Network In Play

Improving Diversity at Game Related Events – Some Reflections

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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.

THE WORKSHOPS

We held three different four-hour workshops over the course of three consecutive Saturdays, each with a different theme, building logically on the one before.

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.

ATTENDEES

We gauged user experience and workshop effectiveness through registration questions, exit surveys, and participant observation[1].

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.

OVERALL REFLECTIONS

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.

NEXT STEPS

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.

RESOURCES

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

AUTHOR BIOS

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.

NOTES

[1] 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.

 

AlterConf comes to Dublin August 6th

AlterConf On Saturday, August 6th, Alterconf is coming to Dublin. As detailed on the conference’s site, AlterConf is a traveling conference series that provides safe opportunities for marginalized people and those who support them in the tech and gaming industries. By highlighting the powerful voices and positive initiatives of local community members, we build hope and strengthen the community’s resolve to create safer, healthier spaces for everyone.

The conferences go beyond the limited definitions and basic discussions of diversity to create a deeper, more nuanced conversation. Each conference features a wide range of speakers delivering critical analyses of tech and gaming culture and presenting their vision for what our community can be.

Dublin’s AlterConf will be hosted in Dogpatch Labs from 10AM to 4:30PM, and will feature a diverse group of speakers who will talk about diversity, personal experiences, and creating safe opportunities in the game and tech industries. Because some of the topics may include content that may trigger painful memories for some the schedule includes a list of potential triggers beneath each speaker’s presentation so that attendees can decide ahead of time whether to attend a particular talk.

Basic tickets are 19 Euro, and registration can be completed through the event website.

Dublin Alterconf (schedule, speakers, and registration): https://www.alterconf.com/conferences/dublin-ireland

The Diversity Game

Network In Play Logo

You have probably observed it. Women can be pretty rare at games events. The Irish games industry is not unusual; this is a pattern observed in many countries. Stats for the games industry in the UK and the US usually put the proportion of women across all occupations at around 10%.

ReFiG-static-all

Refiguring Innovation in Games Project logo.

So, can we do anything about this? The ReFiG project thinks we can. Funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council in Canada and involving academics, activists, and students in Canada, North American, Britain, and Ireland it aims to document inclusion initiatives, share experiences, and design new initiatives aimed at educators, the industry, and the general public.

The network is particularly concerned with recent events where women and the LGBT community have been harassed, threatened, and abused online for criticising representations in games. But discrimination doesn’t have to be this overt. A range of behaviour can make both online and offline environments uncomfortable for people. Casual sexism, racism, and homophobia are all too common. The victims often do not want to make a fuss. People might turn up to events once, but then they disappear.

If we are really interested in improving the diversity of people in the industry, on college courses, and at events, we need to examine our methods of promotion, and turn a critical eye to the cultures and environments we create. This is not about turning women or men into gamers; rather, this is about making game cultures more inclusive.

Network In Play

In this short feature, we want to introduce our Network in Play project, which has had pilot funding this year from the Canadian ReFig project. Network In Play involves two academics at Maynooth University and a range of partners in other institutions. We hope to grow this network over time, but our current list of supporters are listed below.

Our first activity was to document who attends existing informal games-related events, specifically meaning ad hoc events run outside of formal education settings. We chose to focus on GameCraft.

GameCraft is a volunteer-run informal education event which began in 2012. It runs day-long game jam events in various locations around the country for anyone over 18 years, and no prior experience is needed. People can make digital or non-digital games. They are often free to attend, or have a minimal cost.

Our survey was developed in discussion with colleagues in Canada, and we adapted some questions from the ESRI/Equality Authority 2008 publicationThe Experience of Discrimination in Ireland’. The survey was constructed using the Bristol Online Survey tool. The questions, consent forms, and information sheets went through ethical approval in Maynooth University.

From Jan-March 2016 GameCraft ran one event in Dublin and one in Limerick. The GameCraft board kindly assisted us in publicising our survey.

The survey was introduced in person by the researchers at each event, after which participants filled out the survey electronically. There were 27 attendees at the Dublin GameCraft and 26 attendees at the Limerick GameCraft. Of these 27, or 51%, filled out our survey.

Demographics & Skills

Most respondents at the GameCraft events identified as male (77% in Dublin and 93% in Limerick), white (92% in Dublin and 93% in Limerick), and straight (77% in Dublin and 93% in Limerick). Respondents in Dublin were fairly evenly distributed between different age groups, while attendees in Limerick were primarily aged 18-24. 38% of attendees at Dublin were studying at least part time, while 43% of attendees at Limerick were doing so.

