Kate Edwards is the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), an international organization that brings together individuals from all fields of game development.
She has worked in the video game industry for 17 years and possesses a passion for the intersection of global cultures and media technologies. In her role, Edwards strives to ensure that video games are culturally sensitive in each region where they’re sold.
Edwards visited our PopCap Seattle office recently to discuss diversity in the industry as a part of International Women’s Day. PopCap is one of 11 global EA studios that participated in International Women’s Day programs.
We grabbed Edwards for a few minutes to chat.
- As the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), what is a typical day like for you?
My day is usually spent doing a lot of email on a wide range of topics – from advising students who wish to enter our industry to working on advocacy copy for a media release to discussing various operational issues with chapter leaders. My day also includes interfacing with existing and potential IGDA Studio Affiliates and Partners, wrangling sponsorships for IGDA-related activities. And of course I maintain frequent communication with my board of directors to discuss our initiatives.
How did you first get interested in video games? What are your earliest memories of gaming?
Like most kids I played a lot of board and card games. But as for video games, I’m old enough to have been around when the first Pong arcade machine showed up in a local department store. For myself and my friends, it was akin to having the black monolith appear in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” – an amazing, transformative experience. I’ve remained an avid gamer, during the arcade era and early console days and I’ve been keenly interested in the medium ever since.
- You’re involved in content culturalization for video games – making sure that each game is culturally sensitive. How did you get started in that field?
Like many people in the game industry, I had an odd, circuitous path. I had left high school with the intention of being a conceptual artist for Lucasfilm, so I could work on something Star Wars related. I pursued that academically but switched gears into geography and cartography because I’d always been fascinated by maps and it allowed me to leverage my artistic skills while still drawing lots of sci-fi related things on the side.
After finishing my master’s degree and working on my Ph.D, I was pulled into Microsoft to help with Encarta Encyclopedia’s atlas. I eventually created an internal team called Geopolitical Strategy, with the mandate to protect the company against all forms of geopolitical and cultural risk across all products and locales. When the Microsoft Game Studios started up, their content fell under my mandate. I ended up working on nearly every first party game (and many others) at Microsoft until I left in 2005.
I knew that I had really found my passion – combining my love of geography with games – so I’ve been consulting on “culturalization” issues ever since. And eventually I spent 3+ years working on Star Wars: The Old Republic, so the circle is now complete!
What excites you most about the development community today?
If I had to choose one it would be the spread of game development as a much more common and widespread creative outlet. It’s not a function reserved only for formal game studios anymore. The tools have become very cheap and the knowledge is easy to obtain, so practically anyone when motivated can acquire the skills to create games. We’re seeing amazing ideas and innovation come from all kinds of places, as well as enabling an increase in the diversity of individuals who are creating games.
- What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in gaming community to become more inclusive?
As a community, game developers can be a force of positive change. I think some people have feared that being inclusive may be disruptive to ongoing success, but this is a false assumption. Stability within our industry is always sought after, but increasing workplace and content diversity is so fundamentally powerful and beneficial that we need to be willing to experience some degree of disruption for the long-term viability of the industry.
For example, the issue of sexism in the workplace and in game content has been brought to the forefront in recent years by a wide range of activities, such as the #1reasontobe panels at GDC and Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” series. Some have seen these topics as disruptive but they’ve spurred a new level of awareness and conversation about the need for inclusivity, and I hope we see that continue. I still hope for a time where inclusivity will be so implicit in the game industry that we won’t even need to discuss it any longer.
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