Director of game developer organization lectures at UT

November 17, 2016

Thursday evening, Kate Edwards, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, will address the connections between video games and culture at a free lecture open to the public.

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Illustration Credit: Lex Rojas, The Daily Texan

The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy, which is hosting the lecture, is an experimental program in the Moody College of Communications with the goal of teaching leadership and management in video gaming. According to Acting Director Joshua Howard, Edwards’ lecture will explore video games and culturalization, or how video games may not be appropriate for other cultures around the world. Howard said this topic is important because video games are marketed globally.

“That happens to be the area [Edwards] has a lot of professional experience in, so she’s got some great stories to tell, even about some games that people might have played, both missteps as well as things that were done well,” Howard said.

Radio-television-film assistant professor Suzanne Scott said one example of these missteps was school shooting role-playing video games designed to critically explore events like the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings.

“The history of media is a history of cultural insensitivity and stereotyping, and video games are no exception,” Scott said. “What makes video games seem especially inappropriate or potentially powerful is the fact that they offer immersive and interactive engagement with these representations.”

Scott said this issue can be helped by increasing diversity in development and production teams and spending more time researching the cultures a game represents or is marketed towards. She said another problem is that the audiences that playtest games are often not very diverse.

“Where games differ from other media forms is that, unlike television or films, which might be screened for audiences for feedback, games are far more iterative in their design, and the playtesting process can have a far greater impact on the final product,” Scott said.

Paul Toprac, the associate director of game design and development at UT, said making video games that don’t reinforce stereotypes and are culturally appropriate requires empathy.

“We have to start having empathy about what other cultures are like, and investigation and research on that,” Toprac said. “We can’t just assume that we know what a different culture is. Rather, we have to be curious and learn about other cultures.”

Edwards guest lectured a class in the DSGA last year, and Howard said the DSGA decided to bring her back to speak to audiences outside of the classroom. When Edwards last spoke to the DSGA class, she discussed the things game developers must consider when selling games to a global market, Howard said.

“She was able to take the class through how you take a very intentional analysis of all assets, all themes, all concepts, and how you scrub them through a filter of a worldwide culture,” Howard said. “Since very few of us are experts in all cultures, she provided some tips and strategies about how anyone can make at least a first attempt at trying to ensure that the content that they produce is appropriate all around the world.”

The DSGA is hosting the lecture Thursday at 6 p.m. in room 5.208 of the Belo Center for New Media.

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