What I Learnt Revisiting Childhood Games in 2020

Featured image description: White text on a pink background that says: “What I Learnt Revisiting Childhood Games in 2020″. On the right is the a logo for the blog, ”Trans Autistic Feminist” (a gold neurodiversity helix on a black trans symbol) with the blog name in purple.

Hi all,   

Lately, I’ve been a bit exhausted by various political issues happening in my country. So after the last two quite serious posts, I’m going to talk a bit about something more lighthearted. I’m going to talk about replaying (and actually finishing) many childhood games during my long period of homelessness and what I learnt from it.

A bit of background  

I used to be pickier with games growing up in some ways. If a game didn’t hook me immediately, I’d stop playing it and usually sell it after a while. I wasn’t sure why as a kid, but later as an adult, I’d realise a lot of it came down to the slow burn nature of many games, especially Japanese RPGs.   

Instead, what I do remember, was becoming more interested in games like Dragon Quest, Persona and most regrettably, Hyperdimension Neptunia. I think the lighthearted cartoon aesthetics those games had helped draw interest there. Additionally, the linearity for many of those games in comparison to something more open like Xenoblade was less overwhelming for me. I can understand why this would be the case, but it led to missing out on what were many of the best games for the Wii, 3DS and other platforms back in the day.  

It was only a couple of years prior I had finally left games journalism. This was partially due to the burnout that was caused by having to review video games to tight deadlines. Many of these games were not accessible to some degree, such as PC games (because I find playing on a PC complicated) and games with lots of grinding. Since then, I was learning to re-enjoy my hobby, especially as lockdown and prolonged homelessness/trauma meant I couldn’t even attempt to address employment issues. Hence one goal I set was to try to beat some of the games I didn’t play as a kid.   

Two fashionably late RPG reattempts

The first title was the Switch version of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. It quickly became one of my favourite games due to the epic world-building, storyline and music. Additionally, the revised gameplay (and accessibility tweaks) meant this was perhaps one of the most accessible and easy-to-play RPGs I’ve ever played. After around 60 plus hours of playing the game, it emerged as one of my favourite games.   

I don’t remember much of the original, aside from that I didn’t get far. However, the lack of accessibility features, the confusion over where to go and the visually bland art style was likely why I lost interest. All of these were standard features of older RPGs in particular, meaning players often had to resort to guides to work out how to proceed.   

The other game was the 3DS version of Tales of the Abyss. A while after it came out back in the day, I got it from a game shop when I picked up a copy with an incorrect price tag on. I played it for a couple of hours, then sold it a while later.   

During the lockdown, this was another game I picked up again. This was partially due to being stuck in unsuitable accommodation where I could do little else but survive, so it was essential self-care. I knew going in again two things – it’s considered one of the best Tales of games and the main character, Luke, is an incredibly selfish asshole for the first arc of the game. After playing it, that game too became one of my favourites. Much like Xenoblade, the story and world-building were fantastic, as were the characters (including the asshole’s complete 180-character development mentioned arc earlier).   

The grand replay   

Super Mario 3D All-Stars was something else I was really looking forward to. This is because this compilation of classic 3D Mario games finally gave me the chance to replay one of my favourite games of all-time portably. That game was Super Mario Galaxy. It was fantastic replaying it again after so many years. Being able to see visual enhancements as well as significant audio improvements by having the music replaying in my headphones helped immensely with immersion, for example.  

I was also able to finally play Super Mario Sunshine as I never had the chance to play the GameCube original. It wasn’t a perfect re-release particularly for Super Mario Galaxy (the motion controls were a barrier for me and completely inaccessible for others). However, a handheld version of Super Mario Galaxy but was something I personally wanted for ages and could access, so in that sense I was satisfied. Everything else was the icing on the cake. However, I do believe this re-release should have been better overall. This is for the following reasons: 

  • inaccessibility 
  • absence of Super Mario Galaxy 2 
  • being a limited-time physical and digital release
  • no physical bonus (unlike the 25th anniversary SNES Super Mario All-Stars re-release on the Wii) 

Curation and accessibility are critical 

The key reasons why I enjoyed these games more – much like gaming in general – are because of the following:   

  • I pick versions with the most accessible formats – this meant prioritising handheld versions of games, plus games with features like turn rewind, accessible difficulty mode, hint movies, option to disable motion controls/vibration etc.)   
  • More maturity
  • More awareness of both gaming and cultural differences meant I could better understand the design approaches many developers took.
  • Better understanding of problematic and triggering content (including both in games and behind the scenes). This is, so I knew what to play and what to avoid. I haven’t played a Hyperdimension Neptunia game for years nor any recent AAA game, for example. 

So, in other words, I learnt to rebuild my love for video games on my terms. Gone were the obligations from reviewing games that meant I could not take my time or drop games I wasn’t enjoying or could not play. Gone was the consumption of inaccessible games which forced lots of grinding and repetition that led to burnout. Gone are the toxic weeaboo and far-right gamer communities I didn’t know I was in till after I left. Various forms of bigotry are commonplace in many gamer spaces. 

