Chris: Hi, my name is Chris Goodyear, I formed Many Cats Studios. Obviously, I’m games developer, I’m also disabled. I wear hearing aids and am hard of hearing, so this is something that is passionate for me, to raise awareness about disabilities in the industry. I mean, disabilities on the whole, you’re twice as likely to be unemployed if you have a disability. Also, there’s lots of other things, like potential of social inclusion, how you feel your self-worth is if you’ve been without employment … there’s all sorts of barriers for disabled people to be able to feel like they belong as a part of an industry. Luckily, the games industry is no worse than any other industry for disabilities, so yeah, we’ve got averages (laughing). But obviously a lot more work can be done. Good points, we are now getting more accessibility for players, as a lot of mainstream games at the moment are doing accessibility menus. Things like Tomb Raider, God of War, Spiderman, have all got these accessibility features, that obviously is a great nod to getting more and more players feeling like they can get involved. Obviously, today’s panel is all about looking at disabilities as a whole, and about how people feel about barriers that get into the industry, through development, and also a bit about the games that we’re making at the moment. So, I’m going to pass it on down the line, if you want to introduce yourself, say a little bit about yourself, and reasons why you’re here.
Simran: Hi, I’m Simran. So, I’m the game producer at Tri-Heart Interactive and the founder of Manchester Gamers Unite, a gaming event in Manchester. I have autistic spectrum disorder, and that’s why I’m on this panel today.
Katie: I’m Katie Goode, creative director of a video games studio down in Cornwall. I have learning disabilities, and I’m dyslexic.
Harriet: Hi, I’m Harriet Frayling. I’m a mature master’s student at Birmingham City University at the Gamer Camp based course. I’m also the university’s Disabled Students’ Officer, and I work at the union as a disability employment mentor. I have learning disabilities, ASD, and a physical chronic pain condition called fibromyalgia, hence the stick (laughing).
Oliver: Hi, I’m Oliver Walker. I’m game designer at Just Add Water, just started really, so just getting used to the serious games industry and stuff. I have bipolar, for those of you that don’t know, it means you suffer with … well suffer, I say suffer … you have extreme lows and extreme highs. For me, the extreme highs have been pretty not great, as shocking as that might be, but yeah. So that’s me.
Chris: That’s great. As you can see, we’ve got a wide range of different people at different points in their careers, and also there’s a different range of disabilities. As you know, disabilities could be physical or mental, it could be visible or invisible, and this also can include mental health. So, you’d be surprised how many people you could actually know who could be labelled as disabled. I think we’re going to get straight into it, and the very general question of how do you think the current state of inclusion is in the industry? How do you feel the disability inclusion is?
Katie: So, I guess I might have been around for the longest. I’ve been in the industry for over ten years now, at lots of different games studios. So, Sony London Studio, I was there, I was at Frontier. In terms of – well, you say that when you meet someone, you’re not necessarily aware if they are disabled or not – I was aware of 2 people out of possibly the 200 people that I know, that are disabled. Which has been quite sort of frightening, in terms of when we’re trying to … I’m trying to make people aware of the fact that we should be doing more for people with disabilities. It just means that we don’t just test things for certain people, as games designer, we forget about certain kind of things and make certain kind of assumptions.
Chris: Yeah. It’s almost isolating because there’s not enough voices to be saying, “Actually, I will struggle to use that as a gamer myself”.
Katie: Yeah. Like, we see it all the time. There’s an amazing viral video that went around a while ago where someone, who wasn’t white, put their hand in front of a hand dryer and it didn’t detect their hands. And then someone who was white put their hand in front of it and it did detect their hands. It’s just because when you’re building something, so often you’re so focused on what you’re building that you forget everybody else. And so, this is why it’s so important we do get a range of people.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, even basic functionality like subtitles which a lot of people – even people who don’t have hard of hearing or a hearing impairment – use subtitles. On some games I’ve put them on and they’ve been tiny, you can’t read them and it’s like … surely someone would have used them once and realised they’re too small to read. But as you can see, a lot of work needed. What about you Harriet, you’re currently a student?
