President, Games for Change
Gaming has come a long way with addressing inclusivity over the past decade. The gaming population is becoming increasingly diverse, with women, people of color, and transgender gamers growing in numbers. Within the industry itself, however, diversity is still lagging behind.
“The effort to change these metrics in the direction of more equity is not only to diversify the characters we see on screen, but also the teams that are building these stories,” said Susanna Pollack, president of Games for Change, an organization that advocates for a more civically responsible gaming culture.
One of the organization’s most high-profile projects was a series of games based on the book “Half the Sky,” about women in impoverished communities, and in which donations were triggered through gameplay to assist the women in those communities.
“We have to explicitly champion the studios that see diversity as a core strength of their company,” Pollack said. “Diversification of the authorship of games is one of the many direct solutions to creating more of an inclusive and equitable industry. That comes back to youth.”
Making an impact
Games for Change runs programs for middle and high school students to teach them about developing games for social and civic impact. Its annual student challenge encourages students to design games around particular social issues and themes, such as climate change or animal rights. This year, they’ve added an accessibility challenge to the competition to address the needs of gamers with disabilities.
“We’re working with Numinous Games to develop an accessibility challenge because we want not only gamers but the population at large to understand what differently abled gamers might be experiencing,” Pollack said. “Students have a choice to accept this additional challenge and include accessibility features to support gameplay experiences for players with different types of disabilities, whether it’s visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive learning.”
Through their youth programs, Games for Change inspires young minds to consider the broad career possibilities of gaming, a key piece to diversifying the pipeline and changing the landscape of the industry.
“Inspiring, mentoring, and providing opportunities for women and people of color (another diversity metric that needs to change) will show that this is a career path for them, one where they’ll be welcomed into a workforce environment and feel supported to make games that are about them,” Pollack said.
This year, Games for Change will host its annual festival virtually from July 12-14, offering programs, talks, and showcasing the games developed for their Student Challenge, all for free.
“While this festival is traditionally developed for the professional community, plus all the different interest areas and stakeholders, more and more we’re having sessions that are of interest to parents as we discuss issues around raising good gamers,” Pollack said.
Games for Change has also started a program called Raising Good Gamers to address the issue of how young people learn social skills through gaming.
“You’ve got young people moving into these multiplayer gaming environments without necessarily the social skill sets to be able to do that,” Pollack said. “Raising Good Gamers asks how we can address these issues of toxicity and harassment online by reversing it, and create positive, pro-social communities and spaces for kids online?”
Pollack believes that all the work the gaming industry is doing to address greater inclusivity begins with youth.
“The education can start at a pre-professional age,” she said. “That’s the long-term investment in changing cultural perspectives by investing in young people, and we’re doing that through our programs as we inspire the next generation.”