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

Almost Finished!

by Eileen Holowka

Big news: we’re nearing the end of production of The Oldest Game

It has been almost six years since this project started, but now the game is almost finished and we’re excited to let you know what we have been working on.

First, we finished conducting our interviews. The responses we received were so incredible, detailed, and informative that we decided it would be a shame to only use them for the finale of the game. Instead, we agreed to include short audio clips throughout the game as well, not only to provide more experiences directly fromsex workers, but to also offer a wider range of perspectives. The Oldest Game is randomized, so no playthrough feels exactly the same and many different aspects of sex work can be shown. But there are still a lot of perspectives missing from the game, as we focus mainly on three types of sex work. By including segments of the audio interviews throughout the gameplay, we hope that the game can offer a more diverse representation of sex work.

Besides this main decision, we have mostly just been working hard to put all the pieces of the game together and test for bugs. We hope to conduct a final round of playtesting with sex workers before we release the game. 

Stay tuned!

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 getting ready to conduct 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

Leaving Sex Work and Writing Complexities

by Eileen Holowka

We are getting closer and closer to the final stages of game design, but there are still some questions that haunt us, particularly how to end the game’s narrative in a way that represents the diverse experiences of sex workers. Representing and writing complexly has been a challenge throughout the entire project. The more and more research we do, the clearer it becomes that there is, of course, no singular experience of sex work. However this becomes particularly more nuanced when we consider the ending of the game, as the note we decide to end on will likely leave the most lasting impression on the player.

Our solution so far has been to brainstorm more than one end state for the game, so that players’ experiences can vary between playthroughs. But the player may not realize there are different end states and therefore will still be left with one, very specific representation of sex work. In order to challenge stagnant representation, we are considering ending the game with a variety of quotations from sex workers that will further complicate how leaving sex work is represented, both in our project and more broadly.

While researching end states for the game, I came across a piece published by the Pacific Standard about “Getting out of Sex Work.” The unnamed author describes their experiences leaving sex work and how difficult it was to get out due to lack of experience in other kinds of work, the stigma place on sex workers, and financial need. Sex workers are told by advocates that they should leave, but they are not always given the tools to make that transition.

Hearing about the diverse experiences of different sex workers is critical to the development of our project, however what I found particularly interesting about the Pacific Standard piece was that the author also pointed out how interviews with sex workers don’t always a fully complex picture either:

So desiring to think and to project an image of themselves as decent, respectable, free-thinking human beings competent of making decisions and running their own lives, the women I interviewed refused to disclose anything that might be construed as evidence to the contrary. How could I blame them? At this time in my life, I couldn’t have either.

This is what I’ve wanted for the past decade. But at 19, the idea of sex work as a subversive and transgressive act — which emerged as part of a series of discourses glorifying sexual practices which were seen to destabilize or “trouble” the categories of sex — was a theory that enticed me. Pro sex industry rhetoric was an improvement on radical feminism’s representation of sex workers as disempowered victims, which fails to recognize women as agents in their own right. For me, claiming that sex work was transgressive was a way of reconciling my identity as a feminist with my chosen occupation.

And yet, I failed to take into account the truth of my experience. For starters, I didn’t make a lot of money as a stripper, I realize today — only a couple hundred dollars a night. Beyond this, the work hadn’t been easy. Whereas I experienced what Foucoult would describe as “moments” of transgression, my experience as a sex worker was that these moments became fewer and farther between. More often, it was, well, as I described in the Huffington Post article — physically demanding and emotionally taxing. Within weeks what was once exciting had turned boringly routine.

I find it important to acknowledge that, throughout all the research on this project, we have also encountered very different testimonies to this one, and that we are by no means dismissing the importance of each of these narratives. What I think is useful to remember is how complex these stories are on every level of their telling and the subsequent importance of maintaining that complexity. In what ways can we best represent these complexities in our project?