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Representation in Gaming: Why is it important?


alexm197

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The need to be seen and acknowledged is a fundamental part of our psyche. It validates us, it tells us that we matter and we belong. This feeds into our sense of identity and our self-esteem, determining how secure we feel in our environment.

Much of our sense of identity comes from the media we consume – books, music, films, TV, video games. They shape how we perceive the world around us. Some of them tell us how we should look, how we should talk, how we should act. If we don’t see ourselves in these forms of media, then we feel invisible, like we don’t belong. This is the basic principle of representation; being able to see people you can identify with in a variety of media.

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Regardless of the type of media, representation is key for us to be able to lose ourselves in a story. Particularly in video games, the deepest level of immersion occurs when we identify with the character that we’re playing as. This means that for the duration of the game, we effectively become that character. The more traits we have in common with this character, the more seamlessly we project ourselves into their shoes. These traits can be pretty much anything – sex, race, gender, physical or mental ability, sexuality, family history or personality. This is a reflection of our ability to empathise with and represent the minds of people in the ‘real- world’. The more they look, speak and act like us, the easier it is to understand them.

Conversely, when we struggle to identify with a character – i.e. when we don’t feel represented, it causes a feeling of disconnect with the game that you’re playing. It makes it harder to integrate yourself into the narrative – it doesn’t feel like ‘your story’. It’s as if the story was written for someone else; that you’ve been excluded.

Unfortunately, particularly in the gaming industry, the stories told tend to predominantly feature one specific type of character. Straight, physically-abled white men. This has changed in recent years, with some powerful and inspiring female characters emerging into the mix. However, 46% of US gamers identify as female and at E3 2019, only 5% of the games presented had a female protagonist.

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Similarly, we’ve seen limited progress in terms of representation for Black or Asian gamers, LGBTQ+ gamers, or those with disabilities. Given the increasing diversity of the gaming community, it’s important that representation catches up with the times.

BUT WHAT’S CAUSING IT?
Part of the reason for the tardiness in this area is lack of representation in the industry itself.  In an international survey of gaming industry employees, 74% identified as male, and 68% as white/Caucasian. In a UK census, 70% of industry employees identified as male, and 10% as black, Asian or other minority ethic. There’s a pleasant surprise here for LGBTQ+ representation, which reaches 21%, but this isn’t consistent worldwide. I wasn’t able to find any data about disabled employees, but the employment rate in this group is dismally low worldwide.

There’s also been significant resistance in some areas of the gaming community. This is possibly due to the rapid expansion of gaming into the mainstream over the last decade or two. In 2006, males accounted for 62% of the gaming community, but in 2019, they accounted for only 54%. A general downtrend in this ratio has happened since the 1990s, when video games were nearly exclusively marketed towards males.

Ironically, the people most opposed to equal representation are those that clearly understand how important representation is. When faced with a protagonist they can’t identify with (i.e. female, non-white or LGBTQ+), they quickly become disillusioned, feel excluded, and threaten to boycott the game. This happened recently with The Last of Us 2, where – SPOILER ALERT, the main character identifies as a lesbian. There was a massive backlash from areas of the community over this (and over the supposedly ‘unrealistic’ physical shape of another female character). Many of these were straight white males who couldn’t identify with a character that was so clearly different from them. Of course, it’s not just white men; women can be just as guilty of this type of knee-jerk reaction.

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And yes, it’s not all white male or female gamers – but the ones that do hold these views tend to be ones that have platforms, and who can shout louder than everyone else. It’s a pretty toxic combination that spells catastrophe in the Twittersphere when anything remotely related to representation rears its head.

THERE’S EVEN A BACKLASH AGAINST OPTIONAL FEATURES
Curiously, even the broadening of options in ‘build your own character’ RPGs can be met with hostility. There was outrage and accusations of pandering when Cyberpunk 2077 developers announced it wouldn’t have traditional gender options. Similarly, the internet kicked off when Temtem allowed players to choose their pronouns. These options in no way restricted the ability of people identifying with traditional male/female roles – but simply provided options to people who didn’t. In Temtem, if you identify as female, you can just opt for she/her pronouns. No-one is forcing you to use they/them pronouns if they don’t apply to you. Similarly, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t intend to remove the concept of gender. It will likely just provide a spectrum of options versus the traditional M/F boxes.

