GDC 2014 Call To Action: Diversify your s*%$ (part 1)


Over the next few days I’m going to highlight some of the amazing panels that talked about gender, race, sexuality and inclusion at GDC 2014!

This year at GDC, there entire track devoted to advocacy in gaming. The Advocacy Track presentations focused specifically on gender, disabled gaming, minority representation and other issues  in the games industry. Random Panels included:

  1. The Pixelles Method: How to Increase Game Dev Diversity
  2. Attracting and Hiring Women in Games
  3. Sexism in the Game Industry 
  4. How To Be a Better Ally
  5. Mob Rules: The Destructive Power of Opinion and Online Community

One of the better panels was “How to Subversively Queer Your Work”. With panelists including Mattie Brice, Todd Harper, Zoe Quinn and Samantah Allen, I may have sacrificed my first born to attend that panel.  Tl; DR: Amazing Industry Proffesionals give you free ideas for how to be inclusive.

For those of you wondering what the point of adding queerness into gaming is, Todd Harper makes the most eloquent speech ever:

“The point is that empathy is the ability to see what matters to other people. It’s the ability to see what matters to someone who isn’t you.  Empathy is a muscle, and like any muscle you have to flex and use it over and over until it becomes strong. And the important thing about that is that empathy is the muscle we use to lift everybody up.

More importantly, if you don’t want [to make inclusive games], if you feel like you shouldn’t have to care, then leave. We don’t need you. Increasingly. We don’t need you.”  – Todd Harper

While I like that idea that the inclusive community has grown large enough that is doesn’t need non-inclusive gamers and developers for sustenance, this model of separation is not ideal. If we seclude ourselves into this amazing, vibrant queer game community then there’s nobody left to reach out and attempt to educate and change mainstream games. Don’t get me wrong – trying to change mainstream gaming is exhausting, and even sometimes dangerous. I still think that it is an important goal – so we all become stronger (empathy goes both ways).

Other key solutions for queering games included making blank (genderless) characters. Zoe Quinn points out

“If you just leave it blank, people still fill it in with a default.” – Zoe Quinn

Since every person’s default is different, this allows each player to enjoy a unique , subtely inclusive experience as long as their assumptions and stereotypes don’t get in the way. My own heteronormativity definitely got in the way when I played Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest. I assumed the character was male because there was a girlfriend involved, instead using my own gender as default.

A more radical solution came from Todd Harper, who suggested to take stereotypical characters and turn them on their heads.

“Did you tragically kill of a man’s wife to motivate his quest to save his daughter? … Go back and give him a husband and a kid. Keep them alive. Let him fight to protect them and keep them safe.” – Todd Harper

The idea to drop stereotypes from game narratives was echoed by the

While the pitfall of that solution might be that each game only has one queer character, Samantha Allen advocated that it would be a good start.

“Even if you [include that one character] and someone else at developer X does that, then someone else at developer Y does that. Eventually you have an entire community of queer characters that people can identify with in our medium. And I think that would be really important.” – Samantha Allen

The other encouraging aspect of this panel is that the members of it have created famous/infamous inclusive games. They’re not just putting these ideas out of their asses, these are ideas they’ve implemented and thought about for years – and have done so successfully (by my standards – which might be questionable). This panel kept on throwing ideas out there, and I’m sure each panelist would be elated to see those ideas snatched up and put to practice. A rare occasion where “borrowing” an idea is perfectly legal and encouraged!

Any ideas of your on for how to queer gaming? Think these ideas are stupid and will never work? Let me know in the commments!


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