Making video games, getting career guidance, and building connections to last a lifetime: these aspirations are all a reality for students in Gameheads, a non-profit providing teaching, resources and mentorship to young people making the next generation of video games.
Despite strides in improving representation in the gaming industry, many paths towards a career in games remain inaccessible to youth of color and youth from low-income backgrounds due to a lack of funds or connections. Executive Director Damon Packwood co-founded Gameheads in his hometown of Oakland to help remedy this problem.
Gameheads’ program combines video game design and development, education and career counseling, industry exposure, and hands-on training. Over the course of a year, students learn all aspects of video game development: coding, design, project management, and teamwork – skills that are invaluable not only for working in the video game industry, but for a career in a variety of fields. Upon completing the program, students will have a finished game or prototype that they can include in their professional portfolio, and a mentor who can guide them through their journey in the gaming industry.
And Gameheads’ methods are a proven success: many Gameheads students have gone on to receive paid internships or employment at well-renowned video game studios, and several projects created out of Gameheads — like the stealth platformer Camino — will be available for purchase in 2023.
Last year, Xbox Publishing — the team working with independent development studios to release first-party Xbox games — gave $100,000 to Gameheads to help them invest in resources for trans, queer and other minority-gender students of color. With these funds, Gameheads is expanding its services to reach an even greater number of young women, femmes, and gender-expansive youths. Because women of color and LGBTQIA+ people of color are vastly underrepresented throughout the gaming industry, Gameheads’ goal is to ensure that young people from these cohorts will have the support they will need to thrive in their careers in the near- and long-term future.
Executive Director Damon Packwood explained that as part of Gameheads’ efforts for inclusion, the team will hire a full-time Program Manager who will focus on this new initiative and recruit a therapist who specializes in affirming care for trans and queer youth of color.
This is only a small part of the deep, longstanding relationship between Gameheads and Xbox: the Xbox Publishing team alone currently includes a Gameheads alum (Narrative Designer Casey Ramos) and a long-time mentor and board member (Design Director Marcus Montgomery). They see the teams’ collaboration as a perfect fit because of its emphasis on empowering students to achieve not only their career goals, but also their creative ambitions.
If you’re interested in helping Gameheads realize its vision of a more inclusive gaming industry, visit the Gameheads Twitter and website for info on student games releasing soon! Xbox gamers can also help by donating their Rewards points to Gameheads.