It was going back to games from my past and rewriting experiences so that they were more positive all around. It was moving away from mediocre RPGs like Hyperdimension Neptunia and investing time in games that are worth playing. It also meant looking more towards games that have good LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent representation if not directly led by marginalised people themselves.  

It’s time to heal some more

Thinking about this on a deeper level leads to more interesting thoughts. Firstly, this is also another form of empowerment, that can be used to make incredibly traumatic periods of life less so. The comfort, escapism and monotony of video games can aid recovery from bad situations. This helped me during the roughest period of my life to date, both in terms of coping and being able to devote more time to solving my situation constructive. As a result, I become more robust emotionally and skill-wise, plus better able to cope and get stuff sorted.  

To deviate a bit from the initial discussion at the start, this is why many marginalised people used to social isolation are drawn to games, such as LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent people. This is why many of us play games, and others develop them or ramble about them in some way. I do so on my Twitter and is one reason why I tried to crack games journalism in the past. This is why there has been a more significant push for LGBTQ+ representation in video games in recent years as marginalised people got their seat at the table.  

As it is, most of the main protagonists in the games mentioned in this article are cishet men. How different could things have been if I had played a game with a transgender woman as a protagonist? At the time, I thought I was cis. I hence didn’t question representation as abled cishet manhood was society’s default perspective and thus mine. This isn’t to say the cishet male protagonists I played as were terrible – not by a long stretch. Shulk, the protagonist of Xenoblade Chronicles, is a favourite of both Nintendo and Japanese RPG fans for a reason.

The same applied to accessibility, yet as an adult, it is now one of the most important things I look for in games. I hope that as games with marginalised people have full creative control become prominent, we will see regular multiplatform releases. Previously these games were limited only to PC or mostly tokenistic rep in the mainstream space. Celeste is an excellent example of a game that oozes charm only neurodivergent creators could produce. 

Conclusion

If games had more good experiences with LGBTQ+ and accessible content growing up, perhaps this would have helped us mentally. Maybe it would have helped us persist through games and genres with aspects that aren’t particularly enjoyable, such as grinding. For me, this is the underlying message of going back through these games and playing through them properly. A trip through time can put a lot of opinions into perspective. 

Regardless, it’s essential to give us space, safety and accessibility required for us to enjoy games irrespective of age, background and life circumstances. After all, games are for everyone. This includes replaying childhood titles. 

Milla x  

If you wish to support me, I have a Ko-fi you can donate to here. I don’t expect donations but I appreciate them. Thanks!

What to Know When Accessing Services for the First Time

Featured image description: White text on a pink background that says: “What to Know When Accessing Services for the First Time”. The words “Accessing Services” are larger and curved upwards like a smile. On the right is the a logo for the blog ,”Trans Autistic Feminist” (a gold neurodiversity helix on a black trans symbol) with the blog name in purple.

Content warning for discussion of systematic ableism, gaslighting

Hi all,

Navigating services in 2020 is a huge challenge, as people who have been following politics and issues concerning marginalised people will be aware of. Here are some things to know when navigating services as a multiply marginalised person. This article is aimed primarily at people who need to access support for the first time and have no previous experience dealing with it first hand.

Know what you are getting yourself into.

People who engage services often have no other choice. Hence, due to how dire the situation is with services, it is often seen as a last resort. This will affect how much of a priority you are seen as by services – and this is even further complicated by those with additional support needs or marginalisations. Hence, you need to do research in relation to how said services treat people who fit your marginalisations. This is so you know where to go and where to avoid. Likewise, research local laws such as the UK’s Equality Act 2010 so you can understand your rights regarding what you need help with.

Sites of large organisations are a good place to start, as they explain relevant laws and concepts in plain English and other language equivalents. However, other recommend sources are actually service users as well as user-led organisations. This is because they can explain the situation on the ground away from positive marketing and any secret backroom deals major funders may place on services (this is one reason the UK’s largest disability charities do not hold the DWP to account properly).

There will be a lot of waiting and a lot of rejections

Before I go on, I want to clarify that the behaviours outlined by services below is NOTHING personal against the users by the service providers in many cases. Many staff members want to help, but the awful process of accessing support is the result of government policy that forces them to make difficult decisions on who gets help. It also means they often wait until peoples circumstances get worse before they will help. Service users basically need to answer the following question implicitly asked by each service:

“Why do we have to help? Why can’t anybody else?”

It will be a fight to get anywhere. This will drag out far longer than necessary, so don’t set yourself an expectation of a date where you hope you have what you need. This is because it is very likely what you need won’t happen promptly at best.

Why do services reject people?

Services will often reject people for many reasons. A lot of it will come down to trying to reduce their workload so they don’t have to deal with as many people as the funding they have doesn’t allow it. Hence service users need to keep persisting as much as possible. Rejections usually despite good intentions as often services just cannot help somebody properly, however bigotry is sometimes the case. Some ways these rejections happen include:

  • Misinterpreting the law on purpose to justify gatekeeping – this is where services relying on service users not understanding the law or having the energy to fight back even when they do understand it. One example is not giving somebody the correct priority for a service, such as denying emergency accommodation to somebody that is sofa surfing and could be on the streets at anytime.
  • Citing requirements not made clear before initial contact – This is where sometimes a service user discloses something that leads the service to state that they can’t help someone regardless of how true it is. This is even when conversations initially go well, and support is promised. I had this happen repeatedly when I tried to access services, usually after I disclosed that I was homeless. Another scenario is when your eligibility criteria is changed over time, following a separate or related appointment that someone is told to report feedback on. This also happened to me. It was not made clear to me that anything said at the appointment could affect my elgibility. Because it was, I was ejected from the service with no chance of appeal. Services can get around this by being more clear at the beginning at the request, however I suspect they don’t do this partially because the ambiguity allows them to dodge accountability.
  • Nitpicking – this is where they purposely reject people for very minor reasons or for how they think could react in situations very unlikely to happen. Or if they do, they do not consider that people already have action plans to counteract them nor attempt to find out before rejection.
  • Nonsense – this is basically where services can make up reasons to justify their rejections that is legal to do, but is obviously nonsense to the service user. One example is blaming an autistic person’s mental illness on them being autistic to deny counselling and discharge them, when this is untrue. They know it doesn’t matter if its lies, as long as it’s legal to do so they will get away with it.
  • Not responding to initial contact or following up (ie. A callback) – I am told this is essentially a face-saving act for the service, so that services indirectly let people down rather than have to deal with bad reactions from people when they know they are not eligible. Other times emails, calls etc. are genuinely forgotten about due to workload, but then by the time people find it again, they decide its not worth addressing due to how long it has sat there.

Accessibility needs will often not be met

Services will wrongly assume that every person can use the phone and act accordingly. That means some of the most vulnerable people will struggle to access services. You will often have to repeat your access needs to people countless times before they finally understand and respect them. This is discrimination but like with rejections, services will often get away with it. What I did to mitigate this was write multiple paragraphs in my email signature to pre-emptively stop these conversations. While nobody should have to take steps like this, it works.

You will be forced to repeat your history which each new service you talk to

Many services will have their own assessment proceedures that staff at these services have to follow, which at best is incredibly annoying. This is because the assessments between each service are broadly the same in content, even though what each service provides can differ significantly especially when services are specifially for certain groups (ie. Many services for people my age will often have the following specialisms – Young people, Women, LGBTQ+, Trans-only, People of Colour, Asian, Muslims, Disability, Neurodivergent).

Unfortunately, a major downside of this means reliving trauma as people will not simply just reuse existing information for their own, they must follow the proceedures they have and ask for entirely new recounts of the same information. What I did to help mitigate this was to write an extensive summary of my situation and supplied that to help me communicate what I needed to and give them evidence to use for their assessment.

A lot of mainstream advice is cookie cutter, irrespective of marginalisations and individual needs

Systematic bigotry exists everywhere and default advice in the Western world centres the perspectives of white abled neurotypical cishet men. This is subconscious, because most people are uninformed on how suitable or not their advice. Usually it is because they are trained to give said stock advice and signposting . Hence, be prepared to hear the same well-meaning advice from services and for them to be unable to help you when you point out how it isn’t suitable. At it’s worst, it is unsolicited advice that is both deeply triggering and unsuitable especially as trauma stacks up over time. It is also often done when people are being rejected from services.

Some examples:

  • Telling a homeless people who has never managed a tenancy before they can go private as an option and enclosing a bunch of documents meant to help them on their way, but not helping them understand
  • Sending a list of phone numbers to call regarding mental health support, even though this doesn’t work for everyone and isn’t accessible
  • Urging people to contact the police so they can deal with abusers criminally, even though for many minority groups especially black people, this is not viable.
  • Telling disabled people to “chase up” services, even though said service contact methods are inaccessible and people there don’t respond to messages or call back
  • Encouraging autistic and LGBTQ+ people to “change who they are,” thinking it will help, despite lots of evidence to the contrary

This is why I mentioned getting facts from service users and user led orgs earlier as part of your research.

Some services gaslight to ignore systematic barriers

This is likely the most triggering pat of the article for many, so this is it’s own section. Services can also act in a way that is dismissive of legitimate systematic barriers towards marginalised groups when said cookie cutter advice from above is challenged. This is when services dismiss real and valid issues that affect a whole group as somebody’s personal fears or anxiety. Examples include:

  • Why BAME and black people do not trust the police and avoid all non-essential engagement
  • Why disabled people do not trust social security offices or doctors, so often do not get what they’re entitled to to survive
  • Why reaching out for mental health support can be dangerous for autistic and other neurodivergent people
  • Why a trans person outing themselves to single gender services like refuges can be dangerous

The way services will say it indirectly is “You feel that [this systematic barrier/danger] is an issue, but we don’t accept this. We will claim that all users are required to engage with [said systematic barrier/danger] regardless of personal or systematic barriers.” This is an attempt to absolve themselves of any responsibility of educating themselves and addressing their unconscious biases, but in reality signifies to service users they are not to be trusted. It is a warning sign of bad support. Do not engage services that do this where possible.

