Game Discovery Exhibition adds new Indigeneity and diaspora summit

· The Pulse

The organizer of the ninth annual Game Discovery Exhibition wants to celebrate more people in gaming with a new summit on Indigeneity and diaspora, one of two tracks that tackle equity, diversity, and inclusion in the industry during the conference portion of the event.

"When you're focusing two of your four summits on that EDI world and that lens, you really want to make room for the positive and to highlight the people behind things," Madison Côté, the executive director of GDX organizer Interactive Arts Alberta, told Taproot. The speakers, Côté said, are "folks who are very competent or very much industry thought leaders."

Interactive Arts Alberta has hosted GDX annually since 2015. This year's conference takes place at the Feltham Centre at NAIT, while an exhibition of game makers runs as part of KDays from July 19 to 28 inside the Edmonton EXPO Centre. GDX's mission is to raise the profile of indie gaming and to support it makers and fans.

One of its noteworthy local speakers is Aretha Greatrix, a member of Kashechewan First Nation who was born and raised in Edmonton. One of the many hats Greatrix wears is program director for Dreamspeakers Festival Society.

"She is a powerhouse of a human because she's a streamer, and she's a filmmaker," Côté said. "She's done actual advocacy work to YouTube Canada to get them more involved in National Indigenous History Month. As a streamer, she has also worked directly with some studios on their partner programs … I think we've convinced her to start thinking about making a game, too."

One out-of-towner coming to the summit is keynote speaker Rami Ismail, a Dutch-Egyptian developer, speaker, and toolmaker. Ismail has worked on more than 20 games and created presskit(), a free software that helps build publicity packages for games. He will discuss representation and business growth for indie gaming studios. Another is Kadeem Dunn, a founder of a studio called Diaspora Games that "focuses on the role that racialization plays in both the production and consumption of technology, media, and society at large," Côté said. Two more are Natalie Tin Yin Gan (顏婷妍) and Remy Siu 蕭逸南 of the interdisciplinary arts company Hong Kong Exile. Both work in gaming outside their shared company, too.

Stereotypes about gamers — they're white, cisgender, straight males who don't always play nice — do not respect the reality of the wider community, Côté said. Still, an attempt to revive the online harassment campaign aimed at marginalized people known as Gamergate earlier this year. Leaving people who don't fit this stereotype out of the conversation just doesn't make sense, Côté said.

"White males are only 33% of the gaming market," she said. "You're leaving a lot of people out by only telling (some) stories and only highlighting speakers from certain demographics."

Côté knows that not every conversation about Indigeneity and diaspora in games will be an easy one. She's thankful to have support on that front.

"Some of (the conversations at GDX) are going to be hard, for sure, and we've been really lucky to work with the Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre," Côté said in reference to the centre that is dedicated to supporting the Aboriginal student experience at NAIT. "They even offered to do some smudging."

A person sitting on a stage smiles at someone else who is holding a microphone.

Interactive Arts Alberta's executive director Madison Côté is looking forward to the biggest Game Discovery Exhibition to date. It features a new summit on Indigeneity and diaspora in the conference portion, and the exhibition arm has grown from three days to 10. (Supplied)

This year is GDX's biggest yet. The exhibition is now 10 days instead of three, and Côté said visitors can try different games as the days go by because the roster of makers will change throughout KDays. Exhibitors demonstrate Interactive Arts Alberta's focus on games both digital and physical.

"There's a very large role-playing game booth that we'll be having that will be there all 10 days," Côté said. "There's also the board game lounge that will be there all 10 days, as well as our esports free-play section. Those parts will be consistent, and then the rest of the exhibitors will be there anywhere between three and seven days."

Some local exhibitors and speakers to look out for are Trent Oster, the founder and CEO of Beamdog who also helped found BioWare; Ben Gelinas of Copychaser Games, whose journalism-themed game, Times & Galaxy, launched in June; plus Sam Singh and Roberta Taylor, two creators of the board game Exploring wâhkôhtowin. James Dang and Mitchell McCaig from the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute will be there, too, alongside the outgoing and incoming presidents of the Games Den, the University of Alberta's game development club. Notably, Swordmonkey Studios is showcasing four different games at the exhibition.

Côté's role is a volunteer one. Outside Interactive Arts Alberta, she is a marketing consultant and a founder of her own indie studio, Cozy Comet Games. She said her studio's six-person staff is "majority BIPOC" and evenly split between male and female. She used to work for the Edmonton Screen Industries Office and Edmonton Global. Interactive Arts Alberta feels like a better fit because of its laser focus on the local gaming community.

"I really care a lot more about local and building up what we have locally than bringing in competition or stuff that probably will complement the ecosystem, but it's not directly helping the people that I've had the chance to meet over the years," Côté said. "We do have world-class talent here."

GDX follows Game Con Canada's Edmonton debut in June. The nation's largest gaming convention recurs here for at least two more years. Looking ahead, Digital Alberta hosts the Alberta Games Series from Oct. 3 to 4 in Calgary. The titles of the other GDX conference tracks are Building a Better Games Industry, AI/ML + Games, Indie Realities, and Community-Building & Networking.

Next for Interactive Arts Alberta is uncharted territory for the organization. This fall, it's opening a coworking space called Walkthrough Collaborative Centre on Whyte Avenue near 103 Street NW and the now-closed Princess Theatre. Its function is to increase game development capacity in Edmonton.