Harriet: In terms of being at university, it is … I think I’m really lucky. So, Birmingham City University has higher than the national average of disabled students. We have 11% rather than the national average of 10%, so it means that certain faculties are much better about accommodating the needs of disabled students. So, I’m lucky in that regard, that my tutors have been incredible. Whenever there’s been an issue, they are fine with it. I have a support agreement which states the disabilities I have, what will happen, what my medications do, and if I’m going to be late, or maybe my painkillers make me groggy. You know, they take these things into account. And it hasn’t necessarily stopped me, because of my tutors, from achieving my undergraduate degree and things like that. Or if I’m feeling confident enough to get onto, to have applied for the master’s … it is difficult, because I don’t see anybody with physical disabilities talking about it in the games industry. I can’t think off the top of my head, no one in wheelchairs, no one with any physical mobility. It does make it difficult because you think okay, well I don’t know anybody in the industry with physical disability, what can a company do to help with that? Like, if I apply, how will I get that? You know, these things. I think in terms of internally, there’s a long way to go with stuff, including things like crunch. Crunch is, you know, it’s bad for anybody but you’re basically just adding … the way I liken it is when you’re disabled, life is Dark Souls, right? You’re already on Hard mode, and then you get into crunch which is like, “Would you like to up the difficulty to Impossible?” And that’s just not inclusive. It’s not great for anyone, it’s worse for disabled people. So, I do think a lot of it … we’re doing great things on the outside for gamers, but I think internally, we really need to up our game and really make changes so that developers can access their whole potential. Because disabled people are really adaptable, we go through a lot. And a lot of us are still like, “Hi, we’re here on a panel talking about it” (laughing). So, you know, I think it should be …
Chris: Yeah. We definitely have a long way to go. I think panels like this will help people start raising those questions, and just talking about it in the office and that … because it shouldn’t be a scary thing. I think a lot of us here agree that a lot of people were scared to ask about disabilities or ask someone about their additional needs. And you know, it’s just getting rid of the stigma and the taboo isn’t it? Definitely. What about you Oliver? You’re recent into the industry?
Oliver: Yeah. So, I think it can vary studio to studio. If you have a mental health condition specifically, I think a lot of studios can do a great deal to support you. Like if you need to take time out, I think some studios can be really accepting of that, and other studios … they’re just not. That’s a sad reality but it’s kind of how it goes.
Chris: Yeah, do you feel like this is a variation between small indie studios and larger ones that obviously have (overspeaking)?
Oliver: Sure. Like if you’re a small team, everyone is on that team specifically to deliver the product. But even on small teams there is room for … basically, we can tell you’re struggling and we can make amendments. We can maybe give you a shorter work day, or we can try and work around your issues. But I think that there are certainly pretty big barriers, even if you have a very minor mental health condition. Because my mental health condition, with the medication, I take it, it doesn’t hugely impact on my life. And I’ve learned over the years how to deal with it so much better than when I was a teenager and stuff. And that’s helped me work what is essentially a pretty high-stress job. It’s a nine-to-five, so there’s getting up every single day, there’s no room for me to have a bipolar day. That just can’t really happen. But if I am feeling those things, I am able to take brief time out. But, you know, it’s going to impact on the schedule because games – there’s timelines and stuff needs to get shipped, and that’s the reality of the situation.
Chris: Just raising the point there of … wondering if obviously someone is a developer or getting into the industry, and they’re worried about getting anxiety over high-pressure days and, you know, nearing deadlines and that. And thinking that they would not be good enough because they have a life-limiting condition and they think, oh well, get somebody able-bodied then because obviously I won’t be good enough to keep up with you. Would you have any advice for people like that?
Oliver: You can’t let that stop you, you just can’t. I remember when I was first hospitalised with … and my dad was like, “I can’t see you ever working a normal job” and stuff. And you just can’t accept that, like … it can be really hard. I won’t dispute that for a second, it’s really challenging. But you can do it, it’s not impossible at all. You just have to learn how to manage your mind and maybe take up meditating, or some sort of mindfulness practice to help you along. But you can’t let something that you had no choice in stop you pursuing the thing you dream. That’s crazy, it’s just crazy to think that that would stop you, you know?
Katie: I’ve got some quite nice tips. So, as a studio owner myself, when we’re looking for people now, there’s quite a lot of us out there that actually prefer to have remote workers, that prefer to have people that do just work their own hours. So, especially for freelance things, there’s a lot more flexibility. And as long as you can prove the fact that you can create something, you know, creative, and if we say to you, “Okay can you do it at this certain time, is that a possibility for you?” Like, everything is a negotiation, and so if you say, “No, sorry I can’t do it in that time”, then that’s fine. We know that and we can adjust accordingly. So, if you’re worried about it, have a discussion about it, and have a discussion about it with your employers. Because basically, if they don’t know then they can’t help until it’s too late.
Chris: Yeah. And I think I read somewhere that most people that have invisible conditions tend to not disclose them, because they feel like that will give them, you know, some sort of prejudice at work or people will treat them differently. And I guess the more willing you are to talk about it, the more normalised it is. So that’s a great piece of advice there. What about you Simran? You created a Manchester gaming group as well as your own studio, so (laughing) you’ve got plenty of experience.
Simran: Yeah. Really, a piece of advice I can give is that although I agree that we do have a long way to go still, I’ve noticed that there is a growing awareness of kind of respecting disability as a whole in the gaming industry. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many studios over the last two years through running events, and over the last two years I’ve seen the awareness of it start to slowly form. Especially in indie development, indie developers are taking drastic steps to kind of make their games cater to more invisible and physical disabilities. Like our studio, we’re now working with someone who’s on the high-end spectrum of autism, because he’s amazing at what he does and we won’t see talent like that go to waste. He’s absolutely fantastic and he’s been a game-changer for the studio. And we’ve kind of been more open to accepting people like that because … people’s barriers and their disabilities shouldn’t enable them to not be able to perform what it is they want to do. And I think that’s a step that a lot of indie developers are taking themselves, especially within the Manchester area. I see lots of prominent studio more open to accepting people with disabilities, so long as they feel like they can carry out the tasks that they do. So, as long as you can form the work, they will cater to that. Although we do have a long way to go, it’s definitely something that I think is getting more awareness and becoming more accepted. And developers are taking steps to make sure that that talent isn’t gone to waste, regardless of disability.
