Exeleon Magazine

Jordan Sparks: Creating Multimedia that Sparks Social Change

Jordan Sparks

Give us a brief background about you and your company – Shining Spark Entertainment.

I’m Jordan Sparks, a Black Multimedia Artist, Designer and Educator. I use various forms of Art and Media not only to entertain, but also explore how we can use creative content to inspire social change. I believe that media is a powerful tool for learning about the world and ourselves, so I want to create powerful new experiences. I also have a passion for teaching and have taught art, games and other subjects to over 10,000 people. I graduated from Toronto Metropolitan University with an MA and BFA, and have worked in many places, such as the Royal Ontario Museum, Humber College, the Hand Eye Society and more.

Shining Spark Entertainment is an innovative new multimedia company I founded that focuses on creating multimedia for social change. We focus on creating diverse and impactful media projects, such as games, around various cultural and social subjects. We want to shine a light on our culture to spark social change.

What was the idea behind creating a 3D Visual Novel game about Canadian Politics?

In 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was found in contempt of parliament, which defeated his government, dissolved parliament and triggered an election. At the time, I had no clue what any of that meant and found much of the discussion around it confusing.

Civic Story was created for people similarly confused about what’s happening in the world. Politics is such a dense and inaccessible topic. I wanted to create an accessible and enjoyable way to understand it that would help people who were as lost as I was. I settled on making Civic Story a 3D visual novel because I found that the visual novel format allowed for the emphasis on storytelling, an easy style of control and the ability to convey a lot with very little in creative ways. It also allows people to slowly unfold the story at their own pace in this eccentric 3D world. As a cartoonist, I deliberately took a lot of comic inspirations for the visual style not only to make the game and subject matter more appealing, but also to honor the long political history of comics all around the world.The ultimate goal is to help Canadians learn more about politics through the game and make them realize the many ways politics affects our lives.

What was the thought behind the name – Civic Story? What is your long-term vision through this game?

Deciding on the name ‘Civic Story’ was a very hard process. For almost the entire life of the project, we referred to it as “PeoPoli,” which was a temporary name I came up with that combined “People” and “Politics”–the ultimate goal of the project. Unfortunately, I had a hard time coming up with a more permanent name, and it stuck for a long time. Civic Story was a suggestion by our Technical Artist Zed Poirier, and after a long name-choosing process, I decided it was the best name on our list.

We feel that the name Civic Story embodies what our game is: A Story about Civics. That may seem basic or obvious, but the entire goal of the project was to explicitly relate to civics and politics through storytelling because most people think both subjects are sterile, boring and unrelatable. In all cultures, people learn lessons from stories. Through a relatable tale like Civic Story, people can see some of the many ways politics affects them. That ties into our long-term vision of Civic Story becoming an accessible starting point for people to learn about politics and be inspired to vote. We want students and adults to play this and be more active in politics and their community. To do that, we are trying to reach out to schools, libraries and democratic organizations to partner with them and make Civic Story more accessible. I admit that a game about Canadian politics may not sound immediately exciting to some, but those who give our interactive political parody a chance will soon understand what we hope to accomplish.

My vision is to use our game to make a more civically engaged public, and if even one person is inspired to vote through our work then we have done our job.

What have been some of the biggest challenges for you and your team during the process of creating this game?

Every project has challenges, and Civic Story was no exception. Even though it’s a very simple game, we had to deal with many technical problems, from nonsense glitches that would happen for no reason to what we called ‘phantom bugs’ that would occur randomly. However, no challenge was harder than just getting the project started.

People don’t often consider how much it costs to make things, and games can cost a lot to make! I first came up with the idea for Civic Story around 2012. Over the years, I would write down ideas and refine them, until I eventually developed a comprehensive design document that detailed the project. That doesn’t mean I can simply make it; I can’t do everything. I need a team of talented people. Of course, people won’t work on this for free, so I need a lot of money I don’t have. So, I need to get funding, but that isn’t easy. While I’m thankful there are many grant funds and funders in Canada, they weren’t confident in a video game about Canadian Politics. I kept getting told that it was a great idea and a needed project in Canadian society, but they wouldn’t fund it.

I spent many years trying and failing to get funding. However, I was very passionate about this concept and voting; I never gave up my dream. Eventually, I could finally get a small bit of funding to get started, and I immediately hit the ground running. I hired my team and made the most of everything I had. Once production started, my team overcame numerous challenges and greatly enhanced the project beyond my wildest dreams. While I came up with the original concept, everyone on my team deserves credit for evolving it into something better. I was proud to finally have the power to pay them for their valuable skills and services. For all the challenges I faced developing Civic Story, getting funding was by far the hardest.

Looking ahead, what is your vision for Shining Spark Entertainment? What are you most excited about?

I founded Shining Spark Entertainment as a trailblazer in our industry to make innovative productions that sparked social change. I most certainly want to continue that vision. I have many plans for Shining Spark Entertainment, including making more games and multimedia productions about different cultural subjects, expanding our diverse team and capabilities and even collaborating with other studios and charities. I want Shining Spark Entertainment to explore what it truly means to make media that makes a difference.

Civic Story is only the starting point of this ambition, but we have many other goals with it as well. In addition to selling the game to the public, we want to license Civic Story to schools and institutions to make it more accessible. We could also put it on mobile and make a free French update in the future for francophone players. Civic Story has been a learning experience and has greatly emboldened my vision for the company.

We have many plans for Civic Story and beyond, but this is just the first step on our journey to spark change. I am excited for what comes next and hope those reading this will follow us on that journey to spark change and create a better world.

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Visit Shining Spark Entertainment Website.

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