Womenize! – Inspiring Stories is our weekly series featuring inspirational individuals from games and tech. For this edition we talked to Charly Harbord, CEO/Founder of Outwith Reality. She speaks about the importance of diverse creators in gaming, grassroots educational initiatives, and the role of games in implicit learning and preserving Indigenous cultures. Read more about Charly in this interview:
Hi Charly! How has your extensive background in game localization and culturalization influenced your approach to your career, and what initiatives do you envision to further enhance cultural diversity in the gaming community?

Doing localization and culturalization in China was my first step into the game industry many, many years ago. I learned a lot through that role and crafted an understanding that just changing the words doesn’t make a game suitable for another audience or culture. I think this also put me in a position where I began to gain an understanding of different gaming cultures and the way that different cultures not only approach game play but the way that they play games as well. Additionally, having lived in different countries and being immersed in their cultures and traveling to conferences and seeing the game creation and player cultures there has helped me to see that it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. It’s also helped me to understand different ways to approach peoples of different cultures and to communicate and work with them across linguistic boundaries.

But when it comes to cultural diversity within gaming communities, I think one of the first steps that we need is to create more diverse studios, and more diverse creators to be truly representative of the cultures that the games are based around. There’s a huge power that the game industry has which also means we have a massive, massive responsibility to make sure that we get things right. And the first step to doing that is to provide the tools to those that may not have the chance due to accessibility barriers or financial implications or even location. There are many amazing initiatives that are already in play that focus on giving these skills to people who would not normally be able to access them, allowing them to have a voice in the game industry.

A lot of these initiatives start from the grassroots, meaning that they start from education and allowing people to see that there is a space for them within the game industry no matter what their background, gender, race, culture or any other factor is. But I truly believe only when studios are more diverse and more representative will the games that are made truly reflect the real world which we live in.

With your remarkable journey from studying Mandarin and Chinese Culture to pursuing a PhD in Games and Arts, particularly focusing on language enhancement through role-playing games, what inspired you to bridge the gap between cultural education and gaming, and how do you see this fusion shaping the future of language learning?

For me this journey started out with my son when he was seven years old, and we were living in China. I’d bought him an NDS 3D when they first came out, unbeknownst to us it was regionally locked to Japan. This meant that he could only play Japanese games which wouldn’t have been a problem apart from the fact that he didn’t speak or read Japanese. However, a month or so later I was watching him play games on his NDS noticing that he was fully interacting with the game speech and text and the realization came that he had learned Japanese through playing games that he loved. This concept I carried through the whole of my education into my PhD.

Games don’t have to be outrightly gamified or fitted to a curriculum we can learn almost implicitly through a game. For example, there’s a lot of kids out there who are able to talk about the Knights Templar just through playing Assassin’s Creed. And because they enjoy the game often they will go to learn more about it in their free time. So, throughout my practice I’ve used games as a way to parse education, but almost in a sneaky way, so as to teach people things without actually explicitly teaching. From PhD I made an RPG that I translated into seven different Indigenous languages and these were used to supplement classroom education and enhance the learning of different languages and cultures but also as a way to preserve these.

We can see now a lot of companies outwith gaming are looking to gamify their experiences in order to engage with a younger demographic whether that be for education or for product promotion and I think this is something we’ll see a lot more of in the coming years. I definitely believe also we’ll see a lot more games where education is almost a side benefit of playing as in not the intention of the game but a really nice bonus. Particularly now as many companies are hiring cultural sensitivity experts and are looking to the stories of other cultures as the inspiration for games. Which from my perspective can only be a good thing.

As someone deeply engaged in using digital media to preserve Indigenous languages and cultures, could you share a specific project or initiative where you’ve witnessed the positive impact of gaming and digital media in safeguarding and promoting Indigenous languages, cultures, and traditions?

As I mentioned before it’s very important to hire cultural experts or sensitivity experts to work on games that are representative of a particular culture i’ll stop the elder Morris Switzer from the Mississaugas of Alderville in Ontario, Canada came out with a wonderful phrase that he shared with me which is ‘nothing about us, without us’. The meaning of this is don’t make a game about my culture without having someone from my culture involved in its creation. Our own identities and cultures should not be exploited for the sake of a good story or an interesting character unless they’re informed and authentic. There are many amazing programs that aim to help future generations create sovereign and authentic games. For example, in Saskatchewan there is a program called the ArtsSmarts Raising The Bar program which gives students from the Prairie Sky School the opportunity to explore Indigenous cultures through game creation. The benefit of this is it brings skills to children who would not normally have had the chance to engage with game design and also demonstrated that everyone has a space in the wonderful Game dev world.

Unfortunately, at present there is not enough safeguarding of Indigenous cultures or ways to stop their traditions and likenesses being used by outsiders. Only by involving the communities within those conversations and design process can we start to make a real difference. However, I would like to take a moment to celebrate the number of amazing Indigenous game creators that are out there that are making the most beautiful moving games for example Elizabeth LaPensée who created When Rivers Were Trails among many other gorgeous games, Marjaana Auranen From Finland who created Skábma an amazing game which celebrates Sámi culture and Doctor Phyllis Callahan who created Katuku Island, a game which takes you on an exploratory journey through Māoridom. These are wonderful examples of Indigenous designed and created games that I highly recommend everyone purchases plays and shares with their friends and family.

Thanks for this interview, Charly!

Charly’s links: LinkedIn

Womenize! – Inspiring Stories Feature by Madeleine Egger