Chris: Yeah, that’s great. Obviously, we’ve all touched upon bits of advice for studios, but what potential barriers do you think are there currently, for people trying to get into the industry that may have a disability? If anything, a bit of advice for the recruiters – I know a couple of you have your own studios (laughing). What advice would you offer to be a bit more, I guess, accessible in terms of recruitment?
Simran: I would say one piece of advice I would give is that you can’t let it stop you. Like, as I was growing up my autism was severe, but over time I’ve learned to … it’s kind of crude, but get over it a little bit? You’ve got to push yourself out of your comfort zone because the reality is you’ve got to be willing to commit yourself to the work. And it’s hard, I can understand how hard it is. It was hard for me when I was first starting out. My college in particular really helped me, because I was at a terrible college that didn’t really help me prior to the college I went to. But it was when I got to that point that I started kind of pushing myself more to want to come into this industry, and while I had a long way to go, it’s that I wasn’t going to let my disability affect that. Because a part of it was that I used to suffer from massive social anxiety, but obviously at that kind of time I was starting to accept that I can’t let this downside of my disability affect what it is that I wanted to become. I wanted to be a producer, and a producer has to be someone who’s sociable, who’s good at management, who’s good at talking to people. So, I kind of had to get over the gap and the wall. And it’s hard, it is hard breaking that. But you’ve got to be willing to push yourself, because if you tell yourself your disability stops you from getting what it is you want to be, then you are giving into your disability. You’ve kind of got to be willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit to truly achieve what you want. But there is great support out there as well. I had a lot of support along the way, it wasn’t a solo trip. And you’ve kind of got to be willing to talk about it openly. Like, I went to my university, I went to student services when I was a first year and said, “I’m autistic. I struggle a little bit, I’m a bit socially anxious”, and they took steps to help that. So, you know, be open, just be honest … but at the same time you’ve got to push yourself. If you really want what it is you want, you’ve got to be willing to push yourself.
Chris: Just to follow on – so Harriet, obviously he just talked a bit about how he had support from university, which obviously is a big thing to helping you get through your degree, and obviously ready for work. How are you finding this as an officer as well?
Harriet: So, I was only diagnosed with ASD six months ago. Through process of elimination basically (laughing) I was diagnosed with my ADHD just before university, then through university I got tested for dyspraxia and they were like, “It’s dyspraxia – sort of – but you’re too old so we don’t know”. Turns out, probably Asperger’s (laughing). So, I’ve always had help. I get DSA, Disabled Students Allowance, which goes towards the cost of helpers, like study skills. So, I have a study skills tutor, she’s also on the spectrum and has dyspraxia. So, I get someone – she doesn’t understand my course, but she tries. She understands what it’s like to sort of … the thought process and things like that. I get a mental health mentor, disability mentor, so if I need to talk to someone about stuff going on – it doesn’t matter if it’s related to being disabled or not – I’ve always got someone I can talk to. And being vocal about it, it’s that thing … being physically disabled was actually probably the hardest thing I ever had to deal with, because I walk like someone’s chasing me most of the time (laughing). But I’ve been forced to slow down. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, about a year ago was when it started. So, that’s been the biggest thing, my biggest barrier. In terms of the ASD, again, it’s that you do have to sort of … I call it the compromise. A lot of the sort of talk is like, “I’m autistic, so you need to change the world because I’m autistic”, and vice versa. I think there’s a middle ground in there. You can still be yourself and it still be a part of you, but still get on with the world we live in. The biggest barrier with someone with a physical disability is the location of a lot of studios is in the back-end of nowhere. And if you’re in the South, you’ve got a lot of train companies that actually hate disabled people (laughing) it seems. Including policies like Great Western Railway – if they are late, which they often are, if there’s a disabled person who has pre-booked a ticket, they will not let you on the train. Which, if your workplace is anywhere on that journey, you’re out of luck. There’s no information on, you know, are there buses? Do you run a coach service between your studios? Have you got multiple locations? Do you have any transport options? Do you do car sharing? None of that information is on any website I’ve ever been to.
Chris: That’s a big thing, yeah.
Harriet: How, as a physically disabled person, do I get to your studio safely and on time so I can do my job? (Laughing).
Chris: That’s a great example and point to anybody who is running a studio, definitely transport.
Katie: Better job descriptions.
