Game + Community Design

In Conversation with Izzie Colpitts-Campbell

Dames Making Games (DMG) founder Izzie Colpitts-Campbell speaks with us about her art and design practice and how her role as a community organizer influenced her contributions to the DEL. In this conversation we discuss her new DMG project Damage Labs, similarities between game design and community organizing, and how artist solidarity can be provoked digitally.

In this conversation, Dames Making Games (DMG) founder Izzie Colpitts-Campbell shares a brief history of her art and design practice, her motivation behind community organizing, and her thoughts on what drove her to participate in the Digital Economies Lab (DEL). Albeit a brief introduction to her collaboration on Artwork_Local404, Colpitts-Campbell contextualizes her vision for the piece through her experience in design and community solidarity. Countering the misconception that technology is pressuring artists to participate in capitalist models, Colpitts-Campbell asserts this isn’t new, “Leonardo da Vinci sure as hell did not want to paint Jesus.” So how are these discussions shifting in the digital world? Thus far, is the digital world exclusively designed for mass culture? Does the digital world, in its current conception, marginalize and even exclude communities? Does our engagement with digital tools, platforms, and services produce harm? As the world embraces a somewhat forced digital literacy in response to the pandemic, how do we navigate creating digital experiences that counter how digital spaces have been viewed previously? Follow along as we discuss these questions and more. As Colpitts-Campbell explains, there are more similarities between game design and community organization than we may have previously thought. Join us as we explore how game design, tech fashion, and new media art can advance culture and participate in community organization. Be inspired by DMG’s new project, Damage Labs, and their goal to create the gaming studios of tomorrow, today.

Explore Izzie’s projects here:


DMG Toronto: About

Damage Labs


Join the Union here:  


Platforms Empowering Artists to Take Back their Power:



Gain Context for these themes:

Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism

Head, Hand, Heart: Why Intelligence Is Over-Rewarded, Manual Workers Matter, and Caregivers Deserve More Respect


Artwork_Local404 Collaborators:

Tim Maughan (@timmaughan)

Lee Jones

Emmanuel Madan « Undefine

Produced by the Artengine Stream Team:

Mikke Gordon aka Seiiizi

Ryan Stec

Kimberly Sunstrum


Editorial Assistant

Erin Galt


Production Design Consultation

Leslie Marshall/MAVNetwork

Post-Production Support: Chris Ikonomopoulos

DEL Theme Music by Mikki Gordon aka Seiiizi


Artengine’s Digital Economies Lab brought together a diverse group of artists, designers and other creatives to rethink the infrastructure of cultural production in the 21st century.


Funding for the Digital Economies Lab was received through the Canada Council for the Arts Digital Strategies Fund.

And like, it’s not ‘easy discussions,’ right? Particularly when you’re talking about personal prosperity, personal finances and economics, that’s a risk on the table…I think this is why often these movements come from marginalized people, because often they have much less to risk because they don’t have access to all of these systems that work for a very small amount of people. That’s why these movements often come from those that have less in the first place, because it is a hard thing to say, “A thing that’s working for me is not working for everyone else and I’m going to change that.”

I am the one who takes the approach of like, actually, let's build the studios that we want to see in the world.


Izzie Colpitts-Campbell

That’s always been my approach. 


I think something like this program we just launched, Damage Labs, is really about DMG wanting to see more studios that are taking an approach to games, which is thinking of the cultural impact of the things that we’re making, the working conditions, the collaborations that are being fostered in the industry. 


And there’s often multiple approaches. 


You know, if I want to improve the stories that are being told in the industry, I could go and talk to Triple-A (AAA) games and try and improve that. 


I am the one who takes the approach of like, actually, let’s build the studios that we want to see in the world. 


Let’s come up with frameworks to support those people. 


It’s just always where I’ve had my energy to do that work. 


I don’t know that that really answers your question, but I think sometimes the work that I do is in the vein of supporting what I can, like my community, supporting marginalized people, finding people who are like-minded, who want to create this work, who want to think about, you know, how we enact more cooperative business models and be an example of that work, even on a small scale to start.

Remco Volmer

I’m reminded of a conversation I heard recently with the founder of Substack, a newsletter platform, where he said that he was in the social media business before, and was not liking what he saw, but realized at some point that he could only do so much within the limits of the social media sphere and he had to step outside of it in order to create something new. 


Is that a little bit, the approach that you’re taking with this Damage Labs initiative?

Izzie Colpitts-Campbell

Yeah, definitely. 


This initiative is primarily meant to find support for people who want to build studios in this specific way of thinking about the impact of the games that we’re making on a cultural level, on a worker’s level. 


And so, absolutely, that’s the mentality that we’re taking: we want these studios to exist, so let’s support their existence. 


Because we know that actually the models within investing in game studios is “I’ll give you money and you get 10x money back to me,” which is not–there’s not a lot you can do with that when you’re like, “Actually the thing I want to get out of this money is some kind of social impact.” 


Like I want to see, you know, more authentic representation of my identity. 


I want to see children learning from games personal, emotional coping mechanisms. 


That’s what I really want to get, and you can kind of do that and come up with a business model that makes 10x money, but when it comes down to it your promise to taking on that investment will always be getting more money. 

And that’s just the fact.


Remco Volmer

I just wanted to take a little side trip on the topic of business models. 


