- Nickie H-W
A YEAR OF HIGHLIGHTS
Over the last year, I’ve been lucky enough to have taken part in some incredible events - talking about such things as accessibility, product design, event setup and more. It’s certainly been a bit of a mad year, and honestly I don’t think I’ve even seen the best bits yet.
But less about me, let us actually talk about the events and talks I did.
GA Conference EU
Since Games Accessibility Conference is coming up again in a couple of months, it will also be the twelve month anniversary of myself and Chris meeting for the first time. I have to say at this point that I was approached by the ever-hard-working Ian Hamilton to be part of a panel. I had no idea what this panel was going to be about or what GAConf actually was. It turns out that this panel was discussing gaming in the d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing community and I was so nervous to take part. I had never done anything like this in the past and being my first outing into the accessibility community - I had no idea of what to expect and what the other people on the panel were going to be like. Thankfully, as the year was 2021 - Covid-19 restrictions had started to lift but in-person events were still not going ahead and so - this panel and the whole conference was completed over the Internet. I had done my research beforehand about the others, mainly so I wasn’t completely in the dark about the rest of the group. Luckily, as a group we meshed fairly well to the point that twelve months later - we all still talk and I feel like I made some solid friends in the community. For me, I did not realise that this was going to be my personal springboard onto doing bigger and better things - including joining Many Cats Studios.
This was another really nerve-wracking event for me due to me undertaking something I had never done before - a solo talk about my own personal research. I was no stranger to academic talks as coming from both a BA and MA background in History - I have undertaken many a talk and a research project. But when completing personal research that is close to your own heart, that is where the work becomes far more complex. The Animex event was pointed out to me by Chris, as it was in conjunction with many North-East universities (one which was the university Chris graduated from). Being my first ever solo event, I had no idea what to expect but I had plenty of people around me for support - one which was Dr Amy Kavanagh who was also undertaking her own talk at the event. She was an invaluable source of information and a really strong shoulder to lean on, in my moments of panic and uncertainty.
I discussed the product design of gaming headsets and how they were generally inaccessible to the d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, talking about the designs that could possibly happen in the future and where my research will take me. I would eventually like to work with a big gaming peripheral company like Logitech in creating a set of headphones that would be accommodating to those of us in the disabled community that require a more accessible headset. Many headsets I have had to remove my hearing aids to use, due to feedback and sheer discomfort. I am hoping that my research will encourage others to be more vocal about these issues and that manufacturers will take notice that these issues exist within the d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
I have to say that I went into the Tentacle Zone presentation rather blind, as I had not done any previous research on the company and I had not much idea about what they were about other than helping small companies in the video game industry expand and blossom. This was also the very first talk that myself and Chris undertook as I had recently become the Community Manager of Many Cats. With this being the first event that we had completed as a two-person team of Many Cats - I fully understood that all eyes were on us and Chris was watching me closely as to how I was able to deliver the information in the presentation. At this point, I also did not know who exactly we would be presenting to, how big the group was going to be or anything like that - so I still very much like I was winging it.
The topic of the presentation was ‘Accessible Studios’ and myself and Chris talked about many different facets of becoming such a thing - these included accessible social media, accessible events and event booths, accessible team meetings and general accessible behaviour throughout a gaming company. I was able to reuse parts of my research from Animex as I was able to talk about accessible headphone usage at events.
W Love Games
This was actually the same presentation as the one above, and as we pre-recorded it - we had to field questions from the Discord. As a team, we recorded the presentation beforehand and that meant that we were able to edit out any rambling. W Love Games is a Helsinki-based conference, centred around women in the gaming industry - and as Many Cats was now a company of two - Chris put me forward as the lead on this talk. As the Community Manager of Many Cats - that was primarily my job and I had even booked the day off my paying job so that I would be present and able to answer questions.
Unfortunately, the universe clearly had other plans that day as I managed to gash myself on a very sharp kitchen knife whilst washing the dishes. I had to visit my local Accident and Emergency department, phone in one hand to keep an eye on the questions and my other hand wrapped in a towel. I cannot say that it was my finest hour but like a champ, Chris filled in for me when I was not able to answer. I honestly do not want that to happen again, but I as glad that the conference was remotely held as I would not have been able to attend otherwise! I was also glad that I did make somewhat of an impression that day due to some interesting conversations I had with people in the Discord - and I was always glad to see that I was making a good impression on people. Discussing games and championing gamers or game developers with disabilities is my number one goal in the industry - something I hope to continue for a while.
What does the future hold?
Since W Love Games, I have also been invited to be a d/Deaf/Hard-of-hearing writer at Games Accessibility Nexus and I have also been part of the jury as the Nexus team for The Game Awards. As part of the team, we also undertook accessibility QA testing for Solas 128 - a small indie game produced by Scottish studio Amicable Animal - which then went on the win the Scottish BAFTA! I honestly can say that I am not sure how I am going to top that win!
As I am typing this, I am up for yet another award but this one is personal. Myself and Chris will be at the MCV Develop/Women In Games awards ceremony at the beginning of March 2021 for the Games Campaigner award - it feels very surreal and I was not sure how I deserved the award - but looking back on the things I have completed in the last twelve months, I can certainly see as to why someone may put me forward for the award. To say I am nervous is a complete understatement. But I know that everything I have undertook in the last twelve months has been completed with passion for my research and my love of the industry - with a foresight to only keep going and to continue to improve accessibility within the games industry.