Personally, I was excited to hear about an event that would bring over 150 talented programmers, developers and others together in a 48-hour time span with the goal to create a video game with a strong female protagonist. The I Am a Gamer Jam was held in Vancouver, Canada during the weekend of July 12-14, 2013. Due to the popularity of this event, satellite operations were set up in various North American locations and others participated remotely around the world. The event was the brainchild of Kimberly Voll, a professor of software engineering and gaming design at the Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver, Canada. She stated she was stunned to hear that major video game companies were of the mindset that games with female protagonists would not succeed. Her answer? -- The I Am a Gamer Jam 48-hour video game jam development marathon.
The question is, did this event that actually sold out in Canada serve its purpose to convince major video game companies to feature more female protagonists in video games, or did it do the exact opposite? From most reports, the event was well attended; however, in my opinion, some of the video game submissions were not of the highest calibre.
First of all, when I found out about this event, I was under the impression the participants would collaborate and develop a video game with a female lead that would garner lots of attention after the event was over, and go on to become a huge success. In other words, I thought that with all these great minds working together, the results would be stellar, culminating in a video game that not only had a realistic main female protagonist, but a game that would prove to be a financial success as well.
After the event was over, I was eager to learn of the game that could possibly propel and convince major gaming companies that video games with a strong female protagonists could actually succeed. The resulting video game would be a sort of a "See, I told you it could be done and here's the proof." Did this happen? You tell me.
Here's what I found out. First of all, the developers worked on separate games that supposedly cast a female character as the main protagonist. This was my initial surprise -- Multiple video games would be created instead of one. Maybe it is unlikely that so many people could collaborate and come up with one magnificent game after only 48 hours, but at least this would have been a good start, in my opinion.
My second surprise was that most of the games were cartoonish, simplistic and lacked imagination of any kind, in my opinion.
Yes, the above picture of a banana was one of the more than 40 submissions of video games with a female protagonist. By the way, when you clicked on this game, nothing happened, so apparently it may have, thankfully, been taken down. One of the statement made by a commenter was he or she would not have played this game anyway -- even if the game did not have a banana as cover art.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. I got the impression the developers were determined to steer away from actually showing a female as a graphic. Of course some of the submissions showed females, some as stick figures, some as unattractive cartoon figures or other images that were not appealing to the eye -- in my opinion. Some of the submissions veered off the topic at hand and brought in social issues, and even religion.
Could it be that some of the developers at this jam were not quite the best and brightest the video game community has to offer? Believe it or not, I "played" one of the games, that essentially was a story about someone's relatives. You advance through the story by clicking on a link, which brought you to another page with a picture of someone and a story line that went nowhere. Where is the creativity in that?
Another question I have is where were the imaginative, talented developers that create those big block-buster type games such as Call of Duty, Mass Effect and other creative games that are saturated with video game playing excitement? Based on the results of some of these elementary video games submitted, they definitely were not at this jam.
This is another game that supposedly advances the cause of having female video game protagonists. A game with a grotesque looking bee, no less.
There were other games that showed pictures or illustrations of buildings, etc. with nary a female character in sight. With over 40 percent of the particpants female, it makes me wonder if they also veered away from showing an actual female as cover art for their video game.
To be fair, Ms. Voll, did mention that these were mostly independent developers; however, in my opinion, independent developers can be just as talented and creative as those who work for the major video game companies.
I believe that, unfortunately, the I Am A Gamer Jam may have done the cause a disservice by trying to cram creativity in video game development in a 48-hour period. Sometimes it may taker over 48 hours to come up with a good idea for a video game -- much less to actually have one finished by that time. Maybe a week's time span would have given the developers more time to get their creative juices flowing and come up with a plausible video game with a strong female protagonist.
Regarding the publicity for this event -- I recommend that Ms. Voll be mindful of the comments she makes which can be miscontrued or misinterpreted. For example, what would you think if you heard her say that "Independent developers are the ones that can come forward and try crazy ideas." Was she inferring that having a video game with a strong female protagonist, is a "crazy idea?" Also she further stated, "What defines the industry is the big, production companies...On one hand I respect what they are doing." She's entitled to her opinion, however, did she mean she respects that some of these companies shun having a female protagonist in their video games?
Of course, sometimes things and situations seem differently from the outside looking in, and maybe those participating thought they were really doing something positive to promote having female protagonists in video games. I think organizing this event was probably a huge effort on Ms. Voll's part; however, it remains to be seen if any positive actions in the video game industry will result from this jam.
It is possible a message was sent to the video game industry that they need to step it up relative to featuring female protagonists in their video games. In order for this effort to have any affect on the video game industry, regardless of how insignificant-- they must look deeper into the overall idea of this 48-hour jam, rather than the actual substance, which unfortunately, in my opinion, left a lot to be desired.
- Published in Mom's Minute Blog