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But why is there so much resistance to these completely optional features? It’s one thing to resist representation when you feel you’re being excluded. It’s another thing entirely to reject options for inclusivity that in no way affect your ability to play a game. This highlights a wider and more pervasive issue that is reflected in society as a whole. An intolerance of diversity to the point of exclusion.

I think a lot of this is due to fear of the unknown – a primal instinct that allowed us to survive back in our caveman days. There’s also fear of change. For a long time, straight white males were the main demographic in gaming. Now they’re slowly being outnumbered by a diverse and ever-expanding gaming community. No-one likes change, especially when it feels like they’re losing out, or like they’re no longer the target audience for their favourite games. One of the main issues people have had with inclusivity is the so-called re-distribution of wealth. Here, focus and resources are seemingly stripped away from the demographic atop the pyramid and shared equally between community members. However, this viewpoint just demonstrates that there is an imbalance of resources that needs to be corrected.

SUMMARY
Representation is critically important for all members of the gaming community to belong and feel included. It’s not something political, it’s not an agenda – it’s a principle based on simple and basic fairness. That everyone should be able to see themselves and their experiences in the games they play, regardless of their sex, gender, skin colour, sexuality or ability.

If you can’t identify with a gaming protagonist and you’re feeling disillusioned or excluded – there’s good news – you’ve just found out why representation is important. You deserve to be seen, and so does everyone else.

 


Originally posted at: http://countrcultur.com/representation-in-gaming-why-is-it-important

Disability in Gaming: The Battle for Accessibility


alexm197

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Accessibility describes how easy something is to access – whether it’s a location, a product or a service. For people without a disability, most places, products and services are simple enough to access. This is for a very specific reason. They were designed with the so-called ‘average’ person in mind. This is likely because they were designed, built and tested by people with no accessibility issues. That is to say, people without a mental or physical condition that limits their ability to do everyday tasks.

That’s the technical definition of disability – and current statistics indicate that 15% of the global population have such a condition. Disability affects everyone differently. It can be visible or invisible, it can be intrusive or have a minimal impact on your day-to-day life.

The main challenge that people with disabilities face, regardless of the nature of our disability, is that we live in a world that is not built for us. This often brings challenges – which might be physical (e.g. finding transport if you use a wheelchair), or mental (e.g. making a phone call if you have autism). Everyday tasks can become mountains, and accessibility is the deciding factor as to whether we can climb them.

Accessibility doesn’t just affect our ability to live day-to-day – it affects our ability to enjoy ourselves. Many items of technology, e.g. phones, computers, consoles, are built for people who don’t have a disability. Unfortunately, this restricts the degree to which some people with disabilities can use them. We often have to purchase additional accessories or adaptive devices just to be able to access them.

This is particularly true for gaming. For many people with and without a disability, gaming is simple. Turn on the machine, interact with the controller/keyboard, play the game. For some of us, the controller or keyboard itself is part of the problem. For others, it’s the game interface (e.g. subtitles) or mechanics that require a fast reaction time that impede us. This often restricts our ability to play games, or specific types of games.

Despite the challenges, many of the disabled community are active gamers. Accessibility has become a greater focus in recent years thanks to the tireless efforts of disability campaigners and accessibility charities. Special Effect and Able Gamers in particular contributed to the development of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device designed with and for gamers with physical disabilities.

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This is a fantastic step forward, and a testament to what can be achieved when the community are involved in product development. Despite this, there is still a lot of work to be done to make gaming fully accessible. Accessibility shouldn’t just be an afterthought or an add-on – it should be an integral part of the design process. Even game developers and publishers are coming around to this conclusion. A recent example; EA’s FIFA 18, included additional accessibility options after a collaboration with Special Effect. These options allow gamers to re-map controls to make them easier to use.

To get a better understanding of the current state of accessibility in gaming, I reached out to other members of the disabled community to look at what can be done to improve access to gaming.

We had a lot of great responses from the community, so we’ve picked five to share with you:

WHICH GAMES ARE YOU PLAYING AT THE MOMENT?
Smirgutt
: Mario Odessy, Animal Crossing (on Switch Lite), old skool Runescape and recently quit FLYFF.

Cristal1337: CS:GO, Dota2, Valorant, SFV and some clicker/idle games. From time to time I’ll also play RDR2, Skyrim, FO4, Minecraft, MTG and Pokémon TCG Online. My main focus lies in esports games, but I consider myself to be a well-rounded gamer.