You may have to take drastic action upon being failed, including relocation to places where specialist support is

Outside of major cities (Like London, Glasgow and Manchester in the UK), there is little support for marginalised groups. Some support exists almost everywhere in developed countries, but in more rural, right-wing areas it is next to nonexistant. Only a few places exist across those areas and with very limited supply. This also factors into the gatekeeping and barriers marginalised people face in these areas, where service staff tend to believe myths perpetrated by the right. Hence, vulnerable people are not taken seriously and trauma is often compounded. Sometimes situations become unsustainable like mine was and disengaging from local services and/or relocating to try elsewhere are the only viable options left. Only once marginalised people move to a more understanding area after being badly failed, do they close in on the help they need. This is something I anecdotally heard is very common from providers regarding housing and LGBTQ+ support.

Do not face this alone

Trying to access services is EXHAUSTING. I almost gave up a few times myself, but managed to keep at it due to seeking help, such as:

  • Peer support from friends, both in person and over the internet. This can be directly elated to solving the situation or moral support.
  • Advocacy services. Many organisations do this in somecapacity such as Shelter, the LGBT Foundation and many user led groups have professionals that will help advocate for you for free.
  • Mental health support, mostly self-help support and techniques while more proper support is put in place, such as writing and gaming.

Self care is so important

It’s OK to disengage from the situation sometimes. It’s OK to take steps to look after yourself, such as engaging in a hobby sometimes. It is OK to buy yourself some treats when and where you have the money. It’s OK if you have to give up with or disengage from certain organisations that harm where it is feasible. You will get there.

I hope this series of tips will help you navigate the mess that are services.

Milla xx

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and have the financial means to do so, please consider sending a donation to me on my Ko-fi to help me stabilise my life and start my medical transition. If not, no worries. Thank you so much for reading!

When You’re Trans, Autistic and Homeless, Finding a Place to Live is Almost Impossible

CN for transphobia, ableism, abuse, legal discrimination, intrusive questions, executive function

Hi all,

Apologies for the inactivity on here for the last several weeks. Today I’m going to talk a bit about the issues I’ve had accessing housing – which is something I’ve had to deal with extensively over the last several months. In short, my living situation at home with my parents became toxic (mainly due to blatant transphobia, ableism and overall abuse, but that’s for another time). The major reason it took me so long to leave home were because I am hitting systematic barriers that makes it difficult for me to access any form of help. That’s not just my words. It’s the words of one of many housing support staff I’ve been in contact with. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

I’m going address them one by one:

Fear of the unknown:

One of the major things that stopped me from leaving sooner was the anxiety caused by the uncertainty of what would happen next once I leave. Where would I go and who would I stay with? How would I be able to cope on the streets if that came to pass? In a way, staying in the toxic household is better due to the routine and certainty of having a place to sleep. This is one reason autistic people find it difficult to escape abusive situations in general.

Most housing services have inaccessible contact methods:

Due to all the stress my functioning ability had decreased significantly. One way this showed is that I could no longer use the phone even to call people I had called before already. This meant I could not access emergency accommodation in my area for one as all of them had phone numbers only and email addresses are harder to find if they are publically available.

Additionally, when I did email housing services they are either slow to reply or don’t reply at all. This included a UK LGBT housing charity I referred myself to in good faith they’d get back to me but they never did. If a housing provider does not offer an accessible contact method they are from the fact excluding those with disabilities from applying to their services and condemning them to their deaths as a result.

Additionally, emergency accommodation is potentially unsafe for marginalised people because of the chances of being trapped in an even more toxic environment. This applies to the physical environment as well as potentially the people staying there. Hence not being able to verify this in advance means it’s a no-go for many people.

Women’s refuge services have transphobic policies:

Here is a bit of a sticky topic. In the UK’s Equality Act 2010, there are legitimate exceptions in the Act that let services to discriminate against minorities if it’s a “proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim.” This includes potential discrimination against trans people when accessing refuges on the grounds of their gender. Or more specifically, their genitals. When i tried to get access to a women’s refuge in the summer, I visited once to sign up, but I had to disclose I’m transgender in part because the form required it – but also because I did not fully pass at the time and there was no way I could have gotten away with lying on the form.

As a result, I got barred from face to face contact with the refuge as a result due to the fact I’m pre-op (irrespective of the facts that many trans people don’t have surgery and that surgery isn’t something I could get access to for years if at all). They did offer signposting and limited telephone/email support but it upset me so much I am turned off refuges for life. They told me that this is due to their policy which ended up being based on reasons relating to biological differences and safety concerns which shows fundamental misunderstanding of trans issues at best and bad faith transphobia at worst.

Not able to rent privately:

There are a few reasons for this and many of them relate to personal circumstances which I will not elaborate on. However, I will detail some notable issues that affect people like me in general. the biggest reason is because I was trying to hold down a full-time job. I gave up on getting help to escape in the summer so I ended up banking on the money from a job to help me move however this was not possible long-term.
I did not have the energy or executive function to juggle trying to find a room as well as full-time work with a commute. It was too much for me having had to spend my lunch breaks and much of my non-working hours recovering. This meant I could not view rooms and thus could not make any progress.

Other access issues are that I could not work out what listings on the housing sites like Spare Room were legitimate plus many landowners specifically ask people to call them to enquire. This meant I had a lot of access issues even finding places to view so contacting them were largely inaccessible just like housing services. That plus the ensuring anxiety and lack of support meant processing the listings for red flags became very difficult. Same applies for finding houses that are trans friendly.

Finally, there is another legal loophole that meant many more listings weren’t accessible to me. Many of the listings were by live-in landlords and if the “small premises exception” applies they can discriminate on all minority characteristics (bar race) under the guise of a “preference.”
The conditions where this applies are the following (based on the info here):

  • The landlord or a relative of theirs will be living in another part of the same property and intend to continue living there
  • The landowner (or their relative) share part of the property with the other residents. This doesn’t include common accessways (like corridors and stairs) and common storage areas
  • The most likely shared parts will be kitchens or bathrooms; and either:
  • The property includes accommodation for at least one other household, which is separately let, but cannot accommodate more than two other separately let households; or
  • The property is not normally sufficient to provide residential accommodation for more than six people (in addition to the landowner or their relative and their household members)

Seeing as many of the listings I found fit into those categories – alongside the fact I couldn’t pass fully then – meant that I had to rule out a lot of listings. As many landowners are older, more privileged cis people and thus more likely to misunderstand, I did not feel safe putting myself into that situation which is before considering my autism-related needs. I very highly doubt I am alone in this although I can’t confirm personally.

The system for finding accommodation for housing related support:

The current system in the UK for someone who needs housing support to fill out a form via the council stating the needs people have and where they’d like to stay. Then housing providers can view applications on their systems so that if they can contact the applicant to request an interview. I haven’t been to an interview so I don’t know how that goes down, just the initial application meeting for one provider. In that meeting I was asked more about my needs as well as what steps I’ve took to undergo transitioning which includes social, legal and medical. I didn’t particularly want to give any details on the medical side – and the person I saw was very apologetic about having to ask it – but I believe that is a requirement too. Regardless, in the end that didn’t go anywhere as they didn’t have room for me either. However that was only one provider so hopefully there are more out there.

Being declared as unintentionally homeless:

The gist of this is that if I’m declared as intentionally homeless, the council would not help me and this would affect what support I’d get. It’s the same for any homeless person even though the circumstances will be different each time. My circumstances of fleeing abuse is one of a few instances where somebody leaving home when they aren’t being kicked out is not becoming intentionally homeless. It did mean that me and my parents had to meet with a council rep to have some kind of “mediation” even though I knew going in it wasn’t going to be feasible. It was annoying but I entertained the mediation idea and it paid off.

Wider political context:

There is a housing shortage in the UK and has been for some time thanks to the Conservative party. Nowhere near enough affordable social housing exists as the demand for that considerably outstrips supply. The same also applies to supported housing and other types of accommodation. Additionally, there is a lot of homes that are lying empty due to being owned by the mega rich and not occupied. Hence even if I was not marginalised I would still have some problems.

With all the above said, the only option left for me for now is to sofa surf and frankly if I didn’t have friends to help I would have been in a seriously bad place. And being autistic and trans even having friends is a privilege because social anxiety and dysphoria makes it hard for friendships to form.

In some ways, my experiences with my friends the past couple of months have somewhat restored my faith in humanity because it shows that people will step up where they can. However, it also shouldn’t be this way and that’s sad. It’s one reason I’ve written this post because it’s this kind of first hand testimony that spreads awareness of these issues so legal reform can be done. Most people are not even aware of these issues in any real detail especially if they are not involved in the disability, LGBTQ+ or housing communities. Hence I am providing some of the detail.

For me personally, I don’t know what the future holds. I’m hoping to no longer be homeless by the end of this year but I really can’t say for sure yet. Regardless, hopefully 2020 will be a happier, more prosperous year for me. Happy New Year to you all and hopefully 2020 is just as prosperous for you too.

Kind regards,
Milla xx

Yes, Games Are For Everyone

Featured image description: Image is of a samurai in front of a burning Japanese-style temple. Text at top says “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” whereas the text on the bottom says “Take revenge. Restore your honour. Kill ingeniously.”

(CN for ableism)

Hi all,

There has been some recent discourse in the gaming and disability communities that I would like to offer my perspective – namely how all games should add in difficulty levels. This is a feature notably absent from the recently released Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice developed by From Software, a company known for their challenging games.