Katie: Better job descriptions, and also … so I see this with a lot of studios, where they’re trying to show their studio culture on their website. So like, “Oh come and join us, this is what we can do”. But they don’t actually show you anything. It’s the same thing for, like, as a woman, if at some point you want a kid, what do you do in terms of childcare? There’s nothing on that on websites as well. So, I’m actually a board member of the BGI, so the British Games Institute … and it’s something that I’m always having to poke at them. It’s like, “Hey look, we’re here”. Basically, we’re all owners of different companies, like there’s a load of big wigs in there. And I keep having to remind them that, you know, accessibility and diversity isn’t just women, it’s also disabled users as well. But in terms of – I guess going back to the original question of trying to help yourself get into the games industry, it’s so highly-competitive that you need to make yourself different. You need to be making stuff yourself at home. And you can do that if you’re an artist, you can do that if you’re a designer and don’t know any code, you can do that as a programmer. Just start making stuff at home because I’m assuming if you’re at home, that’s the place where you’re happiest, it’s the place where you’ve got everything that you need to start doing something. Because the people that we’re attracted to as a business are people that have made stuff, and we can see what they’ve made. Even if it’s just something that they’ve done in their own time, by themselves, or as a student. You don’t have to be a student in university to do that either. I’ve been utterly surprised by the local secondary school students showing me what they’ve done as part of their work experience, and they’ve completely blown me away. Because there’s so much help now out there, like all these YouTubers that are showing you how to do stuff, or these tutorials … even game engines which just require words, like normal English language, to make games. Do something about it, get ahead. And to be honest, we’re all saying disability … I don’t see disability as necessarily something that makes you at a disadvantage. It can give you advantages as well.
Chris: Yeah, definitely.
Katie: Because you can think completely differently, you think outside the box. Maybe you’re a better problem solver because you’re having to solve problems all the time in daily life.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, a good example, when I worked as a QA tester, the first thing I sort of pointed out was a pair of headphones, because I was just like … this is not going to work (laughing). Straight off the bat, I was just like oh well, you know. It was kind of worrying in a way, because this shouldn’t really be my problem to deal with, it should be taken into consideration straight away. Because I’d gone through the recruitment process, had an interview, they’d clearly seen me with hearing aids. I said I had hearing aids, I’ve even ticked the box to say I was disabled, and yet they still come to a job and there’s, like, oh (laughing). So, again I’d problem-solve myself by saying, “Oh luckily I’ve got some headphones with me that I can use, that are perfect for me”. But (laughing) …
Katie: It’s just that out of the box thinking. I mean, especially as a games designer, it’s really cool. The games that we’ve done as a company are completely out of the box, completely nothing like anyone else. They don’t fit into genres because of the games that I enjoy, because of my disadvantages, as it were. Like, I don’t play story games, I’m really into gameplay. Because of what I’m into, it’s just who I am, and therefore the games that I’ve come up with are completely unlike any other gameplay that you see in any other games. Because of the fact that I don’t do certain other things, because I don’t read books, because I can’t (laughing).
Chris: Yeah, that’s great. Oliver, obviously, like I said, you’ve just started. How did you feel about your interview process and, again, did you disclose that you had a disability or not? Or did you feel like that would be a hinderance?
Oliver: It’s really important to remember that disabilities aren’t just like a tick box, it’s a conversation more than anything. You need to be open and honest, you need to consider what information do these guys need to know about me, what possible barriers are there going to be to me coming in and doing the work that I do? You’ve just got to have these conversations. And it can be really hard. I understand that there’s a certain amount of stigma and negative connotations most of the time with a lot of disabilities, whether it’s mental or physical. But you need to talk to your leads and your management at some point about, “Look, this is who I am. You’ve seen what I’m capable of, you’ve seen my portfolio, you’ve seen my work … but there might come a time where I’m going to need a week out or something”. Because I’m really struggling, and maybe I’m reaching out to the doctor and stuff, you know. Those conversations are really important to have. Even if you’re just at a university level and you’re just getting into it, speak to your tutors. You get amazing from those people if they just understand. Those conversations are so valuable, you know?
Chris: Definitely. I was going to talk to you a little bit about the games that are being produced right now. I know Katie just discussed there about the interesting games that she can come up with because of her disability – but how do we feel about games now? How it represents disabilities and what we see. Because I would ask you to try and think of a disabled character in a game, or even a condition that you can see in a game, it’s quite hard to name examples.
Harriet: I was actually talking to my partner about this. We realised that Metal Gear Solid 5 is actually one of the most disability-inclusive games. If you think about it, how many characters in that game have lost an eye, a limb? They’ve got mental health problems? That game is incredibly accessible in terms of representation. It’s got column A, column B, there’s definite … you could probably identify some character traits for certain people, like mental health or neurological stuff. And I was like, actually yeah, I didn’t think about that. Because most stuff, you’ve got Adam Jensen who’s a cyborg – he literally didn’t ask for this (laughing). So, you’ve got that, some characters are … a lot of it is usually side characters. I’d love to less games like … I think it’s called Perception, a game about a girl who’s blind. And it’s kind of a concept where it’s all echolocation and, like, we’re not dolphins (laughing). I get what they were trying to do but I didn’t necessarily feel that that was really very great. It’s getting there, it’s getting there but you know …
Chris: Yeah well, that game for example, if they actually had workers who were blind, you know? Would that raise a point? (Laughing).
