The ongoing discussion and criticism of Bill C-36 has intensified conversations about sex work in Canada. While the law – which came into effect on December 6 and is also known as the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act – has intensified news coverage of sex work, most Canadians don’t understand what it’s actually like to earn a living in the sex business. One team of academics at Concordia University is looking to change that with a game that begins with a simple premise: sex work is work.
The Oldest Game, currently in development, focuses on assuming the identity of a sex worker in one of three Canadian cities: Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal. Known as Andrea (or Andréa, if players choose a francophone avatar) the character will be either be a street worker, masseuse or an escort. The objective of the game is to make as much money as possible while staying safe. which creates a difficult, no-win scenario for players to show the very real constraints sex workers experience. The game’s new trailer encourages viewers to “experience the stories behind the headlines,” a theme that came up a lot in my conversation with Sandra Gabriele, one of the co-leads of the project.
“I approach this as an academic,” she told me. “So my question is: How well do news games succeed in helping us understand stories beyond the two-sided debate in typical journalism? We wanted to see if we could devise a game that explored the systems and point to the complexity of the situation, with the hope that people would then better understand exactly what’s at stake.”