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Danielle Riendeau, Editor-in-Chief

April 5, 2023

5 Min Read
how deep is the dark water character on beach

Across mental health concerns, DEI initiatives, and talks about designing more equitably for players with accessibility concerns, Game Developer staff wrote up a number of panels (and conducted interviews) throughout the show. While we can't attend every talk (I'll just keep linking to the vault here), here were a few of our pieces. We've also included some Road to IGF and Alt.Ctrl.GDC selections in the mix.

DEI is DOA: What's really failing inside the game industry's diversity efforts

At GDC 2023, Anita Sarkeesian described why current DEI initiatives at gaming companies are doomed to fail—and how "transformative justice" might foster better healing, more equitable workplaces.

Sarkeesian began by recounting increased public scrutiny and conversation about representation inside tech companies, particularly gaming companies, in the wake of social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. She pointed to a measured surge in DEI hiring throughout 2020, though she questioned the motives for these games industry hires. "Some were doing this with a sincere hope for making their studios a better place to work for their marginalized workers," she said. "Some of them were doing it as a performative response to social pressure."

As the invasion of Ukraine escalated, these devs found solace in a game jam

At GDC 2023, GDBAY co-founder Elene Lobova talks about her experiences during the invasion of Ukraine while maintaining a gaming community.

"It was important for me to make sure that everyone was on board with the decision; it was important for me to make sure that everyone understood that it was completely fine to cancel the game or to postpone it to an indefinite period," said Lobova about the talks to proceed with the event. "No one would ever say a [bad word] about us [if we canceled]. However, if we could make it work, I had to make sure everyone was on board 100%. I was lucky in this regard, my team members turned out to be much braver than I was. So I had so many concerns, but we decided to move forward."

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An Outcry explores the importance of a single personal choice

An Outcry sees a nameless character locked out of their apartment for the night, dealing with bigot neighbors and debating genocidal birds about their right to exist.

Twice in my lifetime, Austria had a far-right government in office. I helped at a communal safe space the second time, and talked to a lot of people. Shortly after the story's original impulse, Donald Trump was elected in the United States. Simply put: I lived life with people who were frightened and directly affected by the policies instated by these governments, and realized that many people (among them myself) were living their greatest fear in these times. In framing this as horror, this game intends to speak to them.

"Sticking your head in the sand won't help:" A mental health researcher pleads for game companies' data

Gaming companies need to stop being cagey with data in face of global health concerns: "The World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association aren't going anywhere."

Przybylski spoke to both fraught and promising attempts to engage the largest gaming companies on these matters: to get unfettered access to gameplay data that his teams can quantifiably study, without industry interference, to engage in "rigorous and credible research."

Telling emotional stories through evocative scenes in Rhett Tsai's How Deep Is the Dark Water?

By chasing a mysterious figure through almost dreamlike vignettes, How Deep Is the Dark Water? creator Rhett Tsai wants players to understand the emotional stories of communities and individuals displaced by war.

I wanted to convey the stories of civilians who have lost their families on social media, of diaspora communities around the world who have long since left their homes, and of older generations who have been unable to return home because of the geopolitical wars in Asia.

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Prioritizing mental health and understanding during Tiny Tina's Wonderlands

Gearbox's creative director Matt Cox and senior producer Kayla Belmore opened up on how they put their health first while making Tiny Tina's Wonderlands and how that affected the larger studio.

"The frontal lobe of our brain actually shuts down if we are overstressed," added Belmore. She stressed that creative people don't do their best work during those times, and emphasized the importance of good decision making. "Advocating for your own mental health is so important. It's actually science."

They were quick to shut down any toxic mindset playing any part in their advocacy. "This isn’t some uwu stuff, this isn’t conveying all the 'feel good' positivity," she continued. "This is just how we work."

Handling dystopian news in NotGames' Not For Broadcast

Not for Broadcast sees players handling the programming of a live nightly news broadcast, keeping things clean (or not) for government overlords.

I hope the player thinks not only that they should question the information they receive, but also how human and fallible we are. There are agendas out there, whether they are businesses looking to expand their profits, or governments that want to quash rebellion, but there are is also chaos and error. We should be much more careful about how much power we put on those whose voices reach the furthest.

"Participation on par with everyone else:" A rethink of accessibility in games

Accessibility-specific menus in games may not be enough. At GDC 2023, Ubisoft shares real-world examples of why some current accessibility options fall short.

"Accessibility," Thompson said as a point of differentiation, "is participation on par with everyone else. It's not a separate experience: no inconvenience, embarrassment, or pity, and it doesn't make someone stand out."

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Butterfly Soup 2 and creating games to help your past self

Butterfly Soup 2 once more hangs with a group of gay Asian-American teens as they play baseball, send 2009-era memes over text, and deal with the complexities of school and life.

I wanted to write a story that would’ve helped my teenage self, so a lot of the topics explored were struggles that I would’ve related to. For example, one of my everyday frustrations at that age was that I couldn’t tell my immigrant parents anything without it triggering criticism. It would’ve comforted me to see characters wrestling with the same problem, so in the story it went.

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About the Author(s)

Danielle Riendeau

Editor-in-Chief, GameDeveloper.com

Danielle is the editor-in-chief of Game Developer, with previous editorial posts at Fanbyte, VICE, and Polygon. She’s also a lecturer in game design at the Berklee College of Music, and a hobbyist game developer in her spare time.

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