Harriet: Things like, if they said, “Okay could you describe it?” There’s a guy on YouTube who describes what it’s like being blind, he does videos about it. And I know there’s a young girl – I can’t remember her name – who does videos about being blind, she just goes about her life and vlogs it and stuff like that. So, there are people out there who can explain what it’s like and things like that. It would be nice to see more main characters where … I personally prefer it where it’s just incidental. It’s not what they are, it’s part of them …
Chris: It’s not the gimmick.
Harriet: It’s like having blue eyes or being tall. It’s just a trait of that person. I’d love to see more stuff where that’s done. Like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, that was incredible. Like, actually being involved, and accurate representation of psychosis where you hear the positive voices and the negative voices, and you have that sort of dichotomy going. It was brilliant to sort of be part of that. Most of it is just like, oh yeah, this person has lost a leg so we’re going to talk about it for 20 minutes. And that’s all they are, they’re just that disability, that’s their only thing. It’s not even about education half the time, it’s just like yeah, so this person – they don’t have any backstory, they’re just disabled. That’s just their thing. And it’s like, we’re all a lot more complex than that (laughing).
Chris: Yeah, diversity – done it, let’s move on (laughing).
Harriet: Most of it, I was looking into it and it was just mostly physical, but without the understanding of exactly how difficult living with a physical disability is. So, if you think about level design, and you’ve got a disabled character. You need to think about how that disabled character would navigate that level. And if your level is not done the way that they do it – most buildings now, where corridors are wide enough for that disabled character – the character then doesn’t fit in the universe you’ve created. You’ve literally just created this disabled character who can’t even … if you’ve got someone in a wheelchair and you’ve made the corridors really thin, how would that character get down that corridor? Things like that. We were saying about thinking differently, having these problem-solving skills – that’s all I see when I look at stuff. It’s like, that doesn’t seem realistic to me because if I was with my stick, I take up an extra half of me. So, one and a half people with width (laughing). So, you know, I don’t fit into a small space than I would before. So, if I was playing a game with someone that maybe physically couldn’t get through, it would just take out the whole suspension of disbelief thing. I’d just be like, well I’m definitely playing a game and they definitely really don’t understand the situation at all (laughing).
Katie: On that same route, it gets even more complicated in VR. Because in VR, obviously it’s yourself inside the game world, and so you’re the game character. So, you can be the kickass disabled person because you’re playing as yourself. And this is actually something we wanted to address in Unseen Diplomacy, which is the first game that we did. The aim of the game is that you’re meant to be a spy trying to save the world by crawling through vents and rolling underneath lasers … you can see the alarm bells going off here. But we were showing it at an event, and what we realised was if anyone came up and they couldn’t necessarily crawl or walk around, then we would feel so bad physically having to turn that person away. We have to do something about this. And so basically, there was a way that at the beginning of the game, it just asks you, “Do you want to crawl or not?” It’s just a tick box, it’s like a switch on the game, and you press it and it generates the dungeon, and basically changes out all the room. So, it makes all of the ledges much wider for a wheelchair, it makes all the key cards and things you might have found on the floor – it puts them onto tables. Yeah, we were literally having to think of your physical ability to manoeuvre. But it does mean now that we can have kickass disabled users being James Bond, running around this game world (laughing).
Simran: Drawing on that point, that’s something of an approach that our studio has actually taken. So, at the moment we’re actually working on a disabled character for our games. And our games are fast-paced arena-based shooter, which is hard to accommodate for. In such a fast-paced shooter it’s hard to accommodate for someone who’s physically disabled, because you’ve got to look at the technical challenges of that as well. When every character is fully able, you’ve got to think about how does this character fit within the level design; how do they move around the map as fast as other characters; how is this giving players who play as that character a fair advantage over other players? And the approach we’ve gone is well, we can not make the actual disability an integral part of that character’s gameplay – it’s just a part of who the character’s persona is. So, what they can do is they can glide throughout the map, the other characters have got jetpacks – he’s got the same thing except his expand more like wings. We have a kid character who looks a little bit like Buzz Lightyear – he’s got little bottle rockets on the side of his jetpack that squirt water out. This is no different from the disabled character, he’s just got mechanical wings. And that’s the approach that we’ve taken to accommodate for a physical disability within our game world. It posed challenges when we first brought it to the drawing board because originally, we didn’t want to just tick a box. We wanted this character to be an integral part of the world. We don’t want to highlight them as this disabled character, we just want them to be like any other character, it’s no different than the kid who wears a colander on his head. And he’s a sniper, and he’s got to look through this colander, through his sniper scope. But at the same time, whilst it does pose technical challenges of accommodating level design for a character who’s going to be physically disabled, it’s a challenge that we want to take upon ourselves because that’s something we want to do. We want to highlight this, but without highlighting it too much, we just want it to be part of the character as who they are, and show that they can perform the same tasks as any other player. And players don’t feel like that character’s penalised in any way, it’s just that character might be disabled but they are perfectly capable of getting around this map as any other fast-paced shooter.
