Coral Manton's story – Bath Spa University

Coral Manton is Subject Leader in Creative Computing and Course Leader for BA Games Development. She is an advocate for women in technology, and is passionate about making computing and technology more accessible to all.

About Coral

A nontraditional path

I’ve had kind of a patchwork approach to my career that's touched on games, museums, animation and digital arts. I left school early and got a job in a local library, when that was easier to do as a school leaver, and went on to work in archives and museums. It was only later on that I decided to go to art school to get a degree, supporting myself through various roles in museums and galleries.

I then went on to do a master’s degree in animation which led to working in the games industry and digital arts, before returning to museums as an exhibitions curator specialising in interactivity and digital. It was then that I became interested in immersive technologies and using data visualisation to map historic collections, making the collection in storage more accessible - an interest that led to starting my PhD and entering academia.

I don’t think I’ve entered into anything that I've done in a particularly traditional way, which is why I suppose I'm interested in creating opportunities for other people.

Live coding

I’m a live coder, and have performed live coded music and visuals around the UK and internationally. My work has been featured in BBC Culture, South By SouthWest, BlueDot Festival and The Guardian.

As computing is a predominantly male space, people are not used to seeing women writing code. Because everything is live the audience sees all of our mistakes. And our code is always in creation. It's not perfect. And performances go wrong. Sometimes our software crashes. Actually seeing women in a predominantly male space openly getting things wrong and making mistakes and being quite vulnerable in that situation is quite powerful.

In 2019 I organised and curated an algorave at the British Library, and there were 800 people there dancing to code. Nothing like that had happened before at the British Library, so that was really exciting.

Diversity in computing

I’m a creative technologist, meaning my work spans the creative and computing sectors. This is an exciting and growing field of people creatively experimenting with technology, using computing to build creative products, and using arts approaches to questioning our current and future relationship with computing. I am particularly interested in alternative uses of game engines (in performance, heritage, storytelling and data visualisation) and in artificial intelligence.

I use creative technology to promote diversity in computing. The overarching aspects of my work are creative approaches to technology, community building, and broadening access to technology for people who wouldn't have access. I’m interested in projects that ask questions about our relationship with technology, but also then aim to include more people in conversations around technology, and people who wouldn't normally be included in those conversations.

“I don’t think I’ve entered into anything I've done in a particularly traditional way. Which is why I suppose I'm interested in creating opportunities for other people.”

UK tech jobs are currently at something like 17% women. A recent report on women in technology asked people, ‘Can you name a woman working in technology?’ And most people couldn't. Or they said, ‘Alexa?’ So the most famous woman in technology isn’t a woman. It's a chatbot.

In 2018 I co-founded Women Reclaiming AI, a project that aims to create more opportunities for women, non-binary and genderqueer people in the AI sector and critique the development of conversational AI products gendered as women and developed in predominantly male teams. We’ve built a community of over 100 women writing and editing our feminist chatbot. The project has been exhibited across the UK and internationally, and through this work I was invited to speak at a United Nations specialised agency conference on the subject of gender diversity in AI.

Games Development at Bath Spa

My proudest achievement since joining Bath Spa has been writing the new BA (Hons) Games Development course and welcoming our first cohort of students. The course is aimed at students interested in indie game development and gaining the broad spectrum of technical and creative skills required to build new games. Throughout the course students engage with important debates within the industry including diversity, accessibility and the importance of who makes games. The course also includes opportunities for students to apply their skills developing in game engines to other fields (e.g. theatre, film, architectural visualisation, augmented reality (AR)) and broaden their employment opportunities on graduating.

"I firmly believe that if we have diversity within a group of people who come together to do something creative, they're going to make far more interesting work than if they sit in a room full of people who are into the same types of things that they're into."

The way that our Games Development course is written, it’s built around introducing more indie games and more innovative looks at games and different kinds of gamer communities, but also thinking about games critically, and thinking about how we can tackle issues like how everything seems to have the same controller, for example. We think about accessibility and about who's visible in those communities. We think about the characters that we write, and how we can write more interesting characters, but then also, who we need to involve in writing those characters as well.

One of the things I'm always really keen to tell people is that technology is made by people. Sometimes I think we forget that. I firmly believe that if we have diversity within a group of people who come together to do something creative, they're going to make far more interesting work than if they sit in a room full of people who are into the same types of things that they're into.

I think sometimes there's this idea, and not an unreasonable one, that the game communities that we hear about don't necessarily feel like safe spaces for everyone. But games are really, really diverse. It's such a huge industry. I want to show my students that people like them do make games and are successful. But then also to show them that they have a responsibility to create positive working spaces and to create opportunities, to feel positive and excited about the opportunities that they can make for others and how that's also going to make them better game developers.

“One of the things I'm always really keen to tell people is that technology is made by people. Sometimes I think we forget that.”

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