I wrote the article below for Wireframe, a British game dev magazine which ‘lifts the lid on video games’. And, inexplicably, lets me have a monthly column.
Arthur Ashe was a pretty cool guy. He contracted AIDs from a blood transfusion but turned it into safe-sex awareness campaigns. He founded ethnically integrative programmes for people without health insurance twenty years before Obamacare. He grew up in the 40s in segregated Virginia and went on to become the only black tennis player ever to win the Australian Open, the US Open and Wimbledon.
He also had a pretty cool motto.
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
I’ve found it surprisingly useful in games.
Devs do a lot of talking. Over the last decade I’ve heard increasingly frequent discussion of sexism and feminism, ethnic diversity, sexuality and gender, and whether you can play games on easy and still call yourself a gamer. But for all the noise on social media and all the panels at events, I don’t see the same level of activity in real life. We talk about problems, but do we do that much about them?
I think there are three reasons why we don’t. Firstly, actions are harder than words. Secondly, it’s easy to feel that sharing a post or by talking about a problem is the same as actually fixing it. Thirdly, the industry issues we talk about are all big problems: it’s not ‘we’ve run out of milk’, it’s ‘solve homophobia’, or ‘get more black schoolgirls to code and apply for programming jobs when they’re older’. I can see why faced with a problem like that, it’s hard to know where to start.
A new genre of games emerged over the last few years which reflect this sense that everything’s too much. #selfcare or Kind Words are good examples: they’re designed to give players a dedicated space to do something small and easy and feel good about it. More widely, escapist wholesomeness like Animal Crossing or Ooblets are more and more in demand, their popularity directy proportionate to how stressed and unhappy we are in real life.
We all need an escape from reality, particularly in a global pandemic. And games about being kind to yourself are great. But doing your laundry in #selfcare doesn’t do your laundry in real life. Playing diverse games won’t encourage more black women to code. To make our industry a better place, we need to do things in the real world. But you don’t have to solve a problem definitively or find the ultimate cure-all. You can just help a bit. Spend an extra half hour finding unusual jobs boards to widen your likely pool of applicants. Update your HR policy with more generous parental leave. Enter your salary into the UK game dev salary list to foster equality and catch the gender pay gap.
Retweets are marginally better than not doing anything at all, but real-world acts are better. If we see any flaws in our industry, any at all, it’s our problem. Not someone richer, or someone more famous, or someone with probably more time on their hands. Games will be a better one if we take a more moderate, more achievable approach to social change.
Don’t worry if your game doesn’t tackle all possible diversity at once. It’s okay if you haven’t donated to every charity listed on UKIE’s website. Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. Even if it’s small, it’s something.