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

The Oldest Game: The Newest Trailer

by Sandra Gabriele

On December 6th 2014 (the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada, commemorating the l’École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal in 1989) Bill C-36 officially came into force. Replacing Canada’s previous laws on sex work, which were struck down as unconstitutional on On December 20th, 2013, the new bill have drawn a great deal of criticism for being even more dangerous to sex workers than the old legislation. While the government has maintains that the bill, dubbed the the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, will make conditions safer, sex workers and their allies have campaigned actively against the bill for placing sex workers much greater risk.

The Oldest Game, a newsgame developed at Concordia University in Montreal QC, seeks to demonstrate how Bill C-36 will impact the lives of sex workers in Canada. The bill continues to criminalize various aspects of sex work, often removing safeguards and strategies that place sex workers in dangerous situation, placing at risk the very vulnerable people the bill ostensibly exists to protect. The Oldest Game allows the player to assume the identity of a sex worker and experience exactly how the legislation will impact the life and work of those it most directly affects.  Through various encounters with clients, colleagues and aw enforcement in three difference Canadian cities, players will experience how the legislation changes the way sex workers live and work, and play through the additional challenges sex workers will face when trying to remain safe.

The official trailer for The Oldest Game is now online,  and development of the game is in the final stretch! The design team will soon be reaching out for beta testers to play through an early version of the game, and can’t wait to release the final product.

The Oldest Game is being developed by Lisa Lynch, Sandra Gabriele, Amanda Feder, Martin Desrosiers, Stephanie Goddard, Ben Spencer, Esther Splett and Natalie Zina Walschots. Follow us on Twitter too!

Possible Scenarios

In this section, we’ve included different video game concepts that could be used to explore the changes occurring to Canadian prostitution laws. We are currently moving forward with Scenario 4. 

The three prostitution laws that were questioned in the Ontario Court of Appeal case have multiple implications not only for prostitutes, but also for Canadian citizens. The key issues at stake are violence against sex workers, the perpetuation of sex work, and the visibility of sex workers in residential communities (along with related crimes that can come along with this). In a video game, players are faced with the reality that these variables do not work in isolation but are interconnected. Players learn that prostitution cannot be treated as a black-and-white issue, and that any action taken on the issue has dynamic implications. Video games as a medium can be superior in clearly conveying the complexities of systemic issues by synthesizing the coverage of the case into a visual format to make the stakes clear. Furthermore, players are encouraged to critically reflect on the information presented and to take a stance on the issues at play.

Scenario 1: players can interact with an information graphic that allows them to understand the interrelated risks at play. Players must decide how to rule on the three laws. They have the option of reading through evidence and testimony that was entered at the trial. When a player clicks on the option to strike down a law or to uphold it, a map of Toronto displays the consequences of their decisions. Graphics on the map illustrate how violence against sex workers increases or decreases, or whether sex workers multiply in new areas of the city.

This is similar to the game Budget Hero or the New York Times game Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget. “The graphical display itself is dynamic, changing in real-time to provide visual feedback. One does not manipulate the display haphazardly, but with a goal in mind…” (Bogost, Ferrari, Schweizer 28).

Players will soon realize that every choice has positive and negative implications, and must inevitably prioritize the safety of sex workers or the possible safety of residential neighborhoods. The players’ final choices are then compared to the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling, and a rating is awarded accordingly. The game also keeps track of every player’s decisions, and an individual player can compare their choices to those of others.

Scenario 2: the game puts you in the role of a police officer who must decide whether to enforce all three laws, while crime in the city to a minimum.  You have the option to raid brothels, arrest those living off the avails of prostitution, and to enforce the communication law- all of which are rewarded with points.  However, all these actions can lead to more prostitutes on the street, more violence against sex workers, and sex work and related crimes spreading to residential communities. Every time a sex worker is hurt, you must collect a statement, which leads a player to losing points. Every time you receive a complaint about prostitution from a residential neighborhood, you must collect a statement and lose a small amount of points. Enforcing the three laws all the time inevitably leads to much more crime than a player can handle, while taking no action at all can lead to complaints stacking up from residential neighborhoods. Ultimately, the player must judge how to strike a balance between enforcing the laws and letting certain crimes go. They also must learn that enforcing certain laws leads to more violence than others.

This game is allows a player to experience the trade-offs of the three prostitution laws. It is similar to Zangief Kid – The Game. The Zangief Kid must strike a balance between attacking bullies and avoiding their advances. The rhetoric of the game is one can’t take an extreme position on prostitution.

Scenario 3: You are a police detective that must capture a serial killer who is targeting prostitutes. You must also keep the prostitutes safe. However, the 3 key laws in question are illegal, and you must enforce them, despite the fact that this can lead to more deaths. To help keep violence to a minimum, you have the option of moving sex workers into zones of tolerance (but this can lead to more deaths), dispersing prostitutes across the city, bringing prostitutes to a shelter to keep them safe (although some will refuse to go), or simply arresting them. 

 This game is similar to Operation: Pedopriest, where you are a Vatican official trying to both protect children from priests and also protect priests from police, parents, and the media. The rules governing your job restrict your ability to stop horrible offenses from taking place. In the case of Pedopriest, your involvement with the Vatican inevitably ties you to the crimes of other priests, even while trying to protect children. In this scenario, your role as police officer connects your actions to the deaths of prostitutes, even though you are trying to catch the murderer.

Scenario 4: You are a sex worker who must meet as many safe clients as possible, collecting money to pay your bills and rent on time.  You must avoid getting arrested and thrown into jail, or getting into the car with a violent client that will land you in the hospital. Both kinds of encounters could keep you from meeting your financial needs. It is illegal to keep a brothel, to live off the avails of prostitution, and to communicate in public for the purposes of prostitution. However you have the option to break all of these laws in the interest of avoiding violence, while risking being arrested. Therefore, you can join or open your own brothel, hire a driver or bodyguard, or communicate in public for the purposes of prostitution in order to decipher whether a client is safe. This game fits what Ian Bogost calls a “rhetoric of failure”. This game shows that it is impossible to work as a sex worker safely if the three key laws remain illegal. This game is similar to September 12th. In this game, players must kill terrorists, but soon discover that every death they cause only leads to the creation of more terrorists. Players are informed before entering the game that they will not be able to win. Despite this fact, half a million people have played September 12th thus far, according to creator Gonzalo Frasca’s blog.

Scenario 5: similar to the game Be a Reporter. The player must gather evidence from a variety of sources, becoming familiar with the key players in the case and what is at stake. You must select to be a lawyer representing Terri-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott, or the Attorney-General of Canada. You must search a map of Canada collecting testimony or evidence to build your case. When you initially find a piece of evidence or testimony, you are given a small piece of information about it. From that, you must guess if it will help you and you’d like to collect it, or whether you would like to leave it behind. You lose points every time you collect a piece of evidence or testimony that hurts your case.

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.