SwiftlyGregory: I really like sandbox games like The Sims series, but I play a lot of RPGs as well like the Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy series, and I still play the older generations of the Pokemon games.

WhyAllTheGoo: Currently Hollow Knight, and Binding of Isaac

zombiearchivist: I have been playing a lot of Fire Emblem: Three Houses recently. I don’t do so much video gaming as much anymore. I do a lot of miniature and board games.

DOES YOUR DISABILITY AFFECT THE TYPE OF GAMES YOU CAN PLAY?
Smirgutt: Yes, unfortunately it does. No more pc games for me.

Cristal1337: I was born with a muscle illness and have been a gamer my whole life. My disability does not affect the type of games I can play. However, I have a strong preference for using a keyboard and mouse. Over the years, controllers have become more difficult to use. What happens is that my hands cramp up.
I play SFV using a keyboard. Now I know this is, in itself, rather unconventional, but it works for me. I configured the WASD keys for movement and the Numpad for the rest of the keys. There are some limitations to my ability to press multiple keys at the same time, so that does have an impact while playing. Nevertheless, I feel like I can easily keep up with the average player. However, to circle back to the question, it does have a slight impact, but I don’t feel like I am held back significantly.

SwiftlyGregory: Absolutely. PC games usually feel more accessible to me, because I just can’t hold a controller for very long without pain. This kinda sucks because a lot of games I’d really like to play are only available on console (looking at you, Square Enix). But I also find a lot of fast-paced games overwhelming because I struggle with brainfog and focus, and my hand don’t always do exactly what I tell them to do so I die a lot in those kinds of games.

WhyAllTheGoo: Yes, certain cartoon styles give me a headache and severe red eye. I also can’t see 3D so I have a 2DS instead.

zombiearchivist: I have most of my right hand missing an absolutely consider myself a gamer. I struggle with FPS and games that require me to use button combos. I use an Xbox style controller for both my PC and my Switch Lite.

WHAT CAN THE INDUSTRY DO TO MAKE GAMES MORE ACCESSIBLE TO GAMERS WITH DISABILITIES?
Smirgutt: Being able to switch the controls would help me as my left hand is stronger. Being able to automate gestures of actions (on PC) stuff like that would help me a lot. I do miss PC gaming a lot as it was my main way of interacting with people.

Cristal1337: I think that creating certain standards would drastically improve game accessibility. Developers need to come together and create a list of accessibility features and tools that should always be implemented. While developing a game, this list can be worked through, making sure that what is produced, has a certain level of accessibility. To accomplish a well-rounded list, like I mentioned, one needs to tackle the problem systematically, because there is more than Motor Disabilities. This needs proper research. However, if I were to give a suggestion, look at what people with disabilities use in their daily lives. Many have joysticks for their wheelchairs and these joysticks can be connected to a computer. Drivers that allow these every-day controllers to be used in games would be a game-changer!

SwiftlyGregory: This is sort of specific, but I recently bought a PlayStation just so I can play the FF7 Remake, and I can’t read the text unless I’m right next to the screen. There’s not options to change the contrast or font size to make it easier to read, either. I can’t play the game unless my husband is in the room to help me read the instructions and stuff, and that was really disappointing. In contrast, The Sims 4 had an update last year (I think) that added accessibility options that allow you to change the size of the UI so it’s easier to navigate for people with visual impairments.
A lot of people with disabilities are gamers, and some of us have a lot of time on our hands to game. I think if companies realized this more, they’d be more willing to design games that are more accessible for us!

WhyAllTheGoo: I would like to see more options available so many people who have other more severe prosthetics could game safely and cheaply

zombiearchivist: Control Mapping is my number one issue. I stopped playing Vermintide II for PC and emailed the game designers calling them out since I couldn’t actually play with any enjoyment because I couldn’t map controls to my preference (Southpaw is my default) and then because I hit more than 6 hours I couldn’t get a refund from Steam, so I was out $60 and the only response was, “Maybe we’ll get to that.” I left a poor review so fast on Steam and have never wanted a company to go under so much. This was also why I had to buy a controller for my Switch Lite with Marvel: Ultimate Alliance III since the team power up abilities are all on the right bumper and trigger.

CONCLUSION
It was really interesting to read everyone’s responses. As some of you may know, I’m autistic myself, so my experience of disability is very different from other people’s. My dyspraxia prevents me from using a keyboard to play games effectively. Most of the time, I end up mapping an Xbox controller to play PC games. I’m also very light-sensitive and certain frame rates/first-person views make me feel nauseous as hell, so I can only play some games for a short period of time.