You have been working for a tech company for a couple of years. 


That idea of the ‘platform business model’ that we see in many ways, whether it’s Uber or Airbnb, have you looked at that type of business model and through sort of a counter research lens looked at how some of those principles could be applied to the cultural sector?

Izzie Colpitts-Campbell

I mean I don’t know that I have a strong thesis for you. I think they’re all kinds of inputs to any thinking that I am doing. You know, I don’t know that I make, all the time, direct correlations between that work that I am doing for professional work, but I think there is an element of–


At its core, platforms have, actually, a lot of similarity to game design or community development. 


Like with platform design, you really are just thinking about relationships and how we’re–who are–creating rules around how people interact and with what. 


I think often when I’m thinking about, you know, my professional work versus more of my artistic practice, the outcome is different. 


When you are designing anything, there’s going to be a certain outcome with an art piece that you want to design for.


It’s one thing to design a user experience for a large, massive software company, where it’s like, “We want it to be really understandable and easy to use.” Often, efficiency is going to be really high up on what you’re actually thinking about what you’re designing for. 


In an art practice, I am designing an experience, you know, talking about experiential art design, but often you’re looking for almost the opposite of efficiency. 


It’s about bringing up questions. 


Something that I often–which links into like critical design practices where you aren’t designing to solve a question you’re designing to pose a question, which I think art really brings up as well…


I think though, you know, in the kind of community organizing aspect, it really does make me think about what platforms we are using and how that data is being shared or could be shared. Like there’s obviously just a depth of understanding around how platforms might use and incorporate data that I might be exposing users to, community members too, on both of those thoughts. 


You know, like they’re similar thought processes, they usually end at a different place.


Remco Volmer

Just moving a bit to what you’re doing with your various initiatives with the DMG, certainly with the Damage Labs, that idea of community building and of being interdependent within those types of communities, what is your approach to that type of community building?

Izzie Colpitts-Campbell

I think we’re approaching Damage Labs like it’s in the industry, business world, but we’re bringing all of the thoughts of mutual aid and grassroots organizing the DMG has always had at its core. 


And so, we do want to come up with a way that these studios, as they grow and build, can support more of these studios being created. 


We don’t want this program to be one cohort. 


We want to figure out a way that this–these cohorts–give back to this community and we can grow this initiative, which I think is really important. Which, I think, is a callout to that kind of interdependence. 


You know, we’re making Damage Labs because the existing systems for funding, or DMG believed the existing systems for funding games was at best not productive, at worst harmful to marginalized people to engage with. 


And so, we’re hopefully creating some alternative to that in that we have to figure out how we can actually spread that to be larger than just the ten people we could let into our first cohort. We did get many more applications than we thought, like the need for this type of programming was really felt when we put out the call and everyone’s responses to this program has been–Yeah. 


People do see this lack, as well.

Remco Volmer

It’s an interesting proposition because on the one hand you wanted to be supported maybe by the structures that are already in place while at the same time trying to find alternatives for those same structures.

Izzie Colpitts-Campbell

Yeah. I mean, again, this is the navigating. This is the critique. This is the element of literacy and experimentation and new models of doing this kind of work.

Remco Volmer

I’m trying to formulate a question here, because what you are talking about reminds me of a recent book, the title of which escapes me (Head, Hand, Heart by David Goodhart), but it talks about the head, the hand, and the heart as types of work that can be done and how for a long time the head, so the ‘knowledge work’ has been prioritized at the cost of the ‘heart work’, the care, and ‘handwork,’ which refers more to the direct application of craft and other types of work in that sense. 


You seem to straddle all those three elements in your work. 


Is that something that you…

Izzie Colpitts-Campbell

I mean, I think I do. I value interdisciplinary work in a really meaningful way. 


I often do have this tension between, like, a love and respect for what I consider deep craft knowledge and I think through my career have had a hard time kind of– 


I care a lot for this like deep–and l when I say ‘deep craft’ it’s like one thing. 


Like, this is the one thing that I’m an expert at, I’m going to make. 


As a kid, I was like, “I would love to be a jeweler.” I love jewelry. And I’ve done jewelry. It’s great, but there is an element of it that I’m just like, there are so many details of the medium of metal to learn before you can get to that point where you are really playing with how you can get into that change, how you’re manipulating that material.


I think that goes for so many different fields, and I think that’s like, you know, I guess you’re kind of talking about the ‘hand work,’ but I think that can apply as well to, you know, “I’m getting a PhD in specifically this one area of this very specific thing.” 


Where I have often bobbled between a lot of these things, to greater or lesser success, and I think it’s just something that I’ve always done. 


I’m a very broad thinker and, even going back, I think I kind of called it. 


When I started my degree, I started at the NSCAD on the East coast. The program that I was in was called Intermedia, which is like this specific art practice, which is very funny to have a full degree program about an art practice, like a theoretical art framework, almost.


The whole idea of being like it’s not about having two mediums that you do and are good at, it’s about finding that centre point at where they actually meaningfully connect. 


So I think that’s just the mentality that I’ve often taken into, like, the thing that I really enjoy is finding where all of these things meaningfully connect, which is different than something like mixed media, which is like, “I’m going to paint and I’m going to sculpt and they will have a conversation, but I’m just putting mediums together.” 


It’s like, “No. Actually I want to find the connections between these things and kind of interrogate that.”