Gender - Dublin-Limerick GameCraft

Ethnicity - Dublin-Limerick GameCraft

Sexual Orientation - Dublin-Limerick GameCraft

Age Groups - Dublin and Limerick GameCraft

Currently Studying - Dublin-Limerick GameCraft

Most attendees at both events were programmers (85% in Dublin, 57% in Limerick), and respondents were primarily attending in order to improve game-making skills (92% in Dublin and 93% in Limerick) and to meet others in the Irish games making community (92% in Dublin and 64% in Limerick).

41% of the total respondents felt that games events in Ireland do not attract a diverse audience, with 37% citing women as an underrepresented population. 41% also felt that games events should more explicitly address diversity issues.

Feelings of Diversity - Dublin-Limerick GameCraft

While the number of for our survey is small, the results do provide some insight into current attendees at GameCraft events. They are also largely in line with findings from similar events like the Global Game Jam (GGJ). A 2013 survey of GGJ participants found that participants were 86% male, 56.5% were aged 21-29 years and 60% had a college or degree level qualification (Fowler et al., 2013). The same survey noted that almost half of participants learned a new tool during the event and most felt their skills improved.

Discrimination

44% of respondents reported seeing discriminatory behaviour directed towards another individual at a games event or online (not necessarily at GameCraft). The most common perceived reasons for the discrimination were gender (83%), race (75%), sexual orientation (42%), nationality (33%), religious belief (33%) and age (25%).

This finding needs to be understood in relation to the profile of the attendees. Very few women or people of colour, or non-Irish, were in attendance.

Further, this rate is quite high when compared to surveys of general discrimination conducted by the Central Statistics Office which in 2014 reported levels of around 12%. In national surveys the most common grounds for discrimination are age and race/ethnicity.

These initial findings indicate that more research needs to be done on this issue. We need to reach out to those who are not attending and understand why.

In summary

Overall, it would appear that while people who attend GameCraft have a mostly positive experience, the event is not attracting a very diverse audience, either in demographic terms or in terms of background skills.

Further, quite a few attendees have experiences of discrimination at online and offline games events.

Some suggestions
2016-02-13 13.55.38

Crafting materials

These findings demonstrate that GameCraft’s current communication channels are good at finding young, male, programmers, who dominate in terms of attendees. A day long game jam is obviously attractive to this group. How do we reach others? Do we need different types of event or different communication channels? Or both?

Additionally, GameCraft is designed to promote the development of all games, including card and board games. Based on the survey and on observation at these events, the making of non-digital games is poorly taken up. Highlighting this analogue aspect of GameCraft might help to broaden the range of attendees.

Finally, it is good practice to have a code of conduct for public events and to have some means for people to make complaints if necessary.  GameCraft have a code of conduct on their website but we think it would be good to introduce it at the beginning of events so that people who have not visited the website are aware of it. Making people aware of the complaints procedure is also good practice.

Next Steps

We have circulated these findings to the GameCraft board, and an academic report of the full findings is available for those who are interested. We have removed some of the detail to maintain the anonymity of attendees.

While we will continue to document existing events, we also hope to organise some pilot workshops with our partners which will explicitly target people who are not attending current events. Visit the gamedevelopers.ie and Coding Grace websites for further details or follow them on twitter at @gamedev_ie and @CodingGrace.

In the next two months we are supporting other initiatives, including working with GameCraft for their partner/child event at the Inspirefest Fringe in July, and supporting the Alter conf event in August (http://www.alterconf.com/conferences/dublin-ireland).

If you would like to get involved in helping us craft diversity in games, please contact us at network-in-play-crafting-diversity-in-games@googlegroups.com. Ideas, resources, and time are all welcome.

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank all those who took the time to take our survey and to GameCraft for hosting us.

Other Resources

Network In Play – Read more about our project at http://gamedevelopers.ie/diversity/

ReFiG – http://www.refig.ca/

GameCraft – https://gamecraft.it/

Coding Grace – http://codinggrace.com/

FOWLER, A., KHOSMOOD, F., ARYA, A. & LAI, G. 2013. The Global Game Jam for Technology and Learning In: LOPEZ, M. & VERHAART, M. (eds.) Computing and Information Technology Research and Education New Zealand (CITRENZ2013) Hamilton, New Zealand.

Central Statistics Office, Quarterly National Household Survey, Equality module, 2014, accessible at http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/er/q-eq/qnhsequalitymodulequarter32014/

InspirefestFringe GameCraft Unplugged – https://www.gamecraft.it/events/family-gamecraft-unplugged-inspirefest-2016/

Alt Conference – http://www.alterconf.com/conferences/dublin-ireland

Author Bios

Joshua D. Savage is an independent scholar involved in research initiatives at Maynooth University 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 the website gamedevelopers.ie back in 2003 and she has been researching games since 2000. She is a collaborator on the ReFig project.