Kate Edwards is an American and a unique blend of an applied geography strategist, author and content culturalization expert. Her passions for global cultures and creative media technologies make her an effective and vocal expert – and her track record proves it. During her time at Microsoft and ever since, she has worked on many games including Halo, Fable, Age of Empires, Dragon Age, Modern Warfare, Mass Effect and many others. She also supports other companies in the field of culturalization.
Do you follow current eSports events?
Kate: Only a little bit; I’m aware of certain events that are occurring but I don’t follow enough to know who’s playing, what they’re playing, etc.
What’s your favourite eSports game?
Although I don’t see it use a lot in mainstream esports, my favorite is definitely Halo (I worked on three of the Halo titles so I’m a little biased).
How did the gaming industry change in the last several years?
Definitely not an easy or quick question to answer! In short, it’s grown economically to become the highest grossing form of entertainment on earth (far surpassing film and music, as well as live sports). We’ve seen a significant shift from content being produced only by AAA large studios to many of the most popular and innovative games coming from independent (“indie”) developers all around the world. Also, game creation has become increasingly democratized due to the tools being mostly free and much of the game development knowledge is readily available online. In short, the landscape of today’s game industry is quite different from a decade ago, and a decade from now will be even more of a shift.
What exactly is your approach to a new assignment? How can we picture the process if a company wants their games to be socially inclusive?
It essentially starts with me evaluating all aspects of the world that the company is creating. That means reading the draft script, viewing concept art, talking with the game designers, artists and writers, and just striving to have a good understanding of what world is being made, who’s in it, what do they do, what is the player’s objectives, and so on. With that knowledge, I can then start assessing if their creative vision is going to be compatible with various cultural worldviews and markets, and we can make adjustments if necessary during the production cycle. To be honest, the first and most important step for a company to make their games inclusive is to simply make that a clear, stated goal from the beginning. If that’s a clear objective from the start, then many of the creative decisions can incorporate that thinking into the production process.
In which areas are still the most problems?
From a culturalization perspective, the biggest challenges remain any use of religion/faith (whether a real-world one or fictionalized), the use of real-world history, the management of inclusive representation in a game (many factors here, including gender, ethnicity, culture, geography, etc.), and the representation of real-world geography via the use of maps (which are highly sensitive in some markets if they are seen as “incorrect”, such as in China or India). Also, we have to consider how designing content for one market may be a problem for a nearby market, so we have to carefully consider the market strategy not only for a specific country but also for a region.
In an interview with the German “Zeit” you said there are as many females as males playing video games. In the eSports scene are mostly males though. Do you think this will change?
Yes, I do think over time this is going to change and we’ll see more and more underrepresented people, particularly women, competing in e-sports. As e-sports continues to grow and mature as a form of entertainment and as a competition, it will need to expand its demographic of players – in much the same way many physical sports slowly accepted women playing.
eSports are in the special position, that men don’t have a physical advantage and even handicapped people can compete without disadvantages. Do you consider this to be a chance for a somewhat neutral platform? And if so, is it used that way?
Yes, the way human beings play games makes the medium somewhat of a levelling device, so that physicality has less influence on the outcome. Physical reflexes, hand-eye coordination, and these aspects are still critical to game play but we know that these factors are more equal across genders and people with potential disabilities. We haven’t reached that point yet in the field of e-sports but I do hope that we’ll see more and more diversity in players over time.
In Germany we have an ongoing political discussion whether eSports should be considered as sports or not. What’s your opinion on this?
Typically, “sports” are defined by an activity that requires physical exertion to lead to a certain competitive outcome, whether competing as an individual or as part of a team. Being an avid game player myself, I know how physically taxing game play can be, especially if playing intensely competitive games. So on that basis, I think e-sports can fit within the traditional definition of a “sport” without much distortion of that original intent.
Considering possibilities in games: Thinking about rape games etc. – Do you think there should be a limitation of what’s allowed?
Games are a form of artistic self-expression and free speech. As such, games should have the freedom to explore any and all topics that are relevant to the human experience. If we don’t allow games to explore all dimensions of humanity – good and bad – then we are preventing the medium from truly being a cultural artefact. That being said, we still need to be mindful of including gratuitous violence, sex acts, etc. in our content in exactly the same way any form of creative media should, so this question isn’t unique to games but also applies to film, literature, television, etc.
What’s your own experience in video games as a female player? Do you play with a female character if you can choose or “out” yourself as a woman?
If I’m playing online, I have an obviously female gamer name that anyone can see. But I don’t use my microphone in online play and mute anyone who’s being rude (which is often). I don’t care about “outing” myself as a woman player, in fact I think it’s very important for women players to represent themselves and let the community know we’re there. But I also understand that some gaming environments are particularly toxic, so I don’t blame someone for being more discreet if they feel the need to be.
Do you think special clans for women make sense and/or are important?
Yes, I think that being to identify with a community of people to whom we can relate is very important. That doesn’t mean we should only have exclusive communities, but it’s nice to have the option to play within other women from time to time. I think any underrepresented group should have the freedom to play together if desired, in much the same way there are exclusive groups on Facebook, etc. But unless we need to do so for our own mental health, we should not completely isolate ourselves all the time.
Going forward: Where do you see eSports in 10 years?
Without a doubt, esports will continue to grow and thrive, and continue to evolve as a wider form of popular entertainment. As the younger gaming generations get older, they’ll demand this content from the mainstream networks and entertainment channels, so these media outlets will either need to adapt and provide the content or they will become obsolete. I expect we’ll see more visibility on specific gaming teams as well as on individual champion players – in much the same way traditional sports have their stars and favorite teams. I expect at some point we’re also going to see some form of esports Olympics, probably as its own event and not part of the traditional Olympics event.