When you encounter the term ‘gamer’, the word often conjures up an image of teenage boys glued to game consoles for hours on end. But it’s a stereotype that has very little to do with who actually plays video games in Australia.
The Digital Australia 2022 report showed that 46 per cent of Australians who play video games are women and the average player age is 35. The report found a huge range of reasons for why people play – from “fighting dementia” to “having fun”.
Even when games don’t always accommodate diverse audiences, players find ways of making them their own – like during 2020 COVID lockdowns when Muslim gamers used the game Animal Crossing to come together for Ramadan.
The changing face of who makes games
Quality Assurance Analyst Sarah Pavlich stated that diversity could also be found on the other side of games too.
“Most of the queer people I know in my life are actually in the games industry…they’re super diverse workplaces compared to your average office,” they said.
“It’s the same with writing a book or a TV show or a movie, if you get more perspectives in there, more people are going to be able to relate to it and understand it.”
Pavlich is excited for how the Australian games industry has been improving over recent years. A big part of that excitement comes from being a member of a new player on the scene: Game Workers Australia.
Game Workers Australia (GWA) is one of Australia’s newest unions and will celebrate its first birthday in 2023. GWA member Mitch McCausland was impressed by how well GWA’s membership reflected the diversity of the games community.
“Game Workers Australia is just a great place for you to share your story and learn from other people’s experiences as well,” Mitch said.
Not only has GWA set out to improve diversity in Australia game studio but also to address another major challenge felt by game workers: ‘crunch’.
“Crunching is when you put in an obscene amount of overtime and extra effort to try and finish whatever you’re working on,” Sarah said.
Crunch has crept its way into the games industry to become common practice. Employers rely on employees’ passion so they can get away with not paying for work.
It’s a familiar story for union members in other sectors such as early childhood education and music where workers are expected to do unpaid work for ‘love of the job’.
“Some of it is their workplace forcing them or coercing them into doing it. But for a long time, it’s been people almost voluntarily doing it…people who are really passionate about their projects will put in that extra time,” Sarah said.
Even at the front end of the game making process, game workers must put in a lot of unpaid labour as they experiment and innovate to find out what will make a game work best.
Employers often view this as “unproductive work”, but so many celebrated video games would not exist without game workers putting in the effort to try, fail, and try again.
Although a baby union, GWA is already up and walking and has started tackling the problem of unpaid work. The union began 2023 with winning penalty rates and overtime payments for employees under the Professional Employees Award which covers most game workers.
It’s a huge improvement for game workers who have put in long hours without the pay to match.
Unions are communities too
With the relatively small size of the Australian video game industry, video game workers have strengthened their sense of community via Game Workers Australia.
“GWA has helped given that sense of empowerment and confidence among the working class of the [game] industry,” Mitch explained.
For anyone looking to get involved in the games industry, Sarah highly recommended checking out the GWA Discord.
“It’s open for community members and supporters. It’s a great place to ask about certain studios because you have people that have worked all over the place,” they said.
Unions are communities where you can ask questions about work without fear of judgement or condescension. This kind of support among workers doesn’t happen by accident. It’s something that happens through strengthening relationships with one another; in union.
When union members act, it’s never for the advancement of the individual alone. That’s why we act to make changes that benefit everyone.
Cover photo credit: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
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