From the jump I’ll be upfront and forthright with my bias. As a game dev and writer of fiction, I have always supported the effort to provide a diverse and inclusive narrative in everything in which I’ve had the good fortune to be involved. It matters. It truly, truly, really, really matters. There are voices to be heard, characters to cherish, and stories to tell on themes otherwise neglected in our media until recently.
This is about representation of authentic human character, diversification of myriad complexities within that representation, and the accessibility of those stories to our gamer colleagues who live with disabilities.
There is software, the story … and hardware, the tools with which gamers with impaired movement or cognition are able to interact with the story.
As a gamer, I’d like you to reflect back on your time with games. Non-gamers can play along with a reflection of film, music, book or any other kind of media art that touches your soul.
Think hard. Remember that time, that first time, when a narrative gripped at you? Can you recall a particular theme or character that spoke to you in a way that felt custom made to sing directly to you? Something, somewhere deep, deeper than the superficial, linked your heart to that experience. You were moved. You were impacted.
Now, set that one piece of the complex marvel of who you actually are aside. You have that: a shining, glowing link that locks away a treasure all your own, but there is more to you, isn’t there? You can always go back to this thing that represents you to you, but beyond that, you have everything else in the experience of being human.
What if I told you that you were never allowed or able to have that shining, glowing link?
What if I told you that you were able to have something like it, something vague and generic, something rudimentarily, starkly black and white, and that you’d have to be satisfied with it.
It would injure you and your relationship with the whole of games – because in that scenario, games betrayed you. An entire medium of entertainment art has neglected to provide you with anything of worth to which you could anchor.
It would isolate you. You could see the joy of games on the faces of all the people not like you. Alike in their own way of being human, but distant from you in the luxury of being seen. They would get their shining, glowing link. You would get escapism, distraction, entertainment, but not investment.
We are a storytelling species. Our minds are designed to seek out patterns, so we want to see ourselves in the stories we encounter. To find ourselves rooted in the narrative crafted by another, calculate our choice and place, then review the unfolding of the plot around that with which we identify as intrinsic to us, is one of the greatest ways to feel valued and seen.
In this, representation, diversity, and accessibility in game development, from staffroom to plot, is paramount. Authenticity of voice and outgrowing a reflex to use tokenism in narrative design is the best path to evolution in the art. This extends beyond the superficial and includes more than permitting a minority a leading role. It involves games reflecting the world in which we live in a way that provide meaningful gameplay and encompasses the vibrancy of the complex world around us.
Stories need to have a relevance. Stories need to matter. It is our responsibility, as either developers or gamers, to support the endeavor of inclusion.
If you’ve gotten this far in the post and feel a growing disagreement brewing, I’ll give you this: the single most useful exercise in empathy in interactive art involves coming from a set of previous experiences in which you felt represented and moving into a scenario in which you feel suddenly under-represented. You can pull from a bank and analyze from a perspective absolutely unique as your own. There is value in this. It matters.
So, moving forward, let’s celebrate representation, diversification, and accessibility where and when they occur. Let’s give light to variety of voices and know that a variety of stories will follow. Let’s believe in the process of progress and the medium. Games as more diverse and inclusive become more available and relatable to us all.