The Oldest Game - Creating A Newsgame about Sex Work in Canada

Sex Work In Vancouver’s Eastside: Second Location Report

We’re considering possible locations for gameplay: here’s the second.

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Canada, with “a high concentration of social problems: poverty, mental illness, open substance use and addiction, drug dealing, prostitution, crime, inadequate and insecure housing, high prevalence of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and tuberculosis, and lack of access to meaningful employment” (Newnham, 2005, p.4).

The Downtown Eastside has approximately 16,000 residents, of which 6,000 are active drug users. Until recently, the rate of drug overdoses in the area was higher than any other city in North America (Cler-Cunningham & Christensen, 2001). It is estimated that 80% of the female injection drug users work in the sex trade. Sex workers supporting a drug habit are likely to charge less, and this is particularly prevalent in the Downtown Eastside. Sex workers in this area earn from $20 to $80 per client, or even less (Lowman, 2000).

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has one of the highest HIV/HEPC infection rates in the Western World, and was declared a medical health disaster in 1997.  Cler-Cunningham and Christensen (2001) contend that while $3 million was spent in response to this, it did little to improve the situation. In Vancouver, the HIV infection rate is much higher among female injection drug users than men, a rare occurence in the developed world.  Cler-Cunningham and Christensen argue that this speaks to the terrible conditions of the street-level sex trade.

The Downtown Eastside has become an unofficial tolerance zone, and police have told sex workers that they would not be charged if they remained in this neighborhood (Matas, 2012). Though sex workers had previously worked in other areas of the Downtown Eastside, opposition from residents led police to move the stroll to a five-block area north of Hastings Street in 1988 (Lowman, 2000).  Consequently, sex workers now find themselves working in isolated, poorly lit back alleys.

A study in 2000 found that 70% of street sex workers in the Downtown East Side were Aboriginal women under the age of 26 (Culhane, 2003). Aboriginals represent only 1.7% of Vancouver’s population.

The city of Vancouver has a history of ignoring the plight of street sex workers in the Downtown Eastside. At least 61 women from the area have gone missing since 1983, many of which were Aboriginal women (Cler-Cunningham & Christensen, 2001). Police and other authorities largely ignored requests to look into these cases.

Robert Pickton was arrested in 2002 in connection with at least 33 murders of sex workers taken from the Downtown Eastside (Ferreras, 2011). Pickton has been officially tied to women who had gone missing between 1997 and 2002.  In 2012, the BC’s Missing Women Commission Inquiry concluded that “systemic bias towards Downtown Eastside sex workers was a key factor that allowed Pickton to spend years hunting his victims” (Keller, 2012, n.p.).

Cler-Cunningham and Christensen contend that while the Downtown Eastside is vastly stigmatized in the media, there are many great initiatives in the area that work to fight the obstacles residents face. Since the 1970s, feminist organizations have established shelters, drop-in centers, and housing options in the neighborhood. Aboriginal women have organized and participated in anti-poverty and anti-violence movements, which started to gain national recognition in the 1990s. An annual Valentine’s Day memorial for the murdered women of the Downtown Eastside was established in 1991, and is now recognized across the country.

The Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society has been representing sex workers from the area in fighting to change prostitution laws in Canada since 2007. In September 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the organization had legal standing to challenge the laws. This case is similar to the one initiated in Ontario, though this organization is particularly focused on street-level sex work (MacCharles, 2012).

Criminologist Kim Rossmo estimates that there are 1300-2600 sex workers working on Vancouver’s streets (Cler-Cunningham & Christensen, 2001). It is estimated that the number off-street sex workers is 6-10 times higher than the number of street sex workers in Vancouver.

Sex Work In Montreal: First Location Report

We’re considering possible locations for gameplay: here’s the first.

The intersection of Ste. Catherine and St. Laurent was once considered the heart of Montreal’s red light district, but sex workers have been pushed out due to gentrification and now work in more dangerous, isolated areas of Montreal (The Canadian Press, 2012). For example, there has been a rise in the number of prostitutes working in Ahuntsic and in the borough of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (Plourde 2012; Normandin 2012). Stella, a Montreal community organization serving sex workers, reports that gentrification in Montreal has also led to a shortage of affordable housing for sex workers (Stella, 2007).

