American University Game Lab: Games for Good, Diversity Summit Recap

On Saturday, October 25th, American University hosted the 2nd annual Games For Good, Games for All diversity summit, a one-day workshop for individuals interested in games, the game industry, diversity, and social change.

The event was hosted by Lindsay Grace, American University professor, director of the AU Game Lab, and an award-winning game desinger himself. Joining him was game artist in residence Chris Totten, assistant professors Josh McCoy and Mike Treanor, and keynote speaker Jamin Warren.

Professor Grace began the workshop with a brief overview of games and gaming culture. He cited statistics indicative of the current diversity – or lack thereof – in games. For example, 89% of game developers and 80% of students studying in game-related fields are men. He also referenced the lack of age, ethnic, and cultural diversity and summed up the topic with a simple statement: “Stereotypes and sexism is a thing.” After providing some examples of non-hetero-30 year old-white-male-centric games, he introduced the Jamin Warren.

Jamin is the founder of Kill Screen, a site dedicated to video game arts and culture. It proudly features the tag line, “We want to show the world why games matter.” Jamin spoke passionately about his work and provided the oh-so catchy and quotable, “inspire a life well-played.” He dove into the history of play and its importance as culture, not just in culture. He spoke how games are “reaffirming a central piece of humanity” encouraged aspiring game designers and story-tellers to reach beyond their home medium and seek inspiration in other forms of art.

After the keynote, we broke for lunch. Despite shoveling glorious Chipotle into our gobs, a lively discussion sparked amongst my table-mates. We talked about the representation of women in games, if gender of an avatar even matters, and whether Bioshock Infinite’s time-traveling made any sense.

After lunch, we broke into 30 minute “speed dating” roundtable discussions. Chris Totten shared his thoughts on developing a work portfolio and tips to getting noticed (i.e. Step 1 – do the thing. Step 2 – share the thing.) Mike Treanor shared his journey as a game designer and how games can be evocative experiences. Josh McCoy spoke about breaking into the “industry” and was kind enough to answer my question how to go about modeling social and psychological reactions for AI that feel real. Apparently, the answer is Mean Girls and Saved by the Bell, which sounds like a good time to me.

After the discussions, I lurked around a bit. Still ever the graduate student, there was free food I could not pass up. I spoke with some of the other attendees, and even got to field some questions realted to meditation and mindfulness. My degree put to use! As I was contemplating leaving, despite there still being lemon squares up for grabs, Josh McCoy caught my eye, asked my name. A social-science lover himself, it didn’t take us long to start talking shop. He even let me gush about my dissertation. He gave me a quick tour of the lab, as I told him I had applied for the JoLT Fellowship.

While I feel like a took a great deal away from this workshop, I think what stuck with me the most were the attendees themselves. Compared to the rather depressive diversity statistics of the gaming industry, the participants at the event were a riot of variety. Women comprised almost if not half of the attendees, and different strata of ages and ethnicity were also present. As I drove home, I got the feeling that if those 60-70 participants are representative of who is joining the gaming industry, then games have a very bright, rich, and diverse future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s