Looking at people’s responses for how the industry can improve – we had some really detailed feedback and great suggestions. There is definitely a need for a wider range of adaptive controllers, particularly affordable options. The Xbox Adaptive Controller is one of the main options on the market at the moment (and there are some Logitech accessories to go with this), but is a little bit pricey at 74.99 GBP/99.99 USD.

There are also limited options for in-game accessibility. A couple of EA games seem to be the most forward-thinking in this regard (although there may be some others that I’m unaware of). However it would be good for all new games to have an accessibility mode as standard that includes a wide range of accessibility options like text adjustment/control mapping/animation speed adjustment (e.g. for QTEs/parrying etc.)/character damage reduction based on the type of game.

In conclusion, the gaming industry is definitely moving forward in terms of accessibility for disabled gamers, but there’s still work to be done to ensure video gaming is as inclusive as possible. As mentioned earlier, accessibility needs to be a priority during console and game design to ensure that as many people as possible can play the games they love.

We’d like to thank everyone who responded (and sorry if we weren’t able to include your response in the article!).

This article is part of an ongoing series about improving accessibility in gaming. If you have a disability, and you’d like to contribute to this, or have anything you’d particularly like us to write about, drop us a message below or on social media.

Fallout 76 Impressions: Not Another Redemption Story


alexm197

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Fallout 76 launched on Steam recently and, somehow, ended up with a ‘mostly positive’ rating. Given the state F76 launched in, and the vitriol with which it was met, this was a surprise to say the least. The live service space is awash with redemption stories. If Hello Games was able to redeem former refund simulator, No Man’s Sky, I was hopeful Bethesda had done the same with Fallout 76. They absolutely haven’t.

This is my experience of Fallout 76.

PERFORMANCE – I7 6800K, GTX 1070, 16GB DDR4, M.2 NVME
As you awaken in Vault 76, you hear a pre-recorded voice saying “This is the overseer”. That’s as far as I got before the game crashed and rendered my system unresponsive. By the time I exited the vault, I had restarted twice. As I exited the vault, I needed to restart again.  This was a consistent experience.

I performed the usual trouble shooting actions; scan and repair, uninstall and download again, changed from borderless to full window (which requires a restart). Nothing resolved the issue. At most, I was playing for 45 minutes before restarting my PC.

Concerned that this was the result of hardware failure or system instability, I completed hours of stress tests. To eliminate this concern, I used Cinebench, Haven, and Prime95 stress tests. All reported functioning within the norm, with no warnings reported by Prime95 after 3 hours of its taxing torture test. Likewise, Witcher 3 on 1080p/Ultra (no hairworks) was running at a solid 60FPS in Novigrad.

As such, the instability experienced while playing can’t be attributed to component failure or system instability. They can only be attributed to Fallout 76.

I spent an entire day and a half trying to get F76 to run well. This day and a half was split equally between playing and attempting various fixes. I experienced more instability and system wide crashes with Fallout 76, in one day, than I have experienced over this past year.

This may not be your experience of the game. Indeed, r/fo76 has a healthy user base enjoying the game absent issue. However, I found this game to be an unstable mess. It is categorically not fit for purpose.

COMBAT
The evolution of Fallout combat culminated with Fallout 4. It more or less eliminated the impact of character proficiency in favour of a more Call of Duty-like system. It was basically an open-world FPS than RPG. The combat, however, was overly reliant on the VAT system. VATS allows you to freeze time to target specific body parts for increased damage, with damaged dealt tied to random number generators. It’s very helpful if, like me, you suck at FPS combat. This is the same system Bethesda have taken into Falout 76.

Because Fallout 76 is a continuous, shared world, VATS cannot freeze time. Instead, enemies move as normal and the system automatically targets enemies for you. As a result, the combat feels a little more perilous than it did in Fallout 4. Which aids the feeling of struggling to survive. Where the combat, lacks though, is in the complete absence of impactful feedback.


The sound, recoil, and damage animations likewise feel bereft of impact, and it just leads to an overall lack of immersion. Perhaps I’m used to Destiny 2 or DOOM, but those have set the bar and Fallout 76 just doesn’t reached it.

