TjejHack Formally Founded in Stockholm

Yesterday saw the founding of an ambitious and practically-minded ideellförening (en: non-profit organisation) whose goal is nothing less than the promotion and accessible teaching of game development to girls and women.

TjejHack is a scheme founded by Inger Ekman, whose company – Spelverkstaden AB – brings games education and game jamming to schoolkids and teachers. TjejHack’s club meetings see Inger and a team of exclusively female volunteers passing their expertise on to other girls and women, in a safe and supportive environment.

TjejHack Debut

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Encouraging More Voices, and TjejHack’s Debut

Earlier this week, TjejHack made its Stockholm debut. This is a scheme which was founded by Inger Ekman, and which encourages local girls and women to take their first steps into game development. I volunteer my services there, and have been given a new perspective on the push to increase gender diversity.

Gender equality in games and the industry is a topic which lays close to my heart. Ever since a series of women in games events encouraged my friends and I to found LadyCADE, I’ve been invited to talk at events, I helped to form a geek podcast with an inclusivity angle, and have generally been doing my own small part to keep the conversation moving. And yet, while I hope the things I have to say are of some value, I am aware that I’m often preaching to the converted.

Stepping back a little bit: I feel we’ve reached a point where the recruitment drive has begun to work. Not only are more women playing games, but they are making them too, thanks to supportive communities and academic institutions encouraging more girls and women to get stuck in. One of the many upsides to this is that if game development is becoming more gender-balanced, that means there’ll be more voices in industry to add to our own current minority.

I’m a firm believer in promoting a diverse range of voices, at least in part so that a mere handful of people may be spared the weight of apparently speaking for their entire minority group. The problems inherent to situations like that are too many to go into here, but I (for one) would no more willingly be asked to speak for all women or trans people than I would the British population, railway fanatics or goth subculture.

I think that on some level, I had all this in mind when excitedly joining Inger Ekman’s efforts to form a girls’ hacking club in Huddinge, Stockholm. TjejHack invites girls and women from the age of 10 upwards to a free, weekly meetup at a local library. The first meeting took place last week, and the group – who represent a good spread of ages – have begun by recreating the fundamentals of Flappy Bird in Scratch.

Inger Ekman guides the group through making their first game, applying movement scripts to on-screen characters.
Inger Ekman guides the group through making their first game, applying movement scripts to on-screen characters.

On some level at least, TjejHack offers a peek behind the curtain, showing just how easy it can be to make a game using contemporary tools. Very soon we’ll be encouraging its members to develop their own games in the likes of Scratch, Twine and Unity – supporting them in what they want to do, and encouraging the group to do the same for each other.

What this means to me is that – as well as being a fun and worthwhile endeavour – TjejHack becomes an opportunity to support women in creating games, where they never had before. It is, by its nature, a more active way to meet the gender equality goal. No matter where schemes like this are conducted, it serves to bring more people’s creative voices into the medium, and I think that is vital.

I feel I should stress that I don’t have any particular agenda here. I don’t believe, for example, that we are suffering any monotony or ego in the current push for a more inclusive medium and industry. Nevertheless, I’m beginning to feel (at a more personal level) that schemes like these, which work behind the scenes to make things better, deserve hefty focus for the fact they represent real action. If it’s at all within my power to do so, I’d like to encourage more women in games to do similar; in turn encouraging more women to add their voices to ours.

Animex Game 2014

Attending Animex Game in Middlesbrough seems like a decidedly odd thing to have done, no matter how I spin it. I flung myself into this 2-day conference – part of the wider Animex Festival at Teesside University – the day after flying back to Surrey. It was all rather an unknown for me, but what I encountered was a thoroughly friendly atmosphere, and a heap of inspiration to mull over as I begin writing, on the long train ride back towards London.

Animex 2014 Billboard

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LadyCADE: A New Social Event Debuting at GameCity 8

Tomorrow sees the launch of a brand new social event, designed specifically to be inclusive to women. We’ve called it LadyCADE, and I’m very excited given that our debut event takes place during GameCity 8 in Nottingham – itself already a fantastically inclusive festival.

LadyCADE placeholder logo


LadyCADE was first thought up by myself, Hazel McKendrick and Holly Pickering. We wanted to create an event which would be inclusive towards women like ourselves who are passionate about playing and making games, while gently distancing ourselves from the idea that all such events should push an agenda. Not that we don’t believe in such things – we worked together to win the world’s first all-female game jam, and are regular attendees at Women in Games Jobs events, which promote the recruitment of more women into the industry. Unfortunately these tend to be the only such events targeted at women, so to put it simply: we wanted a space in which to socialise, share experiences and maybe play each other’s games – just so that every now and then, we can take a moment to really enjoy what it is we do.

There is an argument, of course, that we could do this at any games event – and this is true, but women are always a minority. This isn’t a problem for some of us, but for those women who’d feel more comfortable amongst a more feminine crowd: we hope LadyCADE can provide a welcome change.

LadyCADE at GameCity 8

This first outing is the work of myself and Elsa Bartley. It’s intentionally being kept to quite an open plan, so that we might test the water and see what may or may not work for a regular meetup. We hope that LadyCADE could become a regular feature at a variety of games events, offering female attendees time to relax and get to know each other away from some of the more male-dominated socials. Only time and future interest will tell!

As for the actual event details, they’re included on our Eventbrite page and the GameCity festival schedule, but they bear repeating here. We’re meeting at 4pm on Saturday, the 26th of October 2013, at the Pit & Pendulum pub just off Old Market Square. The address is 17 Victoria Street, Nottingham NG1 2EW.

Tickets aren’t necessary to attend, but we appreciate being able to get an idea of numbers!

As I write this on the train, travelling to GameCity, I am brimming with excitement about how the event might go. Interest has already been reassuringly high, and it’s my hope that the women there who make and play games will have a great night of it. All this, and Holly is already mulling over the idea of a LadyCADE gathering at GDC in San Francisco next year..!

Stay tuned: