So, you want to make your games more diverse but you’re not sure where to start? When I’m asked this question, my first tip is always to consult with more people. Consultation is key.
But what does that mean? What is consultation anyway?
Well, it varies. If you go to a professional diversity organisation, your consultation might include a video chat, feedback on your prototypes or written work, a report, or all of the above (which is how we run our consultation services at Queerly Represent Me). If you don’t have the money to employ a consultant*, then you may approach friends or colleagues with diverse lived experiences and consult with them, and so it may end up being a little more informal. Either way, it’s going to involve feedback—possibly criticism—and that’s something you need to be open to.
This is a point the Wayward Strand team emphasised during their Play By Play talk. As Jason stated, ‘Consultation isn’t a box to tick off or something that you can use to make yourself immune from criticism—criticism is good, healthy, and valuable, especially when it comes from people who are more marginalised or less privileged than you.’ In a chat with the narrative designers and writers at Failbetter Games following some of their own consultations, writer James Chew shared a similar sentiment: ‘The most valuable thing I got … was being able to get insightful, practical feedback.’
Consultation is the key to unlocking a narrative’s potential. Chris Gardiner, the narrative director at Failbetter Games, shared that ‘consultations help us expand the voices and expertise that feeds into our work … We had two aims with consulting. The first was “do no harm”: we wanted to help ensure that our work wasn’t trivialising, diminishing, or excluding people. The second was to tell better stories. By better here, I mean more informed, more nuanced, richer, and less predictable.’
Jason agrees that consultation bolsters creative work: ‘Consultation is an ongoing process that empowers you to make your creative work more relevant to more people. Every discussion we’ve had so far has given us further insight and more interesting elements of the setting to explore, and has enriched the final player experience.’
So whether it’s a professional service or generous friends, consultation is important to maximising the potential of your games. Even if you think that you know everything about a topic, there’s always something to be gained from another perspective or a diverse way of thinking!
(* If you are approaching somebody and asking them to consult on your work for free, make sure you are careful and considerate. I recommend educating yourself on the concept of ‘emotional labour’ and encourage you to be understanding if somebody doesn’t have the emotional energy to help you.)