The feeling of regression is exacerbated by often unresponsive AI. While using melee combat, my attacks often didn’t seem to register with enemies. This occurred with molerats, in particular, but was definitely not exclusive to them. This is in stark contrast to the hyperalert, and deathly accurate robots.

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r/fo76 users have had similar issues

The hostility of robots is unpredictable as well. Mr. Handy’s would spontaneously become hostile as world events started. These events are there to make the world to feel dynamic. However, these events feel shoehorned when they just randomly start attacking you, when they were placid two seconds prior.

BUILDING
Building is much the same as it is in Fallout 4. Just with the addition of an unrelenting grind. You deconstruct items collected while exploring or form enemy drops, and these contribute towards the development of walls, workbenches, guns, armour and meals. I may be recalling incorrectly, but it feels like construction now requires more parts. However, the building is very fun.

Because building is the end result of the gameplay loop, it’s pretty easy to get lost in this. Have a look at what you want to build, find the components, build and repeat. It’s a soothing loop, and one I dedicated countless hours while exploring the wastelands of Fallout 4. It’s also one I’ve enjoyed in Rust and Don’t Starve. So, if you enjoy those games, there’s definitely something for you here.

WOODEN AND DEVOID OF EMOTION
I feel this is amongst the most significant failings of the game. It is hilariously poor and tragically immersion breaking in equal measures.

Protectron still stutters around, uttering nonsense. Liberators are faster but their animations are clunky. Mutants move clunkily, with their melee attacks feeling unnatural. When animals are shot, rather than fleeing becoming hostile, almost always remain still for several seconds. Everything feels very wooden, and it extends to human NPC’s as well.

As part of an interaction at a bar, I sat just to the left of the bar tender before initiating the trade menu. As she began speaking to me, welcoming me to her bar, the NPC just continued looking dead ahead, never turning her head to make eye contact. Kind of contradicting her warm, welcoming dialogue. This was fairly typical of my interactions with NPC’s.

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Yes, Duchess is speaking to me


This just adds to the whole sense that NPC’s are devoid of emotional range. They dispassionately express the reasons for their plight, with facial animations and body language that are as puzzling as they are incongruous. Flat voice acting really adds to this state of constant dissonance. NPC’s urgently request your help, but lack the inflection and urgency in their tone to convey this.

It all feels vey last gen. Before The Witcher 3, God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2. Before developers and game directors realised that the overall experience of games is improved by immersive and believable voice acting.

16 TIMES THE DETAIL…
I understand that the wasteland is not meant to be pretty. It’s meant to be hostile and dreary. However, I’m almost certain that it’s not supposed to look last gen.

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Assets, such as leaf piles, hover over above the ground, while plant shoots are clearly two dimensional and jagged to boot. Tree bark is blurry, devoid of even the detail of those in Pokemon Sword and Shield. Wooden shacks are devoid of character due to the repeated use of assets throughout the wasteland. Bushes and mutfruit plants move very little, even in radiation storms.

After a few hours of gameplay, I became tired of the eyesore. Tired of the jaggies. Tired of looking at a current gen title that looks like it launched on the PS3. So, I decided to check FPS stability for 1080p/ultra.

It was already running ultra-settings.

In fact, the only thing that I could adjust was depth of field, and all that achieved was to increase the salience of asset popping.

Not every game needs to look like Death Stranding, but F76 is not a pretty game. It’s every bit a visual step back from Fallout 4. Honestly, this is closer to Skyrim (2011) than a current gen game.

OVERALL
In my experience, Fallout 76 is not a redemption story. It’s a technical mess, which serves as a painful reminder of what Bethesda have become. It is, in every conceivable way, a step backwards from Fallout 4.

Aesthetically, it’s indistinguishable from a last-gen entry. Combat-wise, the series is well behind other live service games. Even Anthem feels impactful and responsive in comparison. The animations are immersion shatteringly poor. The voice acting is wooden and exacerbated by stiff movements and expressionless faces.

Other than enjoying the gameplay loop, my experience of the game left uncertain as to what its redeeming qualities actually are. Much less why I would choose to enjoy the gameplay loop in this broken mess of a game, rather than in Don’t Starve, Ark or Rust, where I could do so without the constant crashes.

My time in the Wasteland left me with one conclusion. Even if Fallout 76 had content to rival what you would find in God of War or Witcher 3, the game is just too broken for me to care. 

Originally posted at: http://countrcultur.com/fallout-76-impressions-not-another-redemption-story/

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