In the Spring of 2016 our Network in Play project ran surveys of GameCrafts in Dublin and Limerick to understand who attends these events and to better understand what skills and knowledge were co-constructed. The full results of these surveys were described in The Diversity Game feature here on gamedevelopers.ie. – http://gamedevelopers.ie/the-diversity-game/
What emerged was that existing events tend to attract a cohort of mostly young, male attendees with a majority of programmers either studying or working.
GameCraft is not unusual here – observation at other local games and technology events would suggest we all need to think a little harder about improving diversity.
PLANNING BEGINNER WORKSHOPS
In the summer of 2016, the Network in Play research project worked with key local partners to design and run three beginner game design and development workshops. The workshops sought to address the lack of gender and skill diversity which emerged in our surveys.
We built upon the advice of the AlterConf event held in Dublin (https://alterconf.com/conferences/2016/dublin-ireland) in the summer of 2016, and our research collaborators in the Refig network (http://www.refig.ca/).
Our workshop goals were to attract increased participation from a wide variety of art, design and creative backgrounds; women; and people with no game development experience.
Firstly, our publicity highlighted that these workshops were ‘diversity’ and ‘female friendly’ and ‘beginner’ events.
Secondly, we advertised our events widely outside of existing game specific media channels including on art, creative and design networks.
Thirdly, we developed a Code of Conduct and we put it front and centre in our online registration system, to make certain that everyone was aware of their rights and responsibilities as attendees, including the tutors.
Fourthly, in order to make the workshops as accessible as possible, we did not charge a registration fee. We also provided a free lunch.
Fifthly, we ran them as four hour long events, rather than full day events.
Finally, we carefully planned the event in collaboration with our tutors so that the tutors understood who would be attending and what we were trying to achieve.
Workshop #1: Board Game Design:
This workshop focused on the design of non-digital games, using board games and card games to illustrate basic game mechanics and design concepts. Part of this workshop involved groups of participants working together to design a drafting card game.
Workshop #2: Interactive Fiction:
This workshop used the software tool Twine to illustrate the concept of interactive fiction and non-linear storytelling, and to demonstrate how the tool could be used to write and publish a text-based digital game. As a part of the workshop, each individual used Twine to create an interactive fiction story.
Workshop #3: 2D Games in Unity with Fungus:
This workshop used the Fungus suite of tools to create two-dimensional games within Unity. The workshop introduced the Unity development software and Fungus, after which participants completed a set tutorial designed to provide practice making games with these tools.
ATTENDANCE AND VENUES
Due to space and other logistical restraints, we capped the number of registrations at 20 each week. There was a great amount of interest in the workshops and each event had a full 20 registrations, plus a waiting list. However, the number of people who actually turned up was considerably smaller. 7 people attended the board game workshop, 10 attended the interactive fiction workshop, and 14 attended the 2D games in Unity workshop.
We were surprised by the low turnout to the workshops, but there are a few reasons that may help explain it. A number of attendees on the first two weeks expressed having difficulty locating the venue. Additionally, there was torrential rain on the Saturday of the first workshop.
Another reason may have been that our events were free-of-charge. While this was meant to encourage attendance, it also meant that registrants had nothing to lose by not attending. It may be better to institute a nominal registration fee of 5 Euro, which would cover the cost of providing lunch. Or we could keep the event free and let people bring their own lunch.
There may have been other things that we could have done to encourage attendance. One of these would have been to increase the accessibility of our events: for example, we did not have the resources to provide childcare facilities, and many of those who had to cancel stated that they had been unable to find care for their children. Additionally, our first venue was not handicap-accessible.
The rise in attendance over the course of the three weeks may have been due to word-of-mouth publicity: many attendees at later events reported hearing about the workshops from those that attended the earlier events. We had a large number of repeat attendees.
We gauged user experience and workshop effectiveness through registration questions, exit surveys, and participant observation.
