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Intel’s Two5six Scholars program helps bring women and people of color to videogames

This article is part of a collaboration with iQ by Intel.

While gamers come in all shapes and sizes, the game industry’s programmers and designers are predominantly male. Kill Screen, a video game arts and culture company whose writers regularly contribute to iQ, is one of many groups dedicated to increasing diversity.

At Kill Screen’s recent Two5six festival, the company introduced the Game Academy, which included workshops sponsored by Intel and led by the beginner-friendly teachers at Code Liberation.

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The goal was to get participants to take the first steps to becoming creators themselves. In the hands-on workshop, scholars learned to use Construct 2, a program that helps people create games without code. The participants were 30 diverse “game scholars,” who were selected for their interest in the game industry, background, identity and level of gaming experience. Those with little to no programming skills weren’t just accepted; they were downright championed.

“The first time someone opens up Photoshop without ever having seen it before is overwhelming,” said UX designer and Code Liberation instructor Caroline Sinders, who led a Game Academy workshop. “And that’s true for Construct 2.” She said, “Even with a background in coding or design, learning any sort of new software can be challenging, hence our decision to choose a wide variety of applicants with a wide range of skills.”

to engender real social change

One of Sinders’ top priorities is maintaining a perfect balance of fun and frustration while teaching, rendering game-making as just another game you can conquer with hard work. According to Lee Machen, Intel’s Director of Developer Relations, because frustration was built into the learning process, participants needed to possess a certain level of character. He said the ideal Two5six scholar was eager to learn and make a difference.

Machen said technology can be interesting on its own, but how people use it, what they do with it, is where it gets thrilling and meaningful to our lives. When a wider variety of people learn to use and push technology, the possibilities open up.

“We also believe diversity in our workforce and our industry is critical to achieving the greatest success,” he said. “Someone who brings a variety of fresh perspectives that will in turn inspire the rest of us.” The scholars who gathered that Sunday didn’t disappoint, demonstrating how a (mostly) homogenous industry can excel when it encourages everyone to participate.

Two5Six scholars included children’s science fiction writer Katherine Burke, whose work in educational publishing sparked her interest in video games. She noticed the medium pushing more boundaries in the area than even print or video. “The workshop was a great nuts-and-bolts introduction to the Construct 2 environment — like examining game design through a magnifying lens,” Burke said, “while the festival was like getting grabbed by the talons of an eagle and flown over the game design landscape, with a bird’s-eye view of the horizon in every direction.”

Gina Sipley, an academic studying digital literacy, saw the workshop as a way to further develop her understanding of games into a teaching tool. She’s already making plans to use what she learned at Game Academy in her own classroom of community college students. Sipley said that the workshop’s emphasis on smart prototyping helped her see “the advent of gaming as an opportunity to develop a new, multimodal literacy that is at once visual, verbal and experiential.”

“So the question is how can games facilitate the development of essential literacies, for both academic and professional advancement, but more importantly to engender real social change?” she asked.

Miguel Melendez, a scholar and Kill Screen intern, noted that “diversity” goes beyond gender and race to include “people with various outlooks, personalities, career paths.”

Jessica Gutierrez, another workshop attendee, agrees. “There were ladies making games there who could’ve been my grandmother,” she said. “That was especially inspiring for me, since in the Hispanic community, game-making isn’t considered a ‘real career’ and my own grandmother sees this passion of mine as just another hobby.”

Creating safe spaces

The Two5six Game Academy is a positive step forward in increasing the industry’s diversity, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Creating safe spaces for burgeoning but otherwise shunned creators remains essential.

“Why do a group of diverse women (ages, races, interest) come together and start an educational program? Why do we teach on the weekends or after work?” asked Caroline Sinders, the Code Liberation instructor.

“Because we are dedicated to creating safe spaces for women and marginalized groups to learn in. Because the world we exist in is very hostile to women and minorities, and we need to do something about it,” she said.

 Worlds inside video games are as varied and colorful as the real world outside. As part of a larger look at diversity in our world, this series explores the talent behind and in front of the games people play.