Accessibility and representation in games is a topic close to my heart, and this short video pretty much sums up why. It’s an interview with Ian Hamilton, one of the people behind Game Accessibility Guidelines — a really terrific resource that anyone interested in making games should look at regularly.
What people often don’t realise is that games aren’t just a bit of fun. The access that they give you to recreation, to culture, to socialising, is stuff that a lot of people take for granted. But if for some reason your means of accessing those things is restricted, then actually games can be a really powerful contributor to your quality of life.
Games are an amazing medium when it comes to allowing and enabling those who are often left by the wayside by mainstream society to participate. Often, from a development perspective, it’s as simple as allowing the players the freedom to customise their experience to fit their particular needs. And, as Hamilton says in the video, this isn’t just altruism: Making a game playable for more people means more people are likely to actually pay for it. Basically, we really have no excuse not to make our games as accessible as possible.
Go check out Games Accessibility Guidelines! Tell your friends in the games industry (and your boss, if you have one)! It really should be part of every developer’s toolkit.
In my ever ongoing quest for personal development, I have now started on the part where I improve as a gamer. This has nothing to do with skill, but rather appreciation. As I’ve mentioned before, my taste in games is rather narrow. I want to broaden my horizons, and if not learn to love new kinds of games, then at least gain some understanding for why other people do.
For this reason, I’ve dug into Rock Paper Shotgun’s Advent Calendar of 2016, where their excellent writers have collaborated in assembling a list of the 24 best games of the year. And while this definitely did give me some ideas of what to look out for when trying out games outside of my comfort zone, more than anything it helped me suss out why I play in the first place.
My Cup or Not My Cup, That Is the Question
I decided to sort the games I read about into categories – “My Cup of Tea”, “Not My Cup but OK”, “Meh” and “That’s Not Tea”.
The observant will notice that there are only 23 games in this table. That’s because one game got its own category, called “OH HELL NO!!!”. I’ll get back to that one later.
As it turns out, this very exercise shed some light onto what sort of games are attractive to me and what features turn me off.
The outside columns are easy to analyze. Looking at the games that immediately interested me and that I’m quite sure I’d enjoy playing, we have a few puzzle/adventure titles ranging from cute to eerie, a beautiful retro platformer, and Thumper – a bit of an outlier that, but I used to love Audiosurf. I’ve been itching to play The Witness since I first heard of it and was happy that it made Best Puzzle Game.
The games that RPS failed to get me interested in are predominantly focused on horror, gore and/or manly men shooting other manly men in the face. Or robots, or demons. Same diff. Duskers might have appealed to me if I enjoyed horror at all, but, well, I don’t. Hitman is interesting because of its sandboxiness, but that’s about it.
Getting Into Specifics
Looking at these games, as well as ones I’ve enjoyed in the past – and ones I’ve failed miserably at enjoying despite giving them my best((I’m sorry, Team Fortress 2!)) – a picture starts to form. Or, well, a couple of lists, really. Firstly, attributes that are likely to make me interested in a title:
Roleplaying((By which I mean getting to make choices as to who you are and how you interact with the world – not anything to do with stats, die rolls or inventories.))
Vibrant, colourful graphics and/or an interesting or unusual art direction
Female main character
And then of course, attributes that are likely to make me less interested in a title:
First person shooter or real-time strategy as the main game mechanic
Dying a lot
Drab colour schemes and/or an over-reliance on skulls&spikes or gory aesthetic
Lack of female representation, and/or over-sexualisation of women
Looking at these lists, it’s perhaps no surprise that the game RPS dubbed their Game of the Year didn’t even make the “That’s Not Tea” category. It’s called Devil Daggers, and the best I can say about what I’ve seen is that the art is brilliant. Pity it all consists of darkness and monsters.
Nope. Nope nope nope. Even the RPS writers were divided on it; while they mostly agreed that it’s extremely well executed, several of them seem to agree with me that such games are pretty much unplayable.
Anyway. What does all this really say about me as a gamer? In the end it comes down to why I play games in the first place.
The Point of It All
Games, for me, are a means to escape my life and either simply put every thought on hold for a while, or enter a different world and maybe even be someone else. In other words, I play games for much the same reasons as I read books and comics: To get entertained, and to experience things I can’t experience in my own life.
For a game to truly capture my attention, lots of little factors need to click. For instance, it doesn’t seem to matter if the story is interesting if the primary game mechanic involves shooting people (or monsters) and the world looks like a wasteland. This is why, no matter how clever and interesting I find Fallout lore, the actual games don’t work for me. Why should I spend time in a world that basically looks like Stockholm in January, but where pretty much everything that moves is trying to kill me?
FPS, RTS and all games that involve stress-inducing mechanics such as timers tend to leave me cold. After all, stress is one of the things I’m trying to get away from when I play. Competition is even worse – PvP has on occasion triggered pretty severe anxiety.
On the other hand, what I truly love is getting to explore worlds that are different from my own, and to get challenged just enough to keep my brain busy but never so much that my progress is halted. Most importantly in that respect, I don’t want to die. Few things break immersion for me as much as dying. I’m the hero of the adventure, if I die the adventure ends! Imagine if you were reading a book and suddenly the remaining pages spontaneously combusted because you read a sentence wrong, and you had to start over at the beginning of the chapter for the pages to appear again.
For similar reasons, I often find it difficult to get into games with a bird’s eye perspective. Whenever I mention enjoying RPGs, someone inevitably assumes I loved Baldur’s Gate – truth is, I didn’t care for it at all. Playing felt like moving pieces on a board, not like experiencing a story first-hand.
Expanding My Horizons
People change, and I’m changing a lot these days. Over the past year I have learned to tackle my insecurities and tolerate discomfort in ways I couldn’t before. And I hope that if I can just get past the worst hurdles, I will be able to play more types of games than the rather narrow range of puzzles, adventures and RPGs I tend to feel drawn to. I won’t love everything I try, of course, and perhaps I will discover that some genres simply aren’t for me. But I want to at least be able to understand what others see in the games I don’t enjoy.
So what games will I be trying out, to see if I can maybe learn to appreciate something different? The games in the second column all contain elements that pique my interest while at the same time containing game mechanics that I’m either completely unfamiliar with or doubt that I’d enjoy. Those feel like an excellent place to start.
Well – after I’ve finished The Witness, of course…