Attendees at our events were predominantly women, mostly from the 25-34 age group. Our attendees were also predominantly white:
INFORMAL LEARNING AND BUILDING SKILLS
Each session built upon the previous session, and each showcased different aspects of game development.
The first session illustrated how game design mechanics work in concert with one another, using the concepts of set collection and drafting in card game design. The workshop also highlighted the benefits and challenges of collaborative game design, as participants worked together in groups to craft their games.
The prototypes developed included card games featuring flower arrangement and dressing snowmen, and participants were pleased with being able to express creativity in their designs. The different artistic backgrounds that participants brought to the sessions was evident here, as participants sketched various concepts on notepads and on the cards themselves.
The second session introduced the concept of narrative, highlighting how storytelling in a game is unlike that in other, linear texts. The session highlighted the difficulties of containing a branching narrative, as well as managing player freedom in order to better serve gameplay and story. Each participant produced his or her own story, though some who knew each other outside of the workshop collaborated to work on an idea that they had been incubating for some time.
The third session used existing software tools with participants using the Fungus tools in Unity to work through a set tutorial. The tutors highlighted not only the correct way to complete the tutorial, but also a number of pitfalls that users could run into along the way, highlighting the procedural nature of the software and keeping participants aware of the importance of computational thinking while developing.
Participants had different levels of familiarity with the software and different levels of fluency with computers, but those who were experienced offered help to those who were not. Participants were so enthusiastic that everyone, including the tutors, elected to stay for an hour after the session was scheduled to finish and continue working.
Our diverse publicity channels and our inclusive language in our publicity worked very well: we saw much greater participation from women, and we had attendees with a much more diverse set of skills. While our decision to make the workshops free of charge was something of a double-edged sword (as discussed above), it did have a positive impact in that we attracted some attendees who were unemployed.
Furthermore, our code of conduct and the language and content of our workshops was positively received by all attendees: 100% of those who attended reported feeling welcome both by conference organisers and other attendees, and also expressed interest in attending more events. Attendees also praised our tutors, showing the benefit of having tutors who were both experienced game designers and experienced teachers.
While the events were positively received, there is still some room for improvement. Our “diversity-friendly” workshops were successful in attracting more women and individuals with non-technical backgrounds, but there is room for improvement. We hope in the future to accommodate child-care needs, greater accessibility (such as wheelchair access), and a more racially diverse group of attendees.We also hope to build a community of practice.
We hope that this feature will be useful to others who are running game related events in Ireland and are interested in improving diversity. In 2017 we hope to run further events that will build upon our experience and bring these workshops to venues outside of Dublin.
Furthermore, we hope to engage with other stakeholders to help support diversity, inclusivity and address discrimination in informal learning environments. We think our experience should be relevant to meetups and other voluntary training and networking events. Do get in touch if you are interested in becoming involved. Many thanks to our funders, hosts, supporters and tutors.
Refig safer Space Policy guidelines – http://www.refig.ca/safer-space-policy/
Network in Play Code of Conduct – http://gamedevelopers.ie/diversity/refig-nip-code-of-conduct/
Alt Conference – http://www.alterconf.com/conferences/dublin-ireland
Joshua D. Savage is a PhD student at Maynooth University and is also involved in research initiatives at Trinity College Dublin and DCU. He has worked as a freelance writer and designer since 2011 and has researched games since 2001.
Dr. Aphra Kerr is a Senior Lecturer in Maynooth University. She established gamedevelopers.ie back in 2003 and she has been researching games since 2000. She is a collaborator on the ReFig project.
Vicky Twomey-Lee runs diversity-friendly tech workshops and events for Coding Grace and PyLadies Dublin, and is also a collaborator on the ReFig project. She also co-organises GameCraft (game jams) when she gets a chance, and still has a fondness of retro games. She’s currently working as a tech content curator for a tech event called 404.
 Participant Observation is a research technique in which a researcher joins an activity or event as a participant, but also observes the activity and keeps notes about both the experience of taking part in the activity and the behaviour of other participants. This is generally done with the full knowledge of the other participants, as was the case with this research.