Chris: Sounds like a lot of fun to work around protagonists with disabilities, something that anyone here can take away. You know, if you suddenly turn everything on its head and think about a character with a disability in your games that you’re making, and see what you can come up with, it’s a great thing. Oliver, as a designer, have you seen any good examples or bad examples?
Oliver: So, I’d like to just talk about this quite broadly. But I think it’s really challenging because it’s very hard to do mental health right in a game. So, if you look at Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest and stuff, that really wasn’t very well received for a number of reasons. But specifically, I think a lot of people look at a thing and they’re like – okay so, I maybe have depressive episodes and stuff like that, and I just feel like this doesn’t represent me. I worked on a game that was all about bipolar and I tried to make the mechanics like a metaphor for what it feels like to juggle your emotions and balance, and the world affects the player and it pushes them to either sides of the spectrum. A lot of people really didn’t like that. It wasn’t particularly well received by my peers, because I think they looked at it and thought, are they using this as a gimmick? Like, what is going on here? Then there’s examples like Hellblade that you mentioned as well, where they absolutely nail it, and people think that that’s a fantastic representation. But it’s just so challenging and nuanced to get disabilities right, it’s really challenging. And if you want to make a game about a disabled character or about someone with a disability, you have a hell of a lot of work to do. That’s the real challenge. But the thing is, that work is going to be so valued. It’s so awesome to see characters with ailments and challenges in their lives, and it really helps build interesting characters, but you have to go about it the right way. That’s the only danger.
Chris: I think a top tip would be not to just talk to one person with the disability, talk with a group of people. I have a friend who also wears a hearing aid, but she’s completely different in terms of what she can hear and what I can hear. And instantly, you’ve got two different experiences that will contradict, you know, a deaf character in your game. So, if you talk to a group of people, you’ll be managing that. And it’s exactly what Hellblade did, is talk to a group of people with psychosis, and getting all of their different experiences and putting them together; working with them all to have a balanced representation. That’s the best way to describe that (laughing).
Oliver: I agree with that, for sure.
Chris: Any last points that anyone wants to raise?
Harriet: Don’t be discouraged if … so, despite having a face like Benjamin Button, I’m actually nearly 32. So, I took a while – I’m like a slow-burner, it took me a while to get here. And I’m glad it did, because life teaches you things that you can’t always learn either in a job, or in university. You gain a sort of resilience for … life does tend to kick ten shades out of you at any given moment, and then it will be absolutely incredible the next. So, if things are a struggle now, don’t worry about it. Just give yourself some time and patience, because it’s much better to spend – like in my case – another 12 years or so being better at being me, and being happy with being me. I am open about my disabilities, I’m open about being a hot mess, all of that stuff (laughing). I’m open about who I am, and that’s what makes me good – hopefully – at what I do at university with advocacy, with empowering others, with helping people. You can go for that job, a lot of the times I was the same – I’d look at a job and it’d be like, “Here’s a list of criteria”, but it doesn’t say if I could do it. Okay, it requests this skill, but what if I have a bad day? What if, in terms of ASD, I’m not having a great day and I’ve got loads of sensory stuff, and I can’t deal with sound or people, please don’t talk to me. How do I do that job? And I learned that basically, it’s okay not to apply for that job. There will be something else that … have a destination in mind, but don’t be fixated on one route to get there. There are many different ways, there’s so many ways to do something. One of the deans at my university, she calls it Void Mapping. So, you’ve got your start and your finish, and you just work out all the different ways you can get to the finish line, where you want to be. Like, the stuff I want to do, I’m glad I waited, because I don’t think I’d be here on this panel if I’d done this ten years ago, in my twenties. I just wouldn’t, I wasn’t in the right place. I didn’t know myself, I wasn’t happy with myself. But now I know, and now I’m here. So, just be patient. It’s hard but you can do it, you really can.
Chris: Yeah, that’s great. I think we’ll be able to take some audience questions – has anyone got any burning questions?
Speaker 1: With your overall disabilities, have you ever had the advice to give for people who make stuff to aid people with disabilities, both physically and mentally … so, people do things like weird controllers to help with people, like eyes, or people that can’t move?
Chris: Oh, that’s more of a technological question – go ahead (laughing).
Oliver: In terms of design stuff, there’s a whole load of accessibility stuff that’s kind of becoming more and more prevalent. So, Mark Brown is just doing a very broad series on accessibility in games, and I think all it takes is just a little bit of consideration from the design team and the people who are … well, not necessarily the design team, but the entire team as a whole. Because design can mention something and engineering can be, like, oh this is going to push the schedule, or whatever. All you need to do, in my opinion, you just need to have it as an objective. Like, this would be great, we can include more people in playing our games and that would be amazing, and that’s really what it’s about. So, just go into it with some intentionality.
