GAMING FOR A CAUSE

  • Video game testing in TAG lab. photo by Mattias Graham

Critical Hit is redefining the gaming industry with its mandate to convey messages of social change in upcoming video game developments.

This summer, they are hosting the Critical Hit 2014: Jam Factory and seeking applicants interested in participating in the ten-week incubator program.

Hosted at Concordia University’s Technoculture, Art and Games research centre, Critical Hit is an incubator that seeks to hatch experimental, avant garde and innovative video games in a non-commercial space. Collaborating with media artists, game developers and sound designers of all backgrounds, their initiative is to create cutting-edge, standard-defying video games.

“The games we create are critical of the current industry standards and we seek to change that. It’s very important for us not to just have a message to convey, but focus on games that will have a social impact,” said Jessica Rose Marcotte, alumni and current mentor at Critical Hit. “ We seek to create games that are innovative in the ways they are played—things that big AAA companies can’t afford to do, so we do.”

One of Critical Hit and TAG’s main concerns is to promote video games as an effective means of conveying positive social messages. According to Gina Haraszti, co-director of Critical Hit, a lot of research on how video games can be used for educational purposes and message delivery is currently being done. Along with all the research, there is also room for experimentation, which Critical Hit is currently leading.

Representation standards are a growing concern among small-scaled indie incubators, as the last 20 years have seen the repeated apparition of stereotyped protagonist—typically a 30-something white male “kicking ass.”

Gina Haraszti explains that this is because, so far, commercial video game developers have catered story plots to the standards and expectations of their male audience. As a result, it asserts financial success.

“We’re trying to bring some different backgrounds, genders and orientations to mix and shift power dynamics,” Haraszti said. “So how about playing a little boy or a fish in the game— somebody who’s not in a position of power? For a lot of indie game makers, it’s about addressing the content and not the mechanics.”

Critical Hit has been highly engaged in breaking those standards with developments such as Assembling Rosie, a game that explores the perpetuated stereotypes related to women and the cultural expectations associated with genders.

“Women are expected to have it all and this game explores the different social roles they are supposed to navigate through,” said Marcotte. “This game is in the form of a puzzle platformer where the protagonist is a female zombie that can modify her body.”

“Women consume as many video games as men,” added Gersande La Flèche, social media assistant at TAG. “They just don’t consider themselves as gamers so when you think about the current games being made, they don’t represent the demographics that are playing them.”

In addition to its focus on breaking current conventions, Critical Hit 2014: Jam Factory is exploring the game development potential of game jamming. For those unfamiliar, game jams are the gathering of coders, game developers and artists for the purpose of planning, designing and creating a game usually in a short span of time. The first four weeks of the Critical Hit incubator will be week-long jams; participants will spend the remaining six weeks further developing and polishing one of the resulting games.

“We’re looking for people who’ve worked on game developments already but from all backgrounds—like programmers, media artists, sound designers. It’s open to all students registered in a post-secondary institution” said Haraszti.

“This game-jam will be a load of fun. You’ll meet other game makers, create a game from start to finish. There will be free food, mentors, provided workshops as well as a compensation and prizes,” concluded Haraszti.

Application deadlines are April 1. For more information concerning application requirements, visit http://www.criticalhitmontreal.ca/apply/

Link Radio | March 27, 2014 »

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