devcom: safe spaces at events

Interview with Astrid Gooding, Key Account Manager and Women in Games Ambassador

Safe spaces are places where people should feel protected and safe from discrimination and prejudice. In the day-to-day working environment, safe spaces can be provided at different levels. For instance, they could take the form of a physical or digital safe haven where staff can meet people they trust. Alternatively, various guidelines such as anti-harassment policies or safe space policies could be introduced to establish a code of conduct which makes for a safe overall environment.
Steps should also be taken to ensure a positive experience for everyone who attends events where lots of people from diverse backgrounds come together. This could mean planning safe spaces right from the start. To find out how this can be done successfully, we spoke to Astrid Gooding, Women in Games Ambassador and Key Account Manager at devcom (#ddc) – the official gamescom developer event and Europe’s largest community-based industry conference for game developers.
Why is it important to have safe spaces at events like conferences and trade shows?
Humans are social creatures who are generally happiest in company. We want to be heard, seen and accepted, to feel comfortable in our surroundings, and to express ourselves freely. Although we wish that everyone shared values like tolerance and openness, this is not always the case in reality. Minorities and fringe groups in particular often face discrimination, harassment, persecution or exclusion.
In our personal lives, we are free to decide whether we want to put ourselves in a situation which may be unpleasant – one where we might experience discrimination and exclusion or which could trigger panic attacks and anxiety, for example. However, this is not always so simple in our working lives, where our jobs might require us to visit events such as trade shows and conferences.
This means that safe spaces – or rather safer spaces – are always important when a number of people come together in one place. These could take the form of a physical place, such as at an event, or a purely virtual space like part of an online forum. Safer spaces give people somewhere where they don’t have to explain themselves and can get support following negative experiences.
devcom has set itself the goal of offering an enjoyable, inclusive experience for everyone who takes part in the conference. What are you doing to provide safe spaces and ensure a positive experience at the event?
Our anti-harassment policy is an important part of our work – perhaps even the most important. Observing this is compulsory for everyone who takes part in our events and online offerings. In fact, compliance with it is a contractual requirement. Everyone must agree to abide by this policy to buy a ticket.
We also offer physical safer spaces such as the Room of Silence, where people can retreat if they need some time out, and the Parents’ Room, which is equipped for parents with babies and toddlers. Those might sound like unusual safer spaces, but they are just as important in making the event inclusive.
Safer spaces also feature on our conference programme. The devcom Developer Conference 2022 included the FLINTA* Meetup – a programme spanning several hours which was aimed specifically at women, lesbians, and intersex, non-binary, trans and agender people, i.e. groups who often experience discrimination, hate and exclusion. We are expanding our efforts to raise awareness of this issue with our Call for Change Summit, which has become a fixed part of the devcom Developer Conference.
In addition to this, we work with Awareness Guards at our evening events like the Developer Night Party. These are people who have been specially trained as first responders to provide psychological support to victims of violence, sexual harassment or (involuntary) drug use.
Last but not least, we have an anonymous form that people can use to report complaints, observations or incidents to us. We look into every report we receive and keep the submitter informed about the progress of our enquiries if they provide contact details.
devcom is a hybrid event. How do you ensure a safe experience for people who participate in your digital formats?
Everyone who participates in our digital formats also agrees to comply with our anti-harassment policy. Public chats in our event app, our Twitch channel and our devcom Discord server are also moderated. Each of our online exhibitors has their own chat channel in the showcase, moderated by the exhibitors themselves. We also conduct spot checks on these chats throughout the course of the event.
Thousands of people from all around the world attend the conference. How can any event please such a diverse group of visitors?
We can’t, but we do our best! We also have the support of a strong partner – Koelnmesse and Koelncongress – who works on implementation with us and strives to make things possible in line with German legislation. In addition to the measures mentioned above, prayer spaces are a good example. These are open during the conference and available for our attendees to use. We have also succeeded in expanding our vegan catering, for instance. I know these things may initially sound trivial, but they make a real difference to our visitors. We are in constant dialogue with our event partners to build on and improve our offering at every level.
What tips can you give other event organisers and companies in the game industry?
If you don’t have one yet, draw up an anti-harassment policy and make it compulsory for all participants and attendees – including any third-party providers you work with. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will follow it, the policy gives you a framework for action in unpleasant situations.
Talk to other event organisers; share your experiences and best practice. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t always think of everything yourself and have it all on your radar. For example, I’m a white cis woman, but I don’t have any kids – and for many years of my career, it didn’t occur to me that a Parents’ Room would make a good addition to our events because a small number of working parents attend every year. They really appreciate having a quiet place to feed or change their little ones.
Talking to attendees is definitely the most important thing. The #ddc attracts several thousand visitors every year, meaning there are almost as many individual experiences of the event. Thanks to feedback collected at the event and the subsequent survey, we know that our pronoun stickers were a big hit last year, for example. That’s a tiny detail, but it made a huge contribution towards transgender and non-binary people feeling that they were welcome, seen and taken seriously. I also overheard a few conversations among attendees which were prompted by the stickers. Little things like this can make a massive difference to event visitors, even though they might sometimes seem trivial to us as the organiser.

Online disclaimer regarding the document:

The document offered here, ‘Safe space policy’, does not constitute legal advice from game. The document may be downloaded, adapted and used free of charge. game assumes no liability.