Many working in the global games industry have had a tough time over the past few weeks. Headlines in the games and mainstream media alike have highlighted the unsafe environments both mentally and physically for women and people in the LGBTQ+ community, covering both AAA and indie-level teams. For women, it's quickly been seen that many places have a deep-rooted problem of misogyny and sexism. And for the LGBTQ+ community, during the pandemic, some have had to move back home to live with family members who are unaccepting of who they are. Being in that environment not only harms one's mental health but makes it completely unsafe for folks - and this is something that Code Coven helps to address with its mentorship schemes.
While some people might not be able to fully leave those unsafe environments, Code Coven aims to provide a digital escape where they can join a community of other, welcoming budding games developers. We sat down with Tara Mustapha, CEO and founder of Code Coven, to discuss the work she's doing to make the games industry a more diverse place, and how they're creating a safer and healthier atmosphere for people.
"As a woman, I know firsthand how daunting it can be to enter the games space," Tara explains. "Code Coven has created a community where women feel like they will be not only protected but empowered. We pride ourselves on creating an inclusive and safe sanctuary for women and people of marginalised genders."
She continues: "We support women with guidance, a network, and mentors who believe and uplift them. We have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and abuse in our organisation, and always prioritise safety. We constantly provoke ourselves to challenge current societal systems to create development environments and communities that nurture visibility, security, inclusion, and comfort."
With the pandemic, folks who were hoping to break into the games industry found their internships getting cancelled. Tara saw an opportunity with Code Coven to help those people out, especially for some who had to move back home. "For them, returning home wasn't necessarily going back to a safe space, because they identified as marginalised genders who are going through transition. You know, (homes) are luxuries that a lot of us take for granted."
For many of us it is a luxury to be able to go back to somewhere that is safe and supportive, which during a pandemic is exactly what many of us need. Sadly that isn't the case for everyone, and Tara recognised that in order for budding game developers from marginalised communities to be able break into the industry, they'd need a safe space. Code Coven created exactly that, and raised the funds needed to help folks begin their journey into the games industry safely.
"We went out there, and we raised money to be able to offer paid internships as part of our summer program," Tara says. "In a matter of just months, we just were like, 'We're gonna do this, we're gonna make a change.' And we were able to put a whole cohort through the program, which has been fantastic."
Alongside the internships, mentees had access to the Code Coven Discord and Slack where they'd be able to interact with other folks who might be from the same community. Through these channels, people were able to get the support that they needed, which they might not otherwise get from their home life. Tara explains how the mentees felt they were part of "a safe community, with people who felt the same, who were like-minded, who were there to support, learn and do better". This was a place where people could just unapologetically be themselves.
But just having a space isn't enough to ensure safety. Code Coven has taken security steps to make sure everyone truly is in a safe space. Everybody who joins Code Coven is required to sign a code of conduct and NDA. While the code of conduct is there to protect the wellbeing of its members, the NDA is there to protect everybody's IP and identity. The mentors there also have to adhere to that code of conduct, just like the students, to ensure that the members can feel comfortable and safe.
It's clear that not only is Code Coven dedicated to changing the games industry, but it's to looking out for folks who want to break into it. And if what Tara has said above doesn't convince you, then perhaps this quote from her might:
"I wrote in a Google Doc the other day, 'How can we change this email to feel more like a big hug?' I know that's so cheesy, but that's what it is, you know? It's just letting people know that they aren't alone."
Code Coven offers a variety of courses along with its Summer Program to help provide marginalised developers with the skills they need to break into the games industry, along with providing an inclusive and friendly learning environment. You can find out more about them here.
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