Kate Edwards is by all intends and purposes a driving force of the Gaming industry with a great personality to boost. We had the pleasure of meeting her in Cologne a few weeks back, when we talked about a wide area of topics from game culturalization and its importance for developers, to the negative public perception of games and game creators and what can be done about it.
Read on or watch the video to see what we found out!
Articy: Kate, for the audience who is less familiar with your work, could you briefly introduce yourself?
Kate: My name is Kate Edwards and I am a geographer and a culturalization strategist and I’ve been working in the video game industry for over 26 years now. So effectively what I do with my background is I help game developers avoid making political and cultural mistakes in their game content, the kinds of things that get them in trouble in different countries around the world, either trouble with the government or trouble with the consumers who don’t like the way something was shown. That’s the main part of my work, I’ve also been doing a lot of advocacy work in the game industry so I ran the International Game Developer Association for 5 years and then just as of recent I’m now the global executive director of the Global Game Jam event that happens every year in January.
Articy: As localization is gaining more and more terrain in the gaming industry, Geogrify goes one step further pioneering game culturalization. Could you tells us a little bit more about that: what’s the difference between localization and culturalization and why is it some important for game developers worldwide?
Kate: Absolutely. I think most of us know what localization is – for the majority of people in the industry and other industries too, localization means translation, it’s basically about the language, making sure that the language is compatible with different markets. Culturalization though, I’m looking at the perspective of not just language because I leave that to the translators ‘cuz that’s their expertise; my expertise as a geographer is to look at things that are not linguistics: gestures, body language, symbology, character design, the use of history in a game, the use of political systems, religious systems, all of these other things that go into games and go into other media that typically that’s not the kind of thing you do in localization where you’re basically trying to just translate the concept. What I’m trying to do is see if the concept and the creative vision of these games can actually work in other cultures and not just linguistically but in all the other aspects.
Articy: What would you say are the biggest pitfalls that game developers worldwide should try to avoid when it comes to culturalization? I’m pretty sure you’ve said “I told you so” a few times in your carreer.
Kate: Yes I’ve said that a lot to a lot of projects, but there’s a lot of obvious ones like: if you’re trying to put any real world religion in your game you have to be extremely careful about how you portray that religion – obviously you want to be respectful, you want to be thinking about whether you’re treating it properly and the people who practice it treat it properly. Now of course sometimes the game narrative requires you to do something that might show them in a negative way, that’s ok, but then you have to understand the repercussions of that, because the people who practice that faith for example, may not like the way you’re showing them so you’re going to have to be prepared. So often religion and politics are big issues, the use of history is often a really tricky one because in some countries the history, the perception of history is different. So I worked on all of the “Age of Empires” games for example and we actually had to change one historical scenario for Korea because the Korean government said it didn’t happen that way. Even though that’s what history tells us that that’s how it happened, so we had to change it for the Korean market. The other thing of course, with character design is the use of stereotypes – happens all the time: gender stereotypes, racial stereotypes, national stereotypes when you have like: we’re going to put a Scottish person in this game and they’re going to wear a kilt and they’re going to have red hair, they’re going to eat Haggis and play the bagpipes and all these kind of really over the top things that are perceived as Scottish. Now if the narrative requires that, then obviously you have a reason for it, but a lot of times it doesn’t require that kind of thing and so those are just some of the very basic things that I often try to get them to think about as they’re making the game and creating these characters.
Articy: You gave a talk recently at Devcom about changing the perception of games and game creators. Why do you think that despite being one of the most innovative branches of the entertainment business, the games industry is still struggling until today with a lot of negative perception?
Kate: I think there’s a lot of reasons for that but I think the main reason is that the games industry, as successful as it has been, and it’s very successful financially and otherwise, what we have done a really poor job as game creators is we don’t engage the public. We don’t talk to them about us as an art form, as a cultural force and so they see us a lot of times as sort of like a product, as something they buy and we entertain them and then they just walk away from it. And especially we don’t engage politicians really well: a lot of people around the world, a lot of game developers complain that “this politician doesn’t understand games” and “that government won’t give us money”, but well when is the last time you invited them to play games? When is the last time you invited them to come to your studio and you can tell them what you do and you can show them what you do and you can educate them on what game development is and I don’t think we do nearly enough of that. If you compare to the film industry, I don’t think they have this problem, because, for one – they’ve been around a lot longer, but two – I think most of the public, they understand how films are made. There’s even a lot of movies about making movies so it’s not a mystery to the public, whereas game development is a mystery to a lot of people, they have no idea how games get made: they don’t know the people who make games, they don’t know the growing diversity we have in game creators, all the kinds of topics that we address. They’re not all violent shooter games like a lot of people think and I think part of the problem is when we don’t engage the public, when we don’t actively engage politicians and then the media as well, they are very quick of using a stereotype of who we are and what we do and we don’t fight it. We don’t fight it very often, we just go “yah here they go again, they’re talking bad about us like they always do” – why don’t we stand up and say something? I don’t understand. So a lot of this I feel falls on us within the industry to be much more vocal about it.
