A Review of Digital Cities: Games in Scotland

Industry experts, academics, and students of the creative industries gathered on the 15th March to talk about the current affairs of Scotland's creative industries. Glasgow Caledonian University, Creative Scotland, and BAFTA Scotland hosted a series of panels that included discussions on the business landscape, cultural values, and diversity in representation. The session was held as part of Digital Cities, a UK-wide initiative organised by the BBC Academy in an attempt to "boost digital skills in the media and wider creative industries."

Session One: The State of Play

The first panel session on Scotland's gaming industry was led by Julie Adair, Director of Digital Collaboration at Glasgow Caledonian University. It included a presentation from Colin Macdonald, Head of All4 Games (the transcript can be accessed from here). Colin was joined on a panel by Jon McKellan of No Code (Lub vs Dub, Super Arc Light, and, most recently, Storied Untold), Tony Gowland of Ant Workshop (Binaries, and the upcoming Dead End Job), and Mike Cox, Head of Studio at Blazing Griffin (The Ship, The Nighmare Cooperative, and Distant Star: Revenant Fleet). The discussion revolved around topics such as varying working practice and team dynamics, bottlenecks in the graduate market within Scotland and the UK, and prolonged audience retention for games in comparison to other forms of media. The conveyed message of this panel suggested that there is some excellent work being produced within the Scottish games industry, and the intentions to grow and contribute on a grander scale is apparent, but funding to create original content is a luxury to some.

Session Two: Art in Play

The second panel focused on opportunities for games and digital media within the cultural sector, led by Morgan Petrie of Creative Scotland. The session included presentations from Iain Simons of the National Videogame Foundation, and Simon Meek of The Secret Experiment (The 39 Steps, and the upcoming Beckett). Timea Tabori, Chair of IGDA Scotland, joined the session's panel in discussing the cultural crossover between media. One interesting discussion from the panel concerned the difference between game accessibility and "dumbing down" the medium in order to include more people (at the risk of losing certain values in games that shapes their cultural significance). A final thought that summarised the session questioned the public exposure of developers in comparison to leading figures in other forms of media, such as actors, radio presenters, and authors: developers in the public eye does not feel as culturally embedded (yet!)

Session Three: The Game Changers

Finally, Dr Romana Ramzan of Glasgow Caledonian University chaired a panel on behalf of BAFTA Scotland. The panel focused on diversity and representation within the creative sector, and included Ubisoft Reflections' Sally Blake (Just Dance, Watch Dogs, and Tom Clancy's The Division) and Kish Hirani, Chair of BAME In Games. A general view was taken that, particularly within the UK, there doesn't seem to be a resistance in welcoming and recruiting people from under-represented backgrounds, but that encouragement and invitations from those within the games industry has been moderately effective, despite more efforts required on this. Additionally, the public image of larger corporate organisations in games do not provide the outward-facing inclusivity that they promote; nor do their "socials" that conflict with certain religious or cultural values in minority communities. Concluding this session was a touching anecdote of a six-year old girl who did not feel confident to talk about games as part of her show-and-tell in school because she had been jeered by the boys for knowing about games ("They're a boy's thing. You shouldn't know about them.") It highlights an incredibly difficult situation of attitudes and perceptions to address at a youth-focused grassroots level.

Looking forward

What can be taken from this session is that the creative media sector in the UK is under serious review from a variety of lenses, and has included members across the board in their discussions. From directors and management, academics and students, and creative teams of various sizes, there is a sense that voices are being considered across the board. This event was a positive showing for highlighting where the strengths and weaknesses lie across the UK creative sectors, and how it could improve towards: a larger role in the global market; a better cultural understanding of media; and an awareness and drive for inclusivity.

How initiatives stem from this and grow is yet to be seen, but the ball is (or, at least, should) firmly be in motion based on the discussions from Digital Cities.