Mohawk College’s new program aims to improve the gaming industry for women and people of color

When Lisa Funnell played the 2013 version of the Tomb Raider video game, she remembers the time her character, Lara Croft, was killed while trying to escape a man who was sexually assaulting her.

“I was very shocked when I first played it, and when I died, I found it incredibly triggering. It made me want to stop playing the game anymore, and that made me made me wonder… who decided this content was OK?”

Funnel and Angela Stukator are members of the professional advisory board that helps lead a new game design program at Mohawk College in Hamilton, in an industry where women aren’t always welcome.

“Certainly the AAA games are male dominated – dominated by young white males – and we wanted to design a program that would attract a diverse student body and that classes would be taught by an equally diverse group. [faculty]”said Stukator.

AAA games refer to those developed by larger companies with larger budgets, such as Grand Theft Auto V Where Halo 3.

Mohawk College information booth promoting programs available in 2023 for registration at Hamilton Comic Con 2022. (Sandro Herrera Espinosa)

Stukator worked in the animation and game design program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., for 16 years, and Funnell studies and publishes books on feminism and gender in media, particularly James’ films. Bond, for more than two decades.

“I jumped at the chance in large part because Hamilton is such an interesting place and it really is a hub of art, culture and technology emerging in a really special way,” said Stukator.

“Modeling rather than mirroring the industry”

Big companies like Activision Blizzard are facing public oversight. The American video game company was sued in 2021 over multiple claims of sexual harassment and perpetuation of a “frat boy” office environment. In July 2020, Ubisoft, a French game company, announced its intention to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct.

This follows the resignation, in June of the same year, of Yannis Mallat, president of Ubisoft Canada. In Paris, the company’s creative director and its global head of human resources have resigned. In Toronto, Maxime Beland, the editorial vice-president, resigned and an anonymous employee was fired.

“In the world of game design, there’s been a lot of press articles about some of the issues that have been happening recently, harassment issues for example, and it’s really important to understand that,” Funnell said. .

The program will also include an ethics course.

“This program is intended to model rather than reflect the gaming industry,” Stukator said.

She and Funnell also plan to encourage graduates to think outside of work for big “AAA” developers and how to respond effectively to their audiences.

“Everything we teach will be about addressing diversity in the classroom and that mainly means not being so focused on AAA games, getting people into big studios like Ubisoft or EA, but providing them with the skills to game design as an inclusive practice that ranges from board games to tabletop games,” said Stukator.

“It’s really important to understand the content that we’re engaging with when playing these games,” Funnell said.

They also work with Sylvia Lowndes, dean of the McKeil School of Creative Industries, Liberal Studies & Communication, and Catherine Feraday Miller, longtime indie game developer, animator and educator.

“Mohawk College really dabbles in the psychology of game design in terms of the types of courses they offer, which is really, really interesting and very current,” Miller said.

The program is expected to start in 2023, with registration opening in October 2022.

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