Katie: I think another approach along that is if you’re trying to find someone to fund your game – obviously most of the time you’re trying to pitch yourself low so they can give you money – but make your publisher aware of what you’re trying to do. Because you’d be surprised of … you can basically pitch to them, “Look, we’re increasing the market for our game by including these options. We’re massively inclusive”, because it was like, how many people are disabled? It’s like 17% or something, of people that are disabled?
Chris: Yeah, and then that obviously increases with age.
Katie: Yeah, just imagine we can increase your games market by 17%. And then suddenly you might find that people might have to give you some money towards doing some more accessibility options.
Chris: There’s a perfect example of Microsoft, with their adaptable controller. So, even the big players are sort of filtering down tech that we can use and, you know, you can have that controller at work and be like, okay, how can we use this to help map buttons and make it easier to play the game? For that person with one hand or somebody who might not have much mobility with their fingers. So, I think there’s definitely sort of technology existing out there now, and getting made, that you can really tap into and grab hold of and sort of run with, and use as a way of reaching more players.
Katie: There’s also a thing of, a lot of the time now – slightly separately – is the fact that we’re trying to start having these discussions with lots of different groups of people. Because there’s an awareness that we need for different kinds of disability. But then, I was talking to someone, and she was talking to me about how expensive all of the controllers were, in terms of hardware. And I was like, well actually, with my VR dev experience and my contacts, I started talking to Valve and Sony about using VR hardware to play 2D games. There’s no reason why you can’t use the headset as a gaze controller, replacing the need for a ridiculously expensive £600 joystick you can drive with your mouth. You could use cheaper motion controllers that have been around for ages as button inputs, as remapping button inputs, so gestures and things. So, yeah, having discussions is quite useful.
Chris: Definitely. Anyone else?
Speaker 2: What I want to know is, I’ve spoken to (inaudible 0:40:49) before, I’ve got a project going – what I want to know is, how would I get funding for it? How would I make it so that no one can actually nick it, basically steal the code or actually steal the idea? Would it be infringing; would it be copyright?
Chris: A legal question (laughing).
Oliver: In terms of copyrighting ideas and stuff, that’s very hard, but most of the time people want to work on their own ideas. And a lot of the time, stuff doesn’t get copied when you’re putting it out there, so don’t worry overly about that.
Chris: There’s plenty of advice out there in terms of legality and copyright and that. In terms of the funding – I myself, obviously have a studio that works with people with disabilities, to get them into employment. And I have been lucky enough to get several sources of funding out there, that are obviously promoting less social impact, social inclusion. There is a lot of government funding at the moment to help people with disabilities into employment, around that thing, around talking about disability. So, you know, Google is key (laughing). Google, and you’ll find quite a few. They might be specific to the area that you live in as well, because I’m from Teesside, and at the moment there’s a lot of help in the area that I live in to help connect with disabled people and industry and jobs. So, just literally look where you are, even send an email to councils, they might know of money being filtered down from the big government fundings (laughing). Anyone else? One last question.
Speaker 3: Actually, you just touched on it a little bit about VR controls and so on. Well, if you haven’t already, look at Arca’s Path, it was by the Dream Reality Interactive folks. I was thinking more in that realm, because I work in VR, about how that as a medium can essentially erase differentiation between able-bodied and fully abled players of games, and anyone with any kind of disability or differently abled. Because theirs, you just purely control with your head, every last part of it. It’s probably one of the most accessible games I’ve ever seen. And you can be fully paralysed from the neck down, and still just play it. I was firstly curious if any of you – especially with yourself working on VR related projects – had similar things like that in work, that works with something more of a disabled way? The other thing that I wanted to bring up is – that I brought up to them – that hasn’t really been touched on here, is sensory perception and sensory overload. This is something that games is uniquely bad at because it’s probably one of the most sensory-heavy things. And it’s even in disabilities, it’s never talked about. Information processing, information overload … and you mentioned about your sliders for when you want to crawl or roll, and things like that. And slider-based things that simplify colours and image processing, especially for people on autism spectrums and conditions like that. Again, is that something any of you have considered or worked on, or can just talk about a little bit?
Simran: Yeah, I can actually talk about that. So, when I was in my university, I actually built an entire project based around sensory overload. It was actually to give insight into what it was like to experience sensory overload, so it was an interactive narrative experience. As you would progress it, this individual would slowly, because they were receiving so much visual information, just kind of break down in sensory overload. As I’m sure you might be aware, there are many different outcomes to sensory overload, each person is different and it reacts differently. But the brain kind of locks itself off, as a coping mechanism. And the hard bit for me with approaching that was … how do you kind of get that coping mechanism displayed right? Because every person’s different. And it’s a challenge, getting mental in video games is exceptionally hard, you can’t cater to every person’s individual experience. So, what I tried to do was look at statistics, and the most common one was that people kind of go into their own little worlds, as a safety mechanism. So, I just, as a way of when it happened, when this person went into their own little world, and that’s what eventually kind of slowed it down, and eased them back into the process of being able to go back to receiving moderate amounts of information. And it was a challenge to get right, and it could have gone better in certain aspects. But it is a difficult thing to touch upon, especially in games. Like, we’re working on a shooter and that’s a lot of visual information, because you see bullets being fired about all over the place. We use vicious bullets in our game, but yeah. It’s a difficult balance to do. You can take steps to it but every person experiences it differently, on an individual basis. So, it is a very big technical challenge to kind of undertake in that regard.