I am going to preface this by stating that my autism/ADHD affects a lot of how I approach video games these days alongside my time as a games journalist which included me reviewing games to embargos. Both of these formulate why I believe that games are for everyone and arguing otherwise are being elitist and ableist, knowingly or not.

First, I’m going to talk a bit about my playstyle as a background. I’m mostly a portable gamer and this formulates my playstyle for so many genres. Rhythm games are a good stimming aid (assuming the music is good) which is a great way to zone out and boost my immersion. My poor attention span means I find it very difficult to immerse myself on a home console game especially for Japanese RPGs where the portability factor helps me stick with them. I also find large screens visually overwhelming to process at times so having a small screen can help deal with this input better. This is also why I prefer turn based games to action games because I have time to think about my actions.

On the other hand, I am not able to play any PC games nowadays. This is because I can’t stay focused long enough to play them hence it’s a genuine accessibility issue for me. This is unfortunate as it means I am closed off from the vast majority of localised visual novels, a genre I really enjoy. This is despite me trying repeatedly to play through a small handful of Steam releases that will likely never get English console equivalents (like Higurashi When They Cry).

I also have to deal with executive dysfunction which in the simplest possible way means I find it difficult to juggle my day to day life. This especially applies as I’ve gotten older and have become more self-reliant for many things. It means I have less time and energy for games. If I am in a state of burnout, I will find it very difficult to play any video game.

So if I have to deal with a really steep difficulty curve, bad design, lots of grinding or other monotonous content it will become hard for me to continue playing. I do eventually burn out on many games I play and have to take a break so I can pick it up again later otherwise the burnout affects other areas of my life. This is how I got around to completing Dragon Quest VIII on the 3DS after a yearlong break.

I have come to appreciate developers adding in accessibility features in their games that weren’t there before. For instance, modern Falcom games have the ability to lower the difficulty of battles if they prove too difficult after each time the player dies (such as in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel). Additionally, the Utawarerumono Mask of Deception/Truth duology also feature a turn rewind feature which is a godsend for somebody like me whom has an iffy attention span and is prone to making careless mistakes due to burnout and zoning out.

Many modern remakes of Japanese RPGs such as Dragon Quest VIII (as mentioned earlier) reduced the amount of grinding required to complete the game which reduces playtime and boosts engagement which I really appreciate. Then there is also the easy mode in the difficult platformer Celeste, a title I cannot wait to play in part because it’s accessible. While I am aware that difficulty and accessibility aren’t the same things, difficulty settings are an essential accessibility aid for some disabled people like me.

Firstly, I’d like to address an elephant in the room aka those that attack games journalists for talking about accessibility. Firstly, I understand the pressures that games journalists are under when they play games to embargos. They don’t have a get-out clause like consumers do hence it is the ultimate hard mode. If they accept a code or a review kit from a publisher they are obliged to provide coverage of the game in return. This includes beating the game to ensure they know what you’re talking about. Yes, this does include playing through bad games as well as forcing themselves to play through games on a non-preferred platform (such as a handful of games I reviewed on PC). However, it also includes playing games that are inaccessible. So, if there is no easy mode or other accessibility features they need to play, they’re out of luck.

I endured this for two years before I had to quit. I had to learn to enjoy my hobby again and reviewing inaccessible and overly difficult games in rapid succession sucked the passion out of me. It is one of many reasons why I decided that working in the games industry is not for me. Reviewing games burnt me out and alongside my changing support needs means that nowadays I need easy modes in games to ensure I can prevent burnout and enjoy game in balance with other parts of my life. This doesn’t apply to all genres as I can handle difficult platformers and rhythm game stages as well as some turn based RPGs.

Internalising toxic gamer narratives without realising didn’t help either. I thought I’d have to live up to these standards that I could never consistently meet because of my disabilities. Hence most detractors that complain about accessibility in games in reality are privileged. This is because they have it easier than disabled gamers as well as the very journalists that inform them that the game is difficult. These narratives do mean that other disabled people contribute to ableist narratives knowingly or otherwise. One example is the quadraplegic gamer that beat Sekiro on the default difficulty setting which spawned a widely cited news article (CN for inspiration porn in article).

These cases will then be used by the anti-accessibility crowd to go “But look, this person is disabled and they beat it fine! Therefore, it’s a non-issue!” which is ableist. One gamer’s hard mode is a disabled gamer’s impossible mode. One gamer’s easy mode may be a disabled gamer’s hard mode however it would then be playable. It is subjective across the individual as all our needs are different however that does mean that easy modes are a necessary accessibility feature for some hence should become industry standard. This includes games that are praised for their difficulty such as the Dark Souls series.

Can a developer make their games accessible without sacrificing their vision? In short, the developers should always attempt to do this if they have the resources and money. All developers would aim to design their games for different audiences from the outset so that their “vision” isn’t compromised. If they cannot do this in-house, then the option of hiring disabled consultants and playtesters exists. I am aware there are exceptions to this such as visual novels (the genre is far too niche for accessibility aids to become standard period) and small indie developers (where it is not technically or financially possible for accessibility aids to be implemented).

