Earlier this month we ran the GamesIndustry.biz 100 Game Changers series, our best effort at celebrating people who have been making the industry a better place but too often don’t have a spotlight put on their efforts.
We asked for help in putting it together, reaching out to people with regional expertise in communities and places of the world we don’t cover as thoroughly as we would like. We wanted to represent the underrepresented and ideally, help further those efforts in some way.
After writing and editing so many profiles, I spotted a few patterns we’d like to underscore here. If you’ve read the entire series (which you absolutely should do), you might have spotted them yourself.
1. The Industry Isn’t Working for Everyone
This is the big one. We were determined to have this project showcase some of the diversity in the games industry, so we reached out to people from around the world, people from all kinds of backgrounds representing all kinds of different communities.
We asked them why they do what they do. Time and again, we heard some variation of “I didn’t see myself in games, in the titles that were out there, in important positions in the industry, or among the people the industry catered to, so I made something so that people like me could fully participate in gaming.”
It’s why we have Accessibility Unlocked, GCON, GameDev.in, Glow Up Games, Game Devs of Color, Toge Interactive, Sue the Real, and more. And that’s only a handful of the GI 100 honorees who explicitly had a variation of the above story in their write-ups.
It’s laudable that so many of these Game Changers are self-starters who have been able to make spaces for themselves, but the fact is they shouldn’t have to. We’ve seen tremendous progress in the last 20 years to expand the crowd of people who make and play games, but the abundance of stories like this in the GI 100 is a sign that we are still repeatedly failing to proactively identify and fix our deficiencies when it comes to bringing people into gaming and keeping them here. Imagine how many people’s stories start with “I didn’t see myself in games…” and don’t go any further than that.
Lowering the barriers to entry is a great start, but it mostly helps a subset of people like our Game Changers who spot these deficiencies and take it upon themselves to address them on their own. If we want the industry to live up to its inclusive “Gaming is for everyone” rhetoric, we need to do more to invite people in rather than waiting for them to beat the door down.
2. Intersectional Approaches are Needed
In some ways, it feels like the games industry has been trying to play whack-a-mole with its various shortcomings along race, gender, sexual orientation, geography, class, and accessibility lines. When events make one of these the focus of the day in games, it gets attention, perhaps a new program or initiative at a major publisher to address the problem. And that’s great; I don’t want any of those programs or initiatives to go away, and I think it’s reasonable to have specific remedies for specific problems.
But to get the most out of the effort and resources we put into them, I do think we need to understand that these problems are not wholly independent of one another, that individuals can be disadvantaged in gaming because of their specific identity along a number of these categories. Fighting for progress of one group while ignoring the issues of another still leaves plenty of people behind, and won’t get us where we need to go.
Some of the GI 100 people taking intersectional approaches include Amanda Stevens, who says being “a marginalized individual via a lot of checkboxes” has informed her mission to make esports and gaming better for everyone who wants to be here. There’s also Taina Myöhänen, who co-founded Women in Games Finland but changed it to We in Games to more explicitly state the organization’s goal to champion all aspects of diversity and inclusion in games. Along those same lines, Represent Me managing director Alayna Cole renamed the charity from Queerly Represent Me this year.
“It felt unrealistic to expect anyone to come to us to discuss one form of representation and go elsewhere to discuss others,” Cole said. “There is no way to work for and with the LGBTQ+ community without also considering the impacts of other facets of identity: race, culture, religion, disability, mental illness, age, class, and more.”
3. People Need Help
We asked every one of our Game Changers a selection of questions to help us put together the profiles. One of them — “Who helps you do this?” — made it clear just how rare the one-person show really is, no matter what the task at hand.
Volunteers, mentors, community organizations, local governments, sponsors, co-founders, backers, inspirations, family, friends… There is no shortage of assistance efforts like this need, and no shortage of roles to fill for people who want to help out.
As Cassia Curran said of the assistance she received in coordinating the GDC Relief Fund, “It really has felt like a village of people rallying together to help out.”
4. People Need Money
That said, some forms of assistance are harder to procure than others. Another of the questions we asked was, “What can the industry do to support you?” And while many of the supporting roles listed above were mentioned, few were as often mentioned as direct monetary support — buying the games they sell, sponsoring the projects and organizations they run, and supporting the people who share their cause.
This actually also gets back to point number two. As Achimostawinan Games’ Meagan Byrne explained to us, her work promoting Indigenous developers and creating Indigenous games has been made possible in part by government programs alleviating some of the cost of development and giving her a safety net of sorts to pursue the games she wants to make.
“When I was starting I had to work to pay for school, so I could not spend my summers working on a game with a team,” Byrne said. “After school I had to take on a few contracts in order to live. All this means that what I can produce will not stand up to someone who has those things taken care of for them. It’s not about who does more work either; it’s about those who want to support a more diverse industry getting rid of the ‘bootstrap it’ mindset and working to create space where someone doesn’t need to make the choice between having a warm home and making a game. It’s about looking real hard at the boundaries we are perpetuating in the industry.”
A project like Game Changers can give a little bit of recognition and appreciation for one’s efforts, but you can’t pay the rent with recognition and appreciation. And you can’t really expect people to prioritize this important work in the long-term if they’re having to juggle it on top of a day job.