Based on data collected in 1991, Shaver (1996) found that there were four female street workers to every male street worker in Montreal. Women worked for an average of twenty male clients per week, while male street workers worked for ten.  Male sex workers earned $600-$800 per week, while the women collected $1800-$2000 per week. 50%-70% of street workers in Montreal and Toronto worked for themselves.

Sex workers in Montreal are discriminated against by police, who in the past have used jaywalking and loitering tickets as a way to restrict and penalize sex workers (Stella 2007). Stella supported sex workers in fighting these tickets in October 2001. However, the judge’s ruling was problematic. He mandated for police to instead use the criminal code and municipal zoning restrictions to arrest and penalize sex workers. Consequently, arrests rose from 48 in 2001 to 825 arrests in 2004. The Quadrilateral Restraining Order is particularly challenging for sex workers in Montreal. “At times, a zoning restriction is given to a sex worker for the entire island of Montreal!” (Stella, 2007).  Sometimes banned from their own neighborhoods or from areas where they access essential services, sex workers are often forced to break the conditions of the order. Furthermore, these zoning restrictions lead prostitutes to work in unfamiliar areas, putting their safety at risk. In the early 1980s, Montreal created a bylaw outlawing prostitution, but the Supreme Court of Canada later ruled it to be unconstitutional (Sex Trade and Advocacy Research, 2006).

Larsen (1996) found that Montreal police used surveillance as a central tactic to find and arrest prostitutes and clients, instead of entrapment techniques used in other major Canadian cities. He also concluded that Montreal police tried to maintain an equal proportion of male to female arrests in relation to prostitution (sex workers and clients).

Montreal is renowned in North America for its sex industry (Montpetit, 2012). It is estimated that Montreal has a much higher number of sex-related businesses than other cities in Canada, with 30 strip clubs and 200 massage parlours.

In 2012, mayor Real Menard announced that he wanted to create a “zone of tolerance” for street prostitutes in his borough of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisoneuve (Normandin, 2012). While the majority of Montreal residents surveyed were in support of the plan, the city condemned the idea.  Similar initiatives have emerged in the past, such as Project Pilot, but were never implemented.

Stella was created in 1995, and was the first community resource for sex workers in the city (Sex Trade and Advocacy Research, 2006). Other Canadian cities had similar resources available to sex workers a decade earlier.

Stella reports that there are 50 to 60 cases of violence against sex workers annually in Montreal, but only 4 or 5 of these cases are brought to court (Stella, 2007).

We’re starting to prototype!

Prototyping is an essential development stage to creating a video game. It allows you to create your video game idea relatively cheaply and rapidly for the purpose of testing your game play concepts. A creative team should not get attached to their prototype. Prototypes are used to test whether game mechanics are successful or problematic, and therefore should be easily discarded if they don’t work in an effort to redesign the video game. A prototype should focus more on the game mechanics than the visual look of the game- and many online blogs/articles recommend that you don’t focus on it looking professional but keep the aesthetic very simple.

Some online resources for thinking about prototyping:

 Jonathan Blow gives a talk about prototyping at the Independent Games Summit 2007, sharing the prototype for his very successful indie game “Braid”. This is a good example of how prototypes should focus on the game mechanics rather than aesthetics.

“Lessons of Rapid Prototyping” by Douglas Lynn

Lynn highlights good questions a team should ask before prototyping, such as: what is the time length of gameplay going to be? How many different gameplay elements will be involved? How many different functions do you need to code?

“Why Newsgame Development Should Look to Paper Prototyping” by Simon Ferrari

Ferrari recommends paper prototyping as it allows creators to test their game without needing advanced computer programming skills.

“Paper Prototyping: 5 Facts for Designing in Low-Tech” by Rich Marmura

Marmura has some good tips, such as: test your paper prototype with a few non-team members before testing with larger groups to check for kinks, and think think of size of final platform and recreate this in your prototype, as this can affect game play.

“How to Be an Indie Game Developer” by Mode 7

Mode 7 recommends prototyping high-risk components of your game to make sure they can be successful. Mode 7 also offers these helpful tips:

“Try to get the player making interesting, meaningful decisions as quickly as possible. Try to minimize the total amount of time the player has to do boring things. Try to include at least one completely innovative element, even if it’s just a small thing “