Articy: You’ve been a fierce advocate for diversity in the gaming industry. Do you feel the lack of diversity in the game development could have somehow indirectly contributed to some of the negative perception we’re still experiencing today?
Kate: I do, I think there’s a direct correlation. The fact that we have poor representation of women in the industry, poor representation of people of color, it does feed this narrative that games are primarily made by white men for white men. Now we know that on the game players’ side that’s not true, we know that game play is pretty much a ubiquitous form of entertainment around the world. We know that generally there’s more women playing games than men in a lot of places, we know for a fact that there’s for example more women in their 30s and 40s who play games than teen males, and even when you say that statistic to the public, I’ve had people tell me that’s wrong, they say “I don’t believe that, that’s crazy, how could that be?”. I mean well that’s a fact, we’re the industry, we know this, but they get fed the image in the media that the typical gamer is a teenage boy in his mom’s basement. That kind of ongoing falsehood is something that we don’t fight against, but I think part of the reason too is that when we don’t have diversity represented in the workplace, we’re not making games that address the whole wide audience out there who might like other things other than shooters. We’re seeing that change though, that is changing because of a lot of indie developers. Independent developers, a lot of these people are self-taught and the democratization of game tools where a lot of the game tools are free now, the knowledge is free online and so a lot of people are self taught. I’ve met people all around the world, very diverse cultures, very diverse races and so on, who are now getting into game development and so I do see, I’m starting to see that shift, but the core industry like the AAA, big companies they still need to do a lot of work to improve their diversity, because ultimately what we want to see is that those who make games better represent those who play games, because we already know that those who play games are pretty diverse.
Articy: What about the players? Is there something the players can or should do to help with this perception or does this lay totally on the game developers to address?
Kate: I think in the community space that the community of players and also the community of developers, but looking at the consumer side with the players, one of the biggest things players can do is just learn to be nice. You know, be nice to each other, because you have people who come into the gaming community – why are they there? – because they love the game and that’s something that everyone in that community shares. That’s the reason why they’re there and when we have toxicity in communities online for all kinds of reasons, it’s strange – why would you have toxicity in the community of the same game when everyone’s there with a mutual love of that game. So when we have these people who come into the community and become disruptive and they say things that are inappropriate or racist or sexist or whatever it might be, that’s where the company, the game developer does have a responsibility, I feel, to step in and ensure that the community is safe. That’s what they should do, they should foster a very positive, open community so there’s various things that developers can do to help that, but it really is both sides, we need companies to have the tools in place that help them create a safe community, but at the same time we need to encourage players to be nice and we need to make them accountable for their behavior, so if they’re not going to be nice and they’re going to be disruptive, then we need to be quicker about just getting them out of the community. Most gaming communities out there have very clear rules: these are the terms of service, these are the rules of engagement in the community, but unfortunately I don’t think those are enforced very well. And we also need to find better tools to scale the enforcement, because when you’re thinking about any company, they’ve got a small team of people or even a large team of people who are handling the community management, but still that large team is nothing compared to the millions of players that play their game and you have to somehow scale the ability to monitor the community.
Articy: If you were to give one piece of advice to someone looking to get a career in gaming, what would that be?
Kate: It’s one piece of advice with two parts. The first piece of advice is: if you want to be in the gaming industry then you should already be making games. Like I mentioned before the tools are out there: unity is free, unreal is free, there’s a lot of instruction that’s available out there, a lot of schools today in different countries teach game design or some aspect of game design so the knowledge is there. If someone comes to me and says “I really want to be a game designer” so I ask them – how many games have you made yet? “I haven’t made any” so I’m like – well I wonder if you want to be a game designer, because often times when you want to be a musician for example, like “I want to be a concert violinist in an orchestra” – they already play the violin, and they already practice. Or if they want to be a writer, they say “I want to be a successful novelist”, they’re already writing. You have to do it if you want to actually become that profession so that’s really important, and there’s a lot of ways to do that, like I said you can teach yourself, you can join a local developer group, often times there’s local meetups of indie developers and other people, you can just go talk to them and find out how did they get into the gaming industry, what was their path. So that kind of leads to my second point – you also need to network and you need to connect yourself with the community, because one of the things I love about the game development community is that most if not everyone is so open and so nice and we all want to share this mutual love of creating games and it’s very rare to not find that. So for people who might be shy, because I know a lot of people who want to work in games are shy, they’re introverts, I’m an introvert too, I can fake like I’m an extrovert like I’m doing right now, but you have to kind of fight through that shyness and actually reach out to these people, because you have to remember most of all the other people who work in games are shy too, because they just want to work on their games. But you have to network because that’s how you get jobs in this industry, you don’t get jobs by sending resumes to companies, you get jobs by talking to people at that company and showing them what you can do and finding mentors who are more experienced and showing them your skills. Pretty much every person I know in this industry who’s gotten a job, it was usually through some kind of connection or networking and I know it’s hard for people because if they’re shy or they’re not confident in their skills, they don’t want to show people, but that’s the only way you can move forward, is to have the courage to show people your work.