Instead of waiting for mainstream game companies to truly embrace diversity, independent developers have concluded that if you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself; to that end, Games [4Diversity] Jam 2014, a game development session for those set on making games with feminist and LGBT themes, is open for registration.
As the ticket page explains, “The Games [4Diversity] Jam explores ways to incorporate feminine and LGBT aspects to games in a constructive way: creating games. Hereby the 24-hour development session will show that female, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues can enrich games in an innovative and positive manner. So let’s jam! And diversify the game industry content now!”
In today’s world, where almost every household has a computer and most people have a phone or other device that can also play games, virtually everyone is playing something; yet, the old expectation that the vast majority of gamers are young, white, straight males still holds. In games without a choice in protagonist, the player character is more likely to be an alien or a twenty-something, presumably heterosexual and cisgender white man. Romance is popular in every genre, to the point of it feeling shoehorned in on occasion, and yet same-sex couplings are rare, and always optional.
It should also be noted that big-name companies still consider it taking a chance to produce games with female protagonists. The few games that don’t have the option of male player characters get far less promotion, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy that games with female player characters don’t sell well. While women working in the video game industry are becoming less rare, that has resulted in less progress than some would hope; for example, while the “Tomb Raider” series, starring Lara Croft, is still going strong, her biggest selling point may well be her bra size.
Additionally, games from the big-name studios can cost millions of dollars to produce, giving companies and their investors admittedly very good reason to be hesitant to take risks. With the advent of electronic software distribution on gaming consoles, however, independent programmers can produce and release games without the risk of having physical software copies produced that may not sell, advertising basically via word of mouth. A game can be produced from start to finish with a small team of programmers, or even just one person, answering to no one but themselves.
It’s that kind of game programmer that Games [4Diversity] Jam plans inspire. The event will be held in San Francisco; the exact location has yet to be announced, but the date is set: March 21-23, 2014, which is the weekend after the Game Developers Conference 2014.
The intent of each Jam is to bring together a group of people interested in taking that year’s theme and creating games with it; co-founder and organizer Menno Deen told 429Magazine, “I think that creating a game with others really brings people closer. Especially in regard to design challenges that can be as private as these. Considering the Games [4Diversity] Jam, we are focusing on a feminine or LGBT perspective of life, which may ask developers to share some private experiences. Things like, how they feel being transsexual, what it means to stand your ground and live differently than most people do.
“I think that bringing people together in one area, sharing experience, imagining concepts and actually creating a game that elicits these shared feelings, could really bring people closer.”
Registration is €16.65, or about $22.50; the price is given in Euros because the Games [4Diversity] Jams were started by Dutch university Fontys academics Menno Deen, Rob Tieben, and Mark van Kuijk. All but one of the events, held every year since 2010, have been held in the Netherlands; the themes are different every year, and have included physical rehabilitation, prevention, public play, and healthy lifestyles.
Regarding the likely diverse mix of people resulting from a Dutch event held in the US, Menno added, “I thought that bringing people in from different countries (as was the case in the Games [4Design] Jam,) really sparked creative games and interesting debates about design.”
The Jam is open to up to fifty participants; officially, each work day is eight hours long, for a total of twenty-four hours of game developing over three days. Included in each registration is a mixer, two lunches, and as much coffee and tea “as you may need.”
For those who can’t make this particular Jam but want to look into the idea (or start their own), the site Game Jam Central has a list of both past and regularly scheduled Game Jams.