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!

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

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