Database Crew Interviews – Part 2
This week, I’d like you to get to know Bea Livesey-Stephens, one of the first people eager to help out with making this Database! Bea is a long-time ally and advocate in the game accessibility and inclusion space and has been doing important work to further the cause.
You’ve been working to make games more accessible and inclusive for quite a while. What about this project made you want to help out?
The Database was something I felt that I was well-equipped to help with since it’s very much about documentation and user experience. I’m currently writing a thesis about safety tools and tabletop roleplaying games. Discussion of mental health, triggers, and squicks are abundant in my thesis, so I was really happy to be able to apply my knowledge within a community project that has direct impact and is already making waves. I especially liked working out how to represent certain content in the Database. It’s been really amazing to work alongside so many accessibility superstars such as yourself.
How do you see this database serving the push for more accessibility in games?
When I think of people’s or studio’s reasons to not make their games accessible, these reasons are often things like lack of time, lack of funding, or perceived lack of impact. The Database, first and foremost, is about information – keeping players in the know, and, as we say within the Database, allowing players to make choices to protect their mental health. Whilst I do believe there is a fundamental difference between someone being unable to play a game that centrally focuses on one of their phobias, and someone being unable to play a game because they are blind and there is no text-to-speech, I hope the Database helps devs to realise that whatever forms of accessibility measures they are able to implement have the same effects: helping more people to play their game. There will always be an impact when devs can make a game accessible in some way.
Some people feel that mental health and accessibility in games should be two separate entities. What are your feelings on that?
I absolutely believe that mental health is a fundamental subset of accessibility. Sometimes, what accessibility means for someone is “I cannot play this game, because it is all about one of my phobias, and I cannot deal with that.” I do think there is still considerable discussion to be had about when mitigation cannot be done, or if it can’t be done in specific ways, such as narrative elements. I think the “mental health and accessibility are separate” mantra ultimately ends up delegitimising how important ALL forms of accessibility are. No form of accessibility is inherently “more important” than another – yes, some may be easier to implement, but that doesn’t say anything about how important a certain feature or measure will be to a player.
Why are content and trigger warnings important for games?
These warnings are important in the same way as they’re important in movies and TV – knowing whether something is going to come up that could distress you, so you can make the choice to avoid it or engage with it – but in terms of games, you are a more active agent. You are advancing the game yourself, you are often acting as a character, and that character is often an extension of you. This naturally makes a game with challenging content very pervasive and very likely to affect us. I recently watched a movie that I thought I’d be able to handle after looking at the ESRB warnings on Netflix and hearing about it in the news, but the warnings were so vague that I wasn’t really prepared for the reality of how those elements were portrayed in the movie. If the movie had been a game I would have felt implicated in the narrative in a way that would have been more difficult for me to handle, especially because games have so many ways of implicating the player that movies do not. So many people don’t know that certain things are a trigger for them until that trigger comes up, or comes up in a context that they hadn’t considered. I know that the Database is going to help so many people in that regard, or will give people the information they need in order to feel ready to engage with certain content.
Was there anything you found particularly surprising when working on this project?
I learned so much about potential triggers in games that I’m partway through, which were things I wouldn’t have thought about looking up beforehand at all, and that I’m really glad to be informed of. This really comes back to the point about how so many players may not know that something distresses or triggers them until they encounter it in-game.