Katie: This is why we need people like yourself in the games industry, actually working as devs. Because unless you’re shouting over Twitter, unless you’re shouting over social networks at developers, they’re not going to know. They’re not psychic, they can’t know what everyone’s like. We try our best, and we’ve got a great website called gameaccessibilityguidelines.com or something, that we can go on and have a look and have ideas from. But ultimately, like I said, we’re now so focused when we’re making stuff, it’s so hard to break out of that. And so, come be a fellow game dev (laughing) and trying to help with that. Because as a games designer, we’re always trying to compensate feedback. We’re overloading visually, we’re overloading sounds because in case someone’s visually impaired, we have lots of sounds going off. In case someone might be deaf, we put lots of visual stuff going off. And we basically overcompensate because … as well as that, you’ve got the whole Candy Crush thing of, like, overloading feedback and amazing awards. Like, a party goes off every time you collect one coin or something, that’s sort of overloading again. So, yeah, it’s nothing that I’ve done personally in our own game, because we’ve just got fairly tame feedback, but it’s something that I feel like … if we had, together, a bit more of a central point of discussion. Like, none of us know who to talk to, none of us know which developer to talk to, who’s the special person at Sony we need to talk to? All that sort of business. So, yeah, it’s having discussions like this, and hopefully some group like a women in games group, or a disabled developers group, might come up and actually start trying to move people forward in things.
Chris: Yeah, just have a central point for all the knowledge that we’re all gaining. Like, the more we learn, the more useful it will be for everybody, and I’m sure everyone can tap into that.
Oliver: Just to quickly finish off on that – if you just look at unities post-processing and stuff, or any engines post-processing, you could probably make some changes to make the game less of a threat to people who experience sensory overload and stuff like that. It’s possible, it just needs to be considered, that’s the only thing.
Speaker 3: (Inaudible 0:48:20) resources, is expanding accessibility menus. Instead of being an audio trigger, and subtitled, you can have more control to say what you do with the graphics and with the gamma (inaudible) headsets and all that malarkey. Do you want the sounds down, do you want the textures simplified, and not just the level of detail, the colours … things like this, when you start having sensory sliders, and the marketing question of how many people who suffer from who are gamers? So, 17% are disabled, is it 4 or 5% are visual processing, things like that.
Chris: Well, like I said to him before, it’s not just people with disabilities that use the accessibility features. I mean, how many of you use subtitles because you can’t hear what’s going on? (Laughing). So, everybody uses them really, it’s not a case of oh, I’m only catering for 17% of my audience. So, like I said, Tomb Raider for example, obviously has an accessibility menu. It’s good to see that big budget games are starting to really tap into that, which everybody can follow suit or do better with.
Harriet: Yeah, for my final major project at the end of my undergrad … I was leading the project, we did a first-person narrative exploration experience based on Russian folklore. From the get go, I was like, okay, the UI needs to be super simple. I don’t want to see UI everywhere, it’s a narrative game, you’re supposed to feel like you’re there. So, you can make little changes. You can start with small things like having a simplified UI. God of War has a thing where the UI will fade out, so you can just get on with playing the game without a load of stuff going off – unless you’re losing health or fighting, things like that. There are little things that can be done to just reduce that. Because I have sensory processing issues, and I will get headaches from games, and I’ll get overwhelmed, I’ll get physically uncomfortable if I play a game that’s got too much going on. Like, I love the Assassin’s Creed games but they have a lot going on, and so I can’t play them for a long period of time. I have to stop because there’s, like, sparkles everywhere. Even God of War does a thing that sets off mine, where every time you pick something up from one of the chests, it comes with a pop-up, and then another pop-up if there’s more than one, and you have to press X to close it … and I’m just like, okay that’s already too much. It is finding that balance between what you want to communicate and what the person is able to comprehend or handle; the challenges of having all this communication happen at once. So, I think extending the accessibility options, like do you have, as a separate panel, accessibility … or even just integrating it into everything else. It’s just by default within everything, like graphical options, having colour-blind options where it uses patterns rather than just changing the colours to simulate colour-blindness, like most games seem to do – Overwatch (laughing). That just simulates what it’s like to be colour-blind, it doesn’t actually do anything for colour-blind people at all (laughing). Little things, I think that’s a good way of helping people with the sensory processing, giving people that control.
Chris: I hope everybody here has gained some new knowledge, hopefully, and can you all just give a round of applause to my panellists because they’ve shared some personal stories.