New Mohawk College program aims to make gaming industry better for women and people of colour
When Lisa Funnell played the 2013 version of the Tomb Raider video game, she remembers the moment when her character, Lara Croft, was killed while trying to escape a man who was sexually assaulting her.
“I was very shocked when I was playing it the first time, and when I died, I found it incredibly triggering. It made me not want to continue playing the game, and it made me question … who decided that this content is OK?”
Funnel and Angela Stukator are members of the professional advisory council helping to steer a new game design program at Hamilton’s Mohawk College, in an industry where women are not always welcome.
“Certainly AAA games are male dominated — young, white male dominated — and we wanted to design a program that would bring in a diverse student body and have the courses be taught by an equally diverse [faculty],” said Stukator.
AAA games refer to those developed by larger companies with bigger budgets, such as Grand Theft Auto V or Halo 3.
Stukator worked at the animation and game design program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., for 16 years, and Funnell has been studying and publishing books on feminism and gender in media, particularly in James Bond films, for over two decades.
“I jumped at the opportunity in large part because Hamilton is such an interesting place and it really is a hub of art, culture and technology that is emerging in a really special way,” said Stukator.
‘Model rather than mirror the industry’
Large companies like Activision Blizzard are facing public scrutiny. The American video game company was sued in 2021 for multiple sexual harassment claims and perpetuating a “frat boy” office environment. In July of 2020, Ubisoft, a French gaming company, announced plans to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct.
This came after the resignation, in June of that year, of Yannis Mallat, president of Ubisoft Canada. In Paris, the company’s chief creative officer and their global head of human resources stepped down. In Toronto, Maxime Beland, the vice-president of editorial, resigned and an unnamed employee was fired.
“In the game design world, there have been a lot of news articles about some of the problems that have taken place recently, issues of harassment for instance, and it’s really important to understand that,” said Funnell.
The program will also include an ethics course.
“This program is intended to model rather than mirror the gaming industry,” said Stukator.
She and Funnell also plan to encourage graduates to think outside of working for big “AAA” developers, and to know how to cater to their audience effectively.
“Everything we teach will be aimed towards addressing the diversity in the classroom and that principally means not being so focused on AAA games, getting people into big studios like Ubisoft or EA, but providing them with the skill set for game design as an inclusive practice that goes from board games to tabletop games,” said Stukator.
“It’s really important to understand the content that we’re engaging with when we’re playing these games,” said Funnell.
They are also working with Sylvia Lowndes, dean of McKeil School of Creative Industries, Liberal Studies & Communication, and Catherine Feraday Miller, a long-time indie game developer, animator and educator.
“Mohawk College is really hitting on the psychology of game design in terms of the types of courses that they’re offering, which is really, really interesting and very current,” said Miller.
The program is slated to begin in 2023, with registration opening in October 2022.