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Curator's Report From Change:Debate Workshop Series, Dundee

by Saoirse (Amira) Anis
Image: Change:Debate Workshop in Progress at the Wellgate Centre, Dundee

Change:Debate, made possible by SCAN and NEoN Digital Arts Festival addressed the lack of diversity in creative industries. With a focus on video games, we invited three talented creatives of colour to direct workshops and share experiences to create a platform from which creative institutions can acknowledge and address their shortcomings in equality and diversity.

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley a digital artist and games developer, kicked the day off with a workshop about archiving. Danielle gave us the chance to play a video game that she had created, in which the character, in first-person mode, travelled through a colourful, geometric space interspersed with thought-provoking statements about archiving, and the black trans experience. To follow, Danielle encouraged us to think about our how we would like to archive ourselves – what the essence of our existence would look like, and who would be allowed to access it. We then depicted this with window-marker drawings on the glass enclosure of the workshop room which, for those of us who were still struggling to be awake at 11am on a Sunday, was a nice way to inject energy into the morning. This prompted us to discuss the lack of agency within archiving, particularly when the person being archived is not a cis-het-white male.

This theme of agency became particularly evident throughout the day, as we continued to question the extent to which we have control over our daily experiences. Shay Thompson a video games presenter and founder of Level Up Link Up spoke about the responsibility of white-centric video games companies to vocally support the diversification of the video games industry. She condemned the failure of video games companies to publicly acknowledge Black History Month and the inherent racism that this implies. Shay (born Shaheeda) spoke about changing her professional name for the ease of others, and, having done this myself, we discussed feeling as though we must alter ourselves for the ease of others. Being malleable and adaptable are admirable qualities, but malleability at the expense of authenticity is an oppressive corner into which we are backed by discriminatory structures.

Jazmin Morris a creative technologist, delivered a workshop which began with a discussion about the lack of diverse characters and stories in video games. Prompted to think about the importance of being able to identify with the characters we see in video games, we discussed the impact this has on us, and the changes that must be made. The day ended with Jazmin’s guided tutorial of the web-based software, Twine with which we created our own text-based games. During this, Jazmin ensured that each person felt comfortable to make their own game, despite any preconceptions they may have had about their abilities. With this, Jazmin demonstrated the importance of uplifting one another to reach our potential, outlining the power of creating a non-judgemental, equal environment in which everyone feels welcome – a blueprint, perhaps, for tackling diversity in the creative sector.

This, I believe, is the crux of the solution. The success of Change:Debate was largely down to the environment of nurture and nourishment created by each of the artists, and adhered to unquestioningly by all of the participants. Institutions have a responsibility to uplift those of us they have traditionally excluded, to ensure that we do not have to censor ourselves in order to be welcomed. There is so much beauty in diversity, and I hope that Dundee’s creative institutions continue to acknowledge their systems of oppression in order to embrace this.