‘Age of Empires, ‘Tomb Raider’ vet helps game firms be careful of cultural insensitivity

Kate Edwards has made a name for herself advising some of the biggest video game titles to make sure they are culturally sensitive.

It’s a challenge that video games face more frequently as storylines become more realistic and set in actual societies – or even made-up ones.

“Not everyone will interpret a historical event in a game the same way, especially when dealing with historical events,” said Edwards, who has consulted on games like “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” “Dragon Age” and “Mass Effect” to make sure the storylines were sensitive. “There are different sensitivities in different markets. I help them walk through some decisions.”

For instance, a patch had to be released for an Age of Empires title that portrayed one country invading another.

However, contemporary officials in the conquered country balked, saying that is not how it happened.

Edwards was at the Orlando Science Center this weekend to headline the museum’s Otronicon event.

The appearance was a part of a busy stretch for Edwards, a geographer by trade who has spent several decades working with the video game industry.

From 2012 to 2017, Edwards was executive director of the International Game Developers Association and in 2013 was listed among the 10 most powerful women in the industry.

“I try to inspire kids and people to think about games a little bit differently,” she said. “They are a great distraction but that are not just that. It’s the form that redefines how human beings transmit narratives from one generation to another.”

More recently, Edwards helped when Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics rebooted the popular series Tomb Raider.

The game is steeped in mythology – both real and fictional – and the developers wanted to ensure they did not offend religious cultures.

However, more importantly, the portrayal of a heroic woman without the physically dominating characteristics of previous versions

“I love what they have done with that character,” Edwards said. “The script breathed depth into her and gave a solid backstory. She’s much more realistic. She’s more of a role model in the same way that Indiana Jones has been to some people.”

The development of a stronger Lara Croft comes because the industry has experienced a growth in representation, Edwards said.

That increased diversity in main characters will only help attract more women into the video game workforce.

“We will have more ability to see more diverse games and game ideas we have never even thought of before,” she said.

As for her work, Edwards said her role has an important place in the industry.

“I’m trying to help the game succeed,” she said. “Usually, the work I do is very surgical. Like, ‘This one little thing should be changed’ or ‘don’t use that symbol.’”


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