Game Developers Conference challenges industry standards

game_conference_colorAnnual meetup promises innovative tech and social change

By ALEXA J. WILLIAMS ’14

Arts Editor

The annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) kicks off this week in San Francisco, and gamers rejoice. Though not the media frenzy that is the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the GDC still holds its title as the largest gathering of professional video game developers in the world. Between Monday, March 17 and Friday, March 21, thousands of game developers will make their way to the Moscone Center for a week of tutorials, boot camps, lectures and roundtable discussions about the future of gaming. The conference is also host to the 16th annual Independent Games Festival and the 14th annual Game Developers Choice Awards, providing hardcore developers and casual gamers alike with something to get excited about.

This year, with seminars like “Beyond Graphics: Reaching the Visually Impaired Gamer,” “Misogyny, Racism and Homophobia: Where do Video Games Stand?” and “How to Increase Game Dev Diversity,” the GDC has an unprecedented focus on the social side of video games. The conversation is long overdue. Of the top 10 highest grossing video games of 2013, three had options to play as female character, and only one had a female main character. None of the games had leading characters of color, and none of them had leading queer or transgender characters. When it comes to diversity, video games, like many popular movies, receive a failing grade. Despite research from the Entertainment Software Association showing that the gaming demographic is 45 percent female, video game developers still seem to create games with young males as their target audience, despite teenage boys making up only 19 percent of the gaming public. Many game critics have recently been concerned that unless the industry recognizes that its user base is more diverse than your average 17-year-old white boy, it will begin to flounder in the same way many of its competitors have.

“The main goal for most GDC sessions is to teach developers how to make better games,” GDC General Manager Meggan Scavio said, according to recode.net. “Designing games that are more inclusive and socially responsible helps achieve that just as much as learning specific mechanics or techniques.”

In addition to this new advocacy track, the GDC allows game companies to reveal new pieces of technology that will shape the future of gaming. This year, the trend is virtual reality. Ever since technology company Oculus VR raised $91 million to fund the development of the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality helmet that has created a storm of Internet buzz and YouTube  videos, other game companies have been looking to ride on the surge of consumer interest. Sony, a major game creator, is looking to announce their own take on virtual reality at the GDC this week.

In addition, streaming platform Twitch, riding its recent popularity from the viral sensation that was Twitch Plays Pokemon, also announced on Monday that it had developed the first mobile title that would allow users to stream their gaming sessions, as well as their face and voice, directly to Twitch as part of the game’s software.

This year’s GDC could be a groundbreaking moment for the games industry as a whole. If you’re one of the many people who count video gaming as a hobby, chances are you’ll want to pay attention to its impact long after the conference ends on March 21.

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