A videogame isn't the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of ways to help people become more understanding of one another. But that's precisely what Karl and Kevin Allen do with their company, E.I. Games.
The couple crafts interactive games that teach emotional intelligence in business practices that are used by educational institutions such as Harvard Graduate School of Design and companies like Oracle. With their most recent digital creation — Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity — they employed members of Miami's queer community as voice actors for their own adorable avatars. The result is a quirky and entertaining game that educates people about bias, privilege, and oppression and, in the process, changes cultures and values.
The journey that led these game creators from the United Kingdom to Miami's queer community wasn't direct. Karl, a Brit who attended the famed art school Central Saint Martins, is E.I. Games' designer and visionary. He also works as a filmmaker and visual artist, building installations and wearable pieces of art for drag performers. His partner Kevin is a New Yorker and the company's "growth guy." He wrote the book The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way to Win Business and Create a Following and has consulted for companies such as Burberry and Expedia.
They started E.I. Games five years ago after moving from London to New York. During a cold winter, Karl asked his partner, “Why on Earth are we in New York when there’s this polar vortex?” Not long after, enjoying the sunshine in Orlando at a convention, he said, “I wonder if there’s any way we can do what we do in New York but do it down here somewhere?” Kevin, the American, pointed them south. "It has to be Miami," he told Karl.
But after nine months in South Beach, they still hadn't settled into a scene, so they returned to the Northeast. Karl began working on a heavy but humorous film of self-discovery, Drag Therapy. After six months, Karl met “a different kind of drag queen" from Miami. “I said to Kevin: 'I’m going to pop back to Miami because I found someone online named Queef Latina.'" While interviewing Queef, who launched the drag fest Wigwood, Karl "found out there’s a new, growing, amazing community on the mainland,” he says. Wigwood ended up in Drag Therapy, including interviews with and footage of its attendees: "drag king and queens, trans people, performers — they all became our friends," Karl says.
Soon the two were Miamians again and became sponsors of Wigwood, connecting the fest with their friends with resources. Fully embedded in the scene, the Allens hosted a Transgiving at their home for their friends. Karl has his own drag character with a delightfully witty moniker, Amal Kiosk, and recently showcased his artwork at a pop-up in Wynwood.
The Allens found another way to support the community — by employing its members. Because trans people have a more difficult time finding and keeping work, the pair decided, “Why don't we use the community we know?" This was the first time one of their games used live actors to introduce their avatars. “People playing the game get the feeling that they can connect with my friends who are real people that have real issues and are in our community,” Karl says. They want the characters to meet players where they are too. A professor at the University of Alabama and former pastor who championed the game appreciated that one of the characters is a churchgoer.
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Recently, Kevin toured parts of the country to present the game to clients. He received positive feedback from an expert diversity, inclusion, and equity director. What surprised the director most was the game is uplifting. “It makes you feel good as opposed to diversity stuff that says, 'Don't do this. Don't do that. This is bad.' Everybody walks away pulling their hair out," Kevin says. The person told him: "'It’s almost celebratory. You weren’t shy; you hit the issues. You put privilege and oppression in the content.' The way it’s created is to put everything out there without flinching.” The Allens used a consultant who is trans to ensure the issues addressed are accurate.
For Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, the two developed the SEAS Model for self-consciousness, empathy, accountability, and solidarity. "The game provides the player with an overall cultural-awareness score and a profile score based on these four dimensions," Karl explains.
They're also working on an informal "give-back" project. A friend, Gabriela Amaya Cruz, who performs as Lady Paraiso, is a trans woman who is sometimes misgendered because of facial stubble. The Allens decided to give her money from their business for laser hair removal. If Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity is successful, they'd like to name, expand, and formalize the "give-back" project.
On the macro level, the Allens offer academic and corporate communities the tools to grow their consciousness through E.I. Games. They use their art, friendship, and philanthropy to nurture a newer, tight-knit local community and help to expand its members' influence, creativity, and, most important, confidence.