In this newly released archival video from March 19, 2019, guest speaker Sagan Yee (Experimental Game Designer; Executive Director, The Hand Eye Society) shares “Digital Dispatches from the Videogame World” at the Digital Arts Services Symposium 2019 (DASSAN19).
I want a digital strategy that reflects the diverse, messy, grassroots community that already exists and thrives in digital spaces that embraces inclusive, adaptable, opportunistic, and emergent conversations and methods. I want more attention paid to the incredible resourcefulness of those who have already built castles in the cloud despite all the forces trying to pull them back to earth. I want to see Indigenous futurists, trans cyborgs, women of colour sys-admins, and queer hashtag-wizards to not only have more seats at this table, but to lead the conversation. – Sagan YeeMany more videos to share from DASSAN19 in the coming days! Subscribe to our DigitalASO channel on YouTube to keep up to date on the latest releases. FULL TRANSCRIPT: Sagan Yee, “Digital Dispatches from the Videogame World” Open Plenary Guest Speaker, Digital Arts Services Symposium March 19, 2019 I just wanted to share some insights and stories from the video game world which is I think a very interesting space full of very interesting people. What if there was a platform that artists could use to fund, produce, distribute, and promote their work to millions of people all over the world? So the good and bad news is these platforms already exist and artists already use them. Itch.io, Kickstarter, Twitch, Steam, Reddit, Patreon, Discord, Tumblr, YouTube, Twitter and others are just a few of the digital platforms that I see being used by independent creators in the online spaces where I spend most of my time. Some of them may be familiar and some of them may not. Many of them seem to be most common in the worlds of games, web comics, and podcasts, which also happened to be disciplines that I think are highly underrepresented in Canadian arts funding. As a result, for many of these creators appealing to the whims of 20-something YouTube influencers is an easier path to discoverability and financial success than engaging with traditional arts infrastructure as we may be familiar with it. So sure, I feel like I work with a lot of people who already know how to swim. Our problem is there are sharks in the water. Our organization, The Hand Eye Society, that I am the director of, was originally founded in 2009. We are celebrating our 10th anniversary this year. It was founded with the mandate of making video games more accessible and inclusive. But often internally we have this shared sentiment, especially recently, of what are we getting people into. So if, for example, we run a workshop teaching women of colour how to make and distribute indie games over the Internet, how can we also prepare them for navigating the harassment, the toxicity, and the corporate exploitation that often comes with visibility and online spaces? Can we equip our artists to fight against the inequality of algorithms that dictate whose voices get amplified and whose gets silenced? Predatory design patterns that encourage addictive or toxic behavior, alt-right ad campaigns that specifically target white male gamers because demographically they are the most likely to be radicalized and mobilized for political means? I feel like our artists are currently fighting multiple fronts on a digital culture war. I want to know how the Digital Strategy Fund could acknowledge and support these efforts. I would like to read a tweet that I made that seemed to resonate with a few people and that requires a little bit of unpacking. It says, “You know how engineers take an ethics oath and wear a ring said to be made from the remains of a bridge that collapsed and killed a bunch of people due to poor design? Maybe software engineers should have to wear a locket containing a strand of Zuckerberg hair.” Mark Zuckerberg is of course the co-founder and CEO of Facebook which has recently come under fire for a variety of privacy and ethics violations. The other side of this tweet is the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, which is a private ceremony offered by Rudyard Kipling at the request of the University of Toronto and the Engineering Institute of Canada, which has also been adapted by the States I believe, who believe that their needs to be a standard of ethics developed for graduating engineers. So whatever you might say about Kipling and his colonialist frightings or the elitist cultish nature of the ritual itself, I’m actually super fascinated by the idea that this large institution worked with an artist to deliberately shape the culture of a certain group of people, in this case engineers, whose vocation directly impacts the safety of the wider community. So imagine if digital mediums, and not just ones created for the arts, but also those for mass communication, automation, and globalized networks were developed with this kind of collaborative approach. But what if, instead, we employed artists, or black, Indigenous, people of color, newcomer, rural, trans, queer, and non-binary, non-English speakers, people with disability needs, Deaf and Mad poets, sex workers, the homeless? Many of whom already rely on the Internet to make a living and find community. What if we asked them to co-design the tools and platforms alongside technology developers and allowed them to advocate for their own needs? Or what if we gave people and artists the means to create alternatives to capitalist ways of being digital? In fact I think these models already exist. Some of the most widely used platforms for making and distributing artsy video games were coded or released freely by people who had no idea that their work would change the face of independent game making. They didn’t do it to make a profit or from a prescriptive attempt to create a one-size-fits-all solution. They did it from a place of personal curiosity and creative expression that by sheer emergence became a way to transform consumers into curators, community builders, and engaged participants. Could funding bodies deepen their concept of digital literacy to include the idea that an app, or a website, or an algorithm could itself be a work of art, made by artists, for artists, as an experiment or a part of an iterative process? In conclusion, I want a digital strategy that reflects the diverse, messy, grassroots community that already exists and thrives in digital spaces that embraces inclusive, adaptable, opportunistic, and emergent conversations and methods. I want more attention paid to the incredible resourcefulness of those who have already built castles in the cloud despite all the forces trying to pull them back to earth. I want to see Indigenous futurists, trans cyborgs, women of color sys-admins, and queer hashtag-wizards to not only have more seats at this table, but to lead the conversation. To me, data is just one piece of this puzzle. It’s actually not one I’m personally familiar with. I turned 21 years old today. I have two thousand Twitter followers. I have an animated short on YouTube with over two million views. I can barely remember a time from before I was sharing art and knowledge with strangers online from all over the world. But I actually don’t know what data means, so I’m very curious to learn more from the others in this room who do specialize in this topic. I only hope my presentation has opened maybe a small window onto what digital means from my side of the fence and the communities in which I work and play. Thank you and I look forward to connecting.