Updating the Game

As Sadie wrote last week, we are back at work on The Oldest Game with the goal of completing the project by the end of the year! Things are moving pretty fast now and so I thought I would write a quick update on some of our most recent developments.

One of our main tasks was to see what academic, legal, and media research around Bill C-36 is saying now, after almost four years under this legislation. Sadie and I spent a few weeks reading any recent research that we could get our hands on to see how we could update the game to best reflect the lived experiences of sex workers in Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto today.

Surprisingly, there was not as much contemporary research as we expected that actually mapped out the current impacts of the bill. Much of the work we encountered was still largely theoretical. Some of the most thorough research came from the website http://sexworklawreform.com and their information sheets about Bill C-36.

Using what we found, the team decided on a few different scenarios that needed to be revised and added to the game. I’ve outlined them below:

Fear of Police

One major effect of Bill C-36 is that it increases sex workers’ fear of the police, which means that they might question going to the police for support. Although we already had quite a few police scenarios in the game, this research is something we will keep in mind when reviewing the project before release. Our research articulated a frustrating situation around enforcement of the bill. It seems that, with the large amounts of discretion given to local forces, it is hard for sex workers to know where they stand in relation to the law and the police.

Health Care & Stigma

Something that we hadn’t represented much in the game as of yet are the experiences of sex workers with health care. Although sex workers can greatly benefit from a safe and reliable clinic to seek care, many experience poor treatment as a result of the biases of health care professionals However, the stigma associated with sex work does not only come from bureaucratic forces, like health care, but can also come from friends and family. These negative interactions can leave a sex worker feeling isolated, depressed, and less likely to reach out for help. These experiences are something we have worked to represent in our new scenarios, which include a choice to go to the clinic when one’s health is low and an interaction with a nurse hotline, each with varying outcomes. Sex workers have both positive and negative experiences with health care providers, and we want that represented in the game.

Spatial Displacement

Another point of interest that we wanted to address was the spatial displacement of sex workers and how this increases risks of violence and fosters unsafe working conditions. Security, police, and construction can all work to displace street sex workers from a regular location and moving to a new spot can disrupt the consistency and safety of their work.

Stressful Working Conditions

One of the most consistent implications of Bill C-36 is that, instead of making conditions safer for sex workers, it actually tends to foster unsafe working conditions in a number of different ways, such as spatial displacement or lack of health care. These unsafe conditions can lead to greater stress, more health risks, and an increase in self-medication (using drugs as a coping mechanism for physical and mental problems caused by stressful work environments). We were cautious to include a scenario about self-medication in the game because we do not want to perpetuate the stereotype of sex workers as drug addicts, but we decided to include a situation where you can choose to self-medicate and the results are random; you might have a good or a bad trip but the consequences are not devastating.

 

These scenarios are the majority of what we have been working on recently. Once we have a final draft of the game up and running, the team will be reassessing if any other scenarios need to be rewritten or added. Until then, we are still conducting interviews with sex workers to make sure that their perspectives and voices are represented within the game. If you are interested in having your voice in the project, reach out to us at theoldestgame@concordia.ca

Questions

In this section, we’ve included some ethical, theoretical, practical and contextual questions we feel we may need to address.  Some of the questions have specific answers, while others are open-ended.

QUESTIONS OF REPRESENTATION/SPECIFIC TO THIS GAME:

1. How can we normalize sex work while conveying the dangers associated with it? Finding a balance between representing the dire obstacles that many sex workers face and offering empowering depictions of sex workers is a central challenge to this project.

2. How do research funding and particular research interests influence the representation of sex work in different cities? What are the implications of depicting some of these issues as specific to certain metropolitan areas?

3. Should the identities of our characters include qualifiers that do not pertain to sex work? Having a specific character can emphasize individual experience, and highlight that we are not trying to be representative of all sex workers. However, what are the ethical implications of fabricating a specific story about an individual from a marginalized community? What are the implications of creating an imaginary sex worker character? What would be the implications if we based this character on a real-life person?

4. Should our game explicitly acknowledge its limits in adequately representing sex workers? Similarly, can we highlight the gaps of academic research in our game?

3. Does creating this game with a distinct focus on empathy towards sex workers give players sufficient room to form their own conceptions on issues of prostitution?

4. Will this game, with its strong bias on empathy for prostitution, be able to attract those whose opinions it is most striving to affect?

5. Considering this project is addressing the complex and controversial issue of legalization of the sex trade, will players be given a forum to participate in discussion on the issue/project? Or will their feedback solely be gauged in terms of their decisions as players in the game?

6. Will there be an age restriction to participate in the game?

7. Will the game address issues of child prostitution?

8. If this game is designed not only to promote empathy with the act of prostitution, but also to identify with the lives of sex workers, will any information be given concerning the actual health / psychological risks of prostitution (which are there regardless of laws)? Or is the game solely addressing consequences related to the three laws?

8. Will physical / racial characteristics be given to the characters to allow players of various backgrounds to be able to personally identify with the particularities of sex workers? (re: Shaw’s advocation for diverse and complex character creation in video games.)

 

Representing Sex Workers in the Canadian Newspaper

The news media, and especially the daily newspaper, can play a critical role in shaping our understanding of the world around us. For many people, newspapers dictate the social issues they learn about and how they interpret them, in effect “construct[ing] social realities” (Van Brunschot, Sydie & Krull, 2000, p.51). Not only can news reporting sway public opinion, it can affect how a culture employs politics, legislation and other powerful tactics to address a given issue.

Because of the influence newsmakers yield, certain approaches to news reporting can have problematic implications. For example, in-depth coverage and important contextual information are too commonly left out of short and salacious stories, written to catch a consumer’s attention. Readers are often left with little sense of the complexity of a given social reality, and the systemic causes behind them.