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Personifying Imagination: GDoC Expo 2022 was intent on giving us better games and a healthier industry

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When we last covered Game Devs of Color Expo in 2020 (and before I became power hungry for the Gaming Editor title /s), the world had more of a consensus to do virtual things. Virtual and remote activities did not have to fight the phrases “back to normal” and “Zoom fatigue” as much back then. GDoC, like all organizations, had to find ways to pivot from in-person events, but understood that remote communities have always benefitted gamers and game developers. This year’s virtual expo affirmed that our online relationships still matter, should be invested in, and still have plenty of discoveries to offer.

Once again being held on the SwapCard app, GDoC Expo was the place to find an active, innovative, and positive hub for gamers and developers to share with each other. Since 2016, they have committed to supporting marginalized game devs and connecting them with audiences craving stories that adequately represent them. In 2019, GDoC began awarding grants to marginalized developers, no-strings-attached. You can see the winners of this year here (Congrats!). For all these reasons and more, GDoC Expo has rewarded their audience with bigger and better conferences, without losing the nuance of their highly anticipated annual programming.

2022 Game Devs of Color Expo Logo.

In 2021, the two day event became a four day event. This year’s expo kept this tradition up and was held from Thursday, September 15th through Sunday, September 18th. From the panels, the showcases, the interviews, the awards, and certainly the community, GDoC was a total success by our metrics. But what bits stood out to us? From the Intercom is here to give you our highlights of Game Devs of Color Expo 2022.

Bramble

Of the major additions this year, Bramble, the “Zoom meets Animal Crossing” browser-based meeting app, felt like the biggest gamble. The app’s events bookended the GDoC Showcase on Thursday and would set the tone for the rest of the weekend. We’re glad to report that Bramble was a highly engaging success.

You’re either a networking person or you’re not, and one might expect that trying to mingle in a tiny Club-Penguin-esque bubble would not work in 2022… but it absolutely does. In Bramble, you are a little avatar walking around rooms. The element of proximity voice and video emulated the IRL convention environment many are used to. What was great about logging in from all of our separate rooms was the ability to “offline” when needed, creating less friction between lively conversations about video games and recharging our social batteries.

Despite some expected internet bandwidth issues, we had a great time listening in and joining conversations with devs, students, and organizers. Shout out to any of you who got to hear our diatribes about video game archiving, tabletop games, and guilty pleasures. We’re definitely looking forward to more robust experiences on Bramble.

The Games!

On day one, we were treated to a nearly hour long Indie Games Showcase, featuring yes, games!

It’s always exciting to see games that have solid visual identity, and these ones provided in spades. GDoC dating-sim darling Validate showed up to the party, and is now available for purchase. Roguelite gallery shooter M. Duck made a charming appearance with its special brand of quack-magic. We were obsessed with the art style and animation of Kindfolx, an upcoming real time deck building card game courtesy of Taco Pizza Cats.

Several games that stood out incorporated themes of the supernatural. Mini Bunnies gave us a sneak peek of After School Afterlife, an adventure platformer in a world of ghosts and demons. In the same vein of spiritual combat, there were exciting updates on Midautumn, an action roguelike with themes of Asian diaspora and battling against gentrification. Dark Science’s Project Anomaly: Urban Supernatural gave us a mix of Fatal Frame, Pokémon Snap, and Parappa the Rappa all in one.

Fans of lore-rich, story driven narratives had a lot to be excited for. Indigenous futurist game studio Achimostawinan Games made a huge noir splash with their narrative detective game Hill Agency: Purity/Decay, set to come out soon. Persona Theory’s Kabaret sucked us into its Southeast Asian dark folklore universe.

There were too many games for us to cover, which is a great problem to have! Once again, many of the featured games this year were available to play in full, as a demo, or wishlist on the coinciding Gradient Convergence event on Steam. Go do it now and tell them From the Intercom sent you. 😉

Studios are People

A simple, yet necessary reminder across several panels was that the people making games matter. That means that good management matters, work life balance matters, and incorporating equitable practices from the beginning of development to the end leads to better games and better lives. Between Shana T. Bryant’s “New Game+: Directing People, Not Products” to Derek Kwan’s “Let’s Build Awesome Studio Cultures,” attendees were armed with the thoughtful realities needed to grow thriving, diverse studios past the point of survival.

To cap it off, several representatives from the stellar Game Workers of Southern California gave the most actionable guide to labor union organizing I had ever witnessed through their panel “Unionization and Diversity in the Game Industry.” Seriously, when this gets uploaded, you need to save it, give it a watch, and share, share, share away.

We Are Beyond Narrative Defaults

For marginalized folks, there can sometimes be nothing worse than a harmful story repeated ad nauseum. These include an over-representation of white male, able-bodied standards in character creators and the persistence of The Hero’s Journey as an expected measure for narrative quality. This year’s discussions gave us plenty of ways to work outside implicit biases and defaults in crafting stories and characters.

A slide from Michelle Ma’s talk “Inclusive Character Creator: An Exploration of Inclusive Design Principles for Character Creators”

“If every person is a good guy with a gun we don’t need gun control,” remarked Jen Coster in her panel “It’s Not About You: Beyond the Hero’s Journey.” Camerin Wild reminded us that genre is a spectrum meant to be explored. In their talk “How to Get Away With Murder: Subverting Genre Expectations,” Wild reminded us that equating sensitivity reading with diluting a story is not representative of a skill meant to augment audience connection and emotional depth.

Defaults are constructed. They can be destroyed and transformed.

Resource Sharing Up the Wazoo

What elevates a good event from a great one is the quality of a crowd, and you can always rely on GDoC Expo goers to not only hype each other up, but to share vital industry resources as many attendees are game developers themselves.

Live discussion was rife with recommendations for varied hair texture brushes, trainings to organize digital employees, extended game design lectures available via NYU Game Center, and project files to try your hand in narrative procedural design

GDoC Expo also had a Job Board for relevant careers in animators, software engineers, and community managers.

Market Your Indie Game on TikTok

One very consistent message throughout the expo was that TikTok is having an indie game moment right now. Turns out the app that’s fighting for our tiny attention spans is also the best place to hook audiences in and create the perfect feedback loop of memes, behind the scenes, and subculture that indie games have always dreamed of.

Screenshot from Jared Tan’s talk “Lessons from a Million TikTok Views in Two Weeks.”

It honestly makes a lot of sense. Games like Card Shark and recent indie favorite Cult of the Lamb have benefited from this marketing strategy. Jared Tan had clarified the entire process of developing campaigns and recurrence in his talk “Lessons from a Million TikTok Views in Two Weeks.”

While we can’t in good conscience say that TikTok is “good,” it’s definitely good at doing this.

NO NFTs OR BLOCKCHAIN GAMES

And we all lived happily ever after.


The 2022 GDoC Expo took place from September 15-18, 2022 online. Press material courtesy of GDoC Expo.

Additional ideas for this article were contributed by writer Mya Worrell, who also attended GDoC.

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