The University of Southern California, or USC, has recently been hit with a minor controversy surrounding their Gaming Division.
The USC school of Game Design was planning to hold an event, titled "Legends of the Games Industry", on April 20th. The panel featured several major game designers, including Jenova Chen, a graduate from the USC school and founder of ThatGameCompany, Brandon Beck, CEO and co-founder of Riot Games, Peter Levin, President of Lionsgate Interactive, and Jeff Kaplan, VP of design at Blizzard. The problem, however, is the panel would be cancelled at the last minute (reports say hours before the panel would begin) due to the lack of a diverse panel; all of the guest speakers were men.
The story first broke by an announcement on the USC Facebook page, along with messages by the event organizer, Professor Anthony Borquez. Borquez noted that the panel "didn't reflect both the diversity within the USC community and the games industry at large." Borquez also notes that the panel will be rescheduled, and regrets the fact that an all-male panel was advertised due to the University's commitment to "a diverse and inclusive games industry."
The story was then picked up by the Daily Trojan, the school newspaper of USC, which published an editorial piece by economics and math sophomore Tiana Lowe on the cancellation. The piece noted that current enrollment at the USC Games department is nearly 50% women, and also provided a quote by USC Gaming chair and game designer, Tracy Fullerton, who stated “There was no perfect choice here. There was only the choice to stand for one set of values or another. So, I chose the path I believe in. You all are free to disagree, but I think it is the right side of history.”
Fullerton is an award-winning game designer who has worked on several projects over the years, being the faculty advisor for fl0w by Jenova Chen, Darfur is Dying, and The Misadventures of P.B Winterbottom. Her own game design credits include The Night Journey, and is currently working on the game Walden, a crafting style game based on the life of philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Fullerton also penned a textbook that is currently being used in-game programs worldwide, titled Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games in 2014, and at this year's GDC was awarded special honors with Markus 'Notch' Persson.
Since the published of the editorial by Lowe, website Heat Street posted an article on April 27th, seven days after the events cancellation, noting the Facebook information and giving credit to the Daily Trojan for the source. They have since updated their story, noting an anonymous USC student, whose name was withheld out of fear of reprisal, stating there is an issue of censorship in speaking out on campus.
The student claimed that most of the student body "were really upset that they did not get to meet some of their idols. It would have been the biggest names they could have gotten at this school.” The student went on to note that Professor Borquez attempted to find female panelists, but due to scheduling conflicts a female panelist couldn't be secured. The anonymous student also claims that Borquez was told ahead of time that they needed to get a female panelist, although that information is currently second-hand.
“They claim they are rescheduling, but even if they are able to get the same talent, it is already too late for the graduating seniors," stated the student.
We have attempted to contact Borquez, Fullerton, and the USC administration for more information on this story, but they have not responded to our inquiries at this time.
The game design program at USC has been ranked the best in North America for five out of the last six years by the Princeton Review. The program has several award-winning developers working as professors and mentors to graduates students, and has helped in developing fully released titles over the past decade. USC has also created a publishing label for their students, which Fullerton hopes will not only bring developed projects to light for the general public, but also increase the prestige of game design as a legitimate field of study. Currently, the label, USC Games Publishing, is looking to release several award-winning titles in the coming year, including the games Chambara, The Night Journey, and The Cat and the Coup.
So what do you think about this story? Did Fullerton make a major mistake, or is it something more? Leave your comments below