New online game shows realities of sex work in Canada

June 3, 2015

Creators say the game will provide background to Canada’s new prostitution law

OTTAWA, June 3, 2015 — Researchers at Montréal’s Concordia University have developed an online game which, when it becomes available to the public, should help inform players about the complexities and realities behind sex work in Canada. Called “The Oldest Game”, the game is in the final phases of development. The latest version will be demonstrated at the 2015 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa.

The Flash-based digital game was created by Sandra Gabriele, the chair of Concordia University’s Department of Communication Studies, and Lisa Lynch, an associate professor in Concordia’s Department of Journalism. They were helped by a number of students and a sex worker hired as a consultant.

Gabriele says it is a “news game” aimed at providing information on an item in the news. In this case, the news was the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in late 2013 to strike down some of the country’s prostitution laws; this was followed in 2014 by Bill C-36, a government bill aimed at discouraging prostitution by criminalizing the buying of sex.

Gabriele says the game will help players understand the reality of life for sex workers today in Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver. “We’re interested in the ways in which a game can help players connect with the issues behind the news stories,” says Gabriele. “We wanted to get behind the headlines and explore the lived realities of those stories. We want to explore what the life of a sex worker under Bill C-36 looks like.”

The Oldest Game will be available to play for free, online. Players can choose to be a street worker in Vancouver, an independent escort in Toronto, or a massage worker in Montréal. Players will navigate the ups and downs of a sex worker’s daily life (including run-ins with the legal system) and try to earn enough money to live. There’s no official ‘end’ to the game, and no way to ‘win’; it’s just about living the life of a sex worker.

Gabriele says anyone who has read a news story about the issue can play; she adds she hopes the game will help people understand some of the complexities in the life of a sex worker – complexities that news stories usually can’t get into. “Games are really good at showing how systems work,” says Gabriele. “We don’t want to trivialize the lives of sex workers. Trivializing is the opposite of what we’re hoping to accomplish. I would place this game in the context of journalism, and informing people.”

Sandra Gabriele and Lisa Lynch will be demonstrating their game on June 4 at the 2015 Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa. This demonstration will take place at 11:00 am on the University of Ottawa campus in the MCD building, room 120.

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About the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences

Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress is the largest interdisciplinary conference in Canada, and one of the largest in the world. Now in its 84th year, Congress brings together 70+ academic associations that represent a rich spectrum of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including literature, history, theatre, film studies, education, music, sociology, geography, social work and many others. Congress 2015 is hosted by the University of Ottawa. For more information, visit

About the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences promotes research, learning and an understanding of the contributions made by the humanities and the social sciences towards a free and democratic society. Established in 1940, with a membership now comprising 160+ universities, colleges and scholarly associations, the Federation represents a diverse community of 85,000 researchers and graduate students across Canada. The Federation organizes Canada’s largest academic gathering, the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, bringing together more than 8,000 participants each year. For more information, visit


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