The publishers that have published the Souls like games by From Software (including Sekiro) almost certainly have the resources to acquire this expertise. From Software also are a large enough developer that they can almost certainly allocate time to implement difficulty settings (as they have done for some quality of life aids). I am aware that From Software have been adding quality of life improvements with each new Souls game they make which they deserve credit for, however they still have ways they can further improve on making their games playable to more people.

I am definitely aware that there is still some way to go in video games before they become truly accessible. Subtitles aren’t an industry standard for instance and gamer culture is largely toxic as it features memes including the “git gud” mentality. Microsoft has launched new peripherals specifically aimed at disabled gamers to boost accessibility for the Xbox One and Windows PC platforms. It is not perfect but is an important step. There is still a way to go as those that want to play games on Nintendo/PlayStation formats do not have official peripheral support like the Xbox One has.

In short, games are for everyone. Please listen to disabled gamers when we talk about our access needs and not dismiss us. These can include so many things and vary by player (ie. Additional option settings, easy mode, adaptative controller, quality-of-life improvements) hence it is best for developers to cater to as many playstyles as possible during development.

That’s all for today.

Milla x

Featured image source

Why Asking “What’s Your Name and Pronouns?” Can Add to Anxiety

Feature image description: Image is of a rainbow flag high above the clouds. The background is a blue sky with clouds and very distant terrain.

(CN for mention of misgendering)

Hi all,

Autistic LGBTQ+ people struggle to integrate into LGBTQ+ spaces for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is to how inaccessible dedicated clubs and spaces for LGBTQ+ people can be due to sensory overload. However as someone who is at the start trying to integrate into these spaces to help me become comfortable with myself (as I am still in the closet) I am hitting the first hurdle and I’d like to talk about that a bit today. The hurdle is the very question used to help introduce people into LGBTQ+ spaces so people know how others want to be identified and that is…

“What’s your name and pronouns?”

Now before I continue I want to make it crystal clear that I fully support trans issues as well as the normalisation of pronouns. In other words – all the motives behind this question. I myself am trans and I don’t identify with any gender on a deep level however I do wish to be treated and seen as feminine hence the need to disclose pronouns.

Disclosing pronouns makes it easy for trans people to work out who is safe to be around as many people who do not disclose pronouns aren’t allies to trans people. Furthermore, as gender is different for everyone and there are more than two there is the need for language to change and reflect this (or be normalised in the case of the singular pronoun “they”).

However, I do think in certain situations the way this question is asked can potentially make LGBTQ+ spaces inaccessible for autistic people – and by extension those that have anxiety. Hence this is something I’d like to talk about today.

Imagine this – you are an autistic person whom has just realised they are LGBTQ+ and need to seek friends in real life for support. You’re not fully out to the world and you need to get a bigger support network who will lift you up rather than put you down. You managed to get to one of these groups overcoming deep anxiety and fear of the unknown. Will you be accepted? Can you trust the people here to keep your secret safe until you’re ready to show the world?

You are too anxious to talk to others. There are so many people here talking to each other. Some people are out whereas others are in the closet. This environment is unfamiliar and you are getting exhausted due to all the sensory input. You feel like you could be welcomed and accepted here – but also very anxious at the possibility of having to deal with awkward situations with the other people there until you feel comfortable opening up. The anxiety won’t go away until you feel comfortable trusting them with your orientations.

You want to trust others here but you know it will take time and effort on your part and theirs. They may be willing to play ball so you’re going to give it a chance. But for now you only feel comfortable passively participating in the events. In other words – say what you feel comfortable saying and don’t pressure yourself.

You hear the organiser say “So before we begin we are going to go round and ask everyone’s names and pronouns.” Oh no. You’re going to have to out myself to other people before you’re ready. The reasons are perfectly understandable but is only heightening your anxiety. This goes against the mental plan you had in mind and may only make things harder for you in the long run.

People start responding to the question in order around the way you were all sitting. There’s so many different names and pronouns. You can’t go by how people present so you have to try to remember what they say even though it is difficult for you due to your anxiety. It got overwhelming. There is no way you are able to remember them all. Then the question finally got to you.

“Erm…I don’t really feel comfortable answering that,” you meekly say with visible anxiety in your voice.

It feels like a cop-out. You want to say “Hi I’m [redacted] and my pronouns are [pronoun 1/pronoun 2] but the nerves are just too much. You’re too shy and you wonder if other people feel that you aren’t interested in engaging or whether you aren’t safe because you aren’t disclosing your pronouns.

This was me at my first LGBTQ+ event. So in short – the pronouns question is giving me anxiety because it is putting me on the spot before I am ready to give the answers. This is because I am shy and am finding the unfamiliar situation overwhelming for me.

On social networking sites like Twitter disclosing pronouns is much easier. The pressure is off as users putting pronouns in their bio gets around asking the questions directly. Not to mention online spaces are often the only place somebody can be themselves before they are able to out themselves in real life.

