Canadian Game Jam ‘iamagamer’ Tackles Gender and Misogyny Issues in Gaming Industry

The Centre for Digital Media was host to Vancouver’s most recent game jam from Friday, July 12 to Sunday, July 14.

By any measure, the game jam has to be considered a great success: late Sunday afternoon, the hall of the CDM’s hangar was filled to the brim with artists, programmers, designers, and musicians, all surrounded by empty soda cans and takeout containers. The entrants varied in skill levels—CDM, Art Institute, and Emily Carr students worked hand in hand with industry professionals to get their visions off the ground.

The displays of creativity, ingenuity and drive would have been impressive at any game jam around the world. But this was not any game jam; this was “iamagamer.” Dr. Kimberly Voll, a full-time member of the faculty at the CDM, has made a name for herself headlining these events and the Full Indie meetups, a monthly event that serves to forge and guild together independent minds and bodies of the local industry.

Where iamagamer differed from your usual January Jam is in its theme.

In March of this year, Gamasutra published a now-infamous article that shone a light on the struggle for developers to find a publisher for a game, in this case Capcom’s upcoming Remember Me, due to its female protagonist. Upon the release of this article, Dr. Voll wrote an article of her own, exploring her personal history of internalized sexism. It ended with a vow that her next game jam would be devoted to creating female protagonists.

It was a theme that resonated with everyone in attendance. Dr. Voll’s opening remarks carried an echo of her article, and that echo resounded for 48 hours. Fifty games were created in all; some took the theme of feminist empowerment rather literally, like Trigger Warning, a game where a woman wielding a musket shoots down avatars of the negative messages sent to women every day or Mitch Alexander’s Ava Martin Vs. the Binarist Hegemony, which regards the experiences of trans*women.

Other games featured the other letters of the LGBT spectrum: Merchant of Death (And Death Accessories) and Monster Stampede!! (created by Malcolm Christiansen and the team featuring Dr. Voll herself, respectively) both featured interracial lesbian relationships. Silverstring Media’s Encampment, one of the best-presented titles, serves as a strong rebuttal to those who would insist that the fantasy gaming experience should be defined by the style of its combat.

In the hours before the judging, Dr. Voll was confident, and proud, with an eye already looking to the future.

“I want to do more with the ‘iamagamer’ organization; one of the things i’ve really learned over the years is how they provide a community with a voice and an opportunity to come together and make things better. I would love to do things for other underrepresented groups and raise representation across the board,” she said. “As long as it’s frustrating to see misogyny in the industry, these [events] are going to keep happening.”

This game jam’s participants weren’t only enthusiastic, they were exceedingly proud, with presentations going overtime by a full hour. But despite this success, Dr. Voll does not consider the fight over. She may have sounded the call for change in the industry, but it’s also her position that change has to start from the inside out.

“There’s a lot of finger-pointing in the industry, as if it’s somehow trying to intentionally demonize women, and I don’t think that’s it at all,” she said. “I think we have a risk-averse industry—if you look at the production values, and you’re not making back that money, studios are going to close. So it’s hard to take that risk. But it’s not going to change until we, at a grassroots level, start changing our perceptions. It’s a lot harder to look within.”

On Sunday night, at the very least, it was easier than it’s ever been to look out and see change on the horizon. And that, at least, is not for nothing.