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Gaming for change

Katherine Rowlandson, founder of award-winning Kippie CIC, a company that harnesses the power of storytelling and games to improve the life chances and opportunities of socially excluded and isolated people in Northern Ireland, explains how growing up in a tech obsessed household led her to the world of gaming.

Gaming for change January 6, 2019Leave a comment

I was brought up in a house that embraced technology. My father was fascinated by computers. The more buttons and flashing LEDs something had the more he wanted it. He never got past typing with one finger, or losing things in his downloads folder, but he knew that if you could understand computers, the possibilities were endless.

As for my mother, when not trying to finish Tetris on level 10, encouraged our interest in games and gaming, and recognised that the most important element was that we were playing these games together. It became the primary way my sister and I spent time together. I was 12, she was 18, so we didn’t have much else in common, but we would spend hours together, playing computer games. I still have photos of us standing proudly beside the TV screen with our high scores displayed on them.

A few years ago, my sister and I started thinking about the possibilities of using games for good by harnessing the positive power of gaming. We thought about the various skills used in making games – code, art, storytelling, and how these skills, and others such as sound design, research, audio engineering, voice acting and animation, are all used in games.

Although it may not be obvious to people, particularly young people, when thinking of careers and job skills, but these are important skills. A career in computer games isn’t just limited to people who are good at maths.

We also thought about how game design, and the logical step by step nature of games with specific actions having specific consequences, could be used as a tool to help people explore issues and events in their lives, and empower people to make informed decisions.

This is how our company Kippie CIC was born. Not only do I make and play games for a living, but I also get to work with two of my best friends: Caroline, my sister and Kippie’s programmer, and Justine, our animator, digital artist and my partner. My background isn’t particularly techie, and while I’ve managed to teach myself enough code to get by, it’s my passion for storytelling and overall enthusiasm for gaming that’s got me here.

Back in 1990, when we got that first Speccy, it didn’t feel to us that gaming, or making games, was a male-dominated world. Maybe it already was, but we didn’t notice. The internet noise about ‘Gamergate’, ‘fake’ gamer girls and the snobbery around girls’ games, such as Candy Crush, have affected the choices young women and girls are making.

Girls aged 12 and 13 routinely tell us they aren’t into gaming. They don’t feel like the ‘gamer girl’ stereotype speaks to them, yet their smartphones hold a host of puzzler or interactive story-type games, and they spend hours at home playing The Sims.

I’m not sure what we can do to change this perception, but we hope that by encouraging girls to learn how games are made is a good first step. We must see wider representation in the game world. We need to see more girls, more women, more disabled people, more people of colour.

Maybe the best way to achieve that is to teach more people to make games. That way if they don’t see themselves reflected in a game, they can make their own. Then ‘hopefully’ people (okay, men) will stop congratulating us for being ‘brave’ enough to start a gaming company.

About the Author

Founder of Kippie CIC Katherine Rowlandson (pictured on the right), has a varied background in project delivery for the film and TV sector as well as digital games and experience in the voluntary sector. Formed in 2016, Kippie is a community-focused company committed to improving the life chances and opportunities of socially excluded and isolated people in Northern Ireland, by harnessing the power of storytelling and the availability of mobile games. It provides tailor made workshops, designed to teach a range of transferable skills through the process of making a mobile game, from concept to market. In 2018, Kippie received a New Radicals Award.

Follow Kippie:
Facebook: kippiecic
Twitter: @kippiecic

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