Transferring this idea of having name/pronouns written down in real life support groups would be a good idea. Having stickers with your name and pronouns written on them would greatly help people like me better remember how to address people properly and avoid misgendering or calling people the wrong names by accident.

Similar systems are used at some left-wing conferences where pronoun stickers are given out to the guests for free as well as colour coded lanyards to indicate whether somebody is OK with strangers talking to them or not. This is one common way to improve accessibility for disabled people and would be worth transferring into communities outside of disability and left-wing environments as well. This would also help people who find it difficult to remember individual names and pronouns due to anxiety, cognitive disabilities and other reasons.

Another idea that I feel is worth suggesting could be simply just saying “you don’t have to answer if you don’t feel comfortable” in group-based situations. I had this happen when I was talking to individuals and it greatly helped my confidence. I can come out of my shell in my own time and express myself more freely when I felt comfortable. In that context I was known as someone “with no name or pronoun” which was fine by me. This is how it should be in general. In LGBTQ+ spaces this is important and also in neurodiverse spaces too. Not having that contributed to my anxiety in the group environment.

Maybe as time goes on and I integrate into these circles more and build a support network I will make some friends and this initial barrier will lower. The barriers are lower however right now it is a formidable obstacle and I need to do my best to find a way to overcome it. I am still at the start of my journey and I’d wager my view will deepen as I gain more knowledge about LGBTQ+ issues. In the meantime, I’ll likely produce labels and badges myself to take the pressure off me a bit as I can simply direct others to my labels.

LGBTQ+ circles – please think about how establishing names and pronouns could add accessibility barriers for autistic LGBTQ+ people. More autistic people are LGBTQ+ than the general population so you’re missing out on a lot of us if you don’t make your spaces accessible.

Best wishes,

Subtle

(@subtlykawaii)

Featured image source

Noise Cancelling Liberation

(CN: Discussion of sensory overload)

Hi all,

Last weekend I took a very big step in my independence skills and went with a group to the People’s Vote march in London, UK. This is something that I really wanted to do but knew that it would likely be difficult for me. Before I go any further, this post is not going to be about Brexit nor any of the politics associated with it. Instead, I will talk about an experiment I did at the protest in relation to being autistic – trying out my new noise cancelling headphones as an accommodation.

Noise-cancelling headphones are a commonly touted accommodation for autistic people to help cope with the world around them. This can help minimise overstimulation. They block out ambient background noise which is usually what contributes to a sensory overload. In the case of the march this included the music and voices beaming from the speakers, the crowd chanting as well as the sounds of the transport I took to and from the event. This is an expensive accommodation as proper noise cancelling headphones cost hundreds of pounds brand new. However, I managed to get a pair (AKG N60, one of the recommended and cheaper brands) for a significant discount.

I went to the march. It was nearly two hours before we began marching due to the sheer amount of people attending hence there was a lot of waiting and a lot of noise. I also met some new people as well. With the event getting noisy and the risk of exhaustion, overload and more becoming a possibility, I put my headphones on and flicked the switch to trigger the noise cancelling effect. In short…It liberated me.

I was able to participate like everybody else as the sounds were at a consistent volume that I could handle easily. I could hear people talking around me at a louder volume than the background noise whereas without the headphones everything would sound the same. I was able to participate in conversations which even included discussion about why I was wearing the headphones in the first place.

Furthermore, I didn’t get overwhelmed at all and had the realisation that this will solve many of my problems traveling especially by myself. I’ve had occasions where I traveled by myself and have gotten exhausted during the trip which leads to me becoming more vulnerable and prone to a meltdown. In the past, I have had to had relatives pick me up and drop me off back home because everything just got too much for me.

I didn’t feel disabled at all during that day. While autism and its comorbidities are disabilities (and this is something that I accept), there are ways to deal with them so that they can be managed to allow for as much participation in society as possible. The wish of being “normal” and/or accepted by wider society is very strong among neurodivergent people of all support needs and beliefs. I include the neurodiversity crowd in this as it is easy to internalise ableism due to the dominant narratives and is difficult to unpack.

I think it helped that I had a supportive environment as well. I was able to make a good first impression to other people and thus allowed my confidence to show. This is the power of what accommodations and acceptance by others can do. It allows participation of disabled people in society just like non-disabled people. In the case of me and noise cancelling headphones the accommodation was relatively simple to implement (aside from the cost). This is not me “overcoming” being autistic but rather adapting my life around being autistic and accepting myself.

Maybe in the future I will be able to handle more loud events. I have had thoughts about where to go but am unsure when I will be able to try those environments with the noise cancelling headphones. Either way, I feel that so many new opportunities have opened up to me that weren’t open before and that makes me so happy. Although I’d prefer most events I’d attend to be accessible, the attitudes of many neurotypicals means we are some way off this becoming a standard. Until then, noise-cancelling headphones have liberated me and many others too.

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,
Subtle

(@subtlykawaii)

Featured image source: I found the image and cropped it but realised it was from Braitbart after I had uploaded it and went to get the link. I’m not sourcing them sorry. I’ll aim not to do this again.