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

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 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

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.

Possible Media Partnerships

Deciding on what media outlets to partner with in the distribution of our game pertains to our objectives for this project. Who is our target audience for the game? What kind of dialogue do we want to foster? Do we want to attract a large audience to our game immediately or would we like to experiment with smaller audiences? Furthermore, it is important that we partner with an outlet with a strong online presence that has the infrastructure to support interactive technology.

Alternative Media Outlets

Alternative media outlets are more likely to partner with outside content-producers, and also publish more controversial content. However, while there are many alternative media outlets in Canada, it is important that we select an alternative media outlet that has a strong online presence and values their online content.

IDEAL CANDIDATE: RABBLE.CA has published many articles highlighting different points of views on the changes to Canadian prostitution laws, encouraging debate about these issues. This media outlet often partners with other blogs and organizations to produce content. targets a progressive, politicized audience who are eager to contribute to a dialogue. Furthermore, they often publish content with an obvious point of view on a topic. They also produce multimedia content, and would likely be interested in exploring new technologies.

The Tyee is a prominent alternative media outlet in Canada. Though it does target readers in British Columbian, it still reaches audiences across the country. Like, they target a more progressive audience, and are open to outside content-producers. Their online and multimedia features are less developed than

This Magazine, while primarily a print media outlet, has an active website and blog. It is the longest running alternative journal in Canada. However, they have not extensively covered the prostitution law changes in Canada, and do not produce multi-media content.

Shameless is a alternative, feminist magazine that is aimed at young women. Though they are primarily a print magazine, they do run an award-winning blog with web features and podcasts. This would be an interesting partnership if we were hoping to experiment with a more specific audience.
Sheila Sampath, Editorial Director
Sarah Feldbloom, Web Producer

Mainstream Media Outlets

Many mainstream outlets such as the CBC, The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star are beginning to experiment with new interactive online technologies. The advantage to partnering with a mainstream outlet would be the vast, cross-country audience they attract. However, the content is created in-house and it is unclear if they would be interested in partnering with an outside group, particularly if it relates to a controversial game such as ours.

Other Resources

The Feminist Media Project
Created to specifically respond to misrepresentations of missing and murdered women in Vancouver in the media, this group of academics and journalists also comment on other misrepresentations of women. Though they appear to be less active in creating content, they continue to link to outside articles.

Media Action Media
Advocacy and initiatives responding to problematic media representations, particularly of women. Interested in new digital technologies.

Canadian newsgame example

MARK OF THE BEAST, based in Toronto, is partnering with: “the Center for Investigative Reporting and IGN later in September, planning a newsgame hack day as an Innovate News event in association with the UXI design community, and potentially TIFFNet (Toronto International Film Festival’s year-round body), the International Game Developers Association, Interactive Ontario and Entertainment Software Association of Canada trade groups, and Toronto’s DigiFest festival [discussions in progress].”  They are not partnering with traditional media outlets but rather different kinds of organizations to help develop and distribute their game.