Week 8: Inclusive Design

In your creative practice, you deal with lots of ‘cultures,’ from C.P. Snow’s ‘two cultures’ (pdf), to design and programming cultures, writing, art, film, literature, web, games, clients, marketers, lawyers, and beyond. In order to make collaborative projects, you need to communicate to everyone on your team. And when it comes to what you create, you can’t just create for yourself. Just as you can’t expect every department to think and behave the same way, you can’t expect the world to think in the same way about the stories, interactions, images, and sounds you produce.

But we can only create with what we know. And often we don’t take to the time to learn about others. This results in creative projects that are for certain people. Those certain people are a limited audience. This is where inclusive design comes in. A guiding motivation for many is to create projects that have broader appeal. They don’t just appeal to a portion of the world. What are some of the ways you can do this? We’ll jump into how in a moment.

But first, what are some of the obstacles to implementing these approaches? Your unconscious bias is one. “Project Implicit” is a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who study “implicit social cognition”. They have created “The Implicit Association Test” and made it freely available on the web:

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about.

They have tests for race, gender, weight, religion, disability and many more. Want to try out one and see what results? What might it reveal about your thinking, things you didn’t know inform your decisions? Follow the link below to see!

Even when you work hard not be the problem, it can sometimes be hard when clients and peers need you to keep quiet. The idea is if you speak up, then you rock the boat, then you disturb and distract from the real work. But as Mike Monteiro explains in this surprising talk, as creators we have a responsibility to not destroy people’s lives…and we can.

So what are things you can do?


As Jesse Hausler explains, accessibility:

This can include people who are blind, color blind, or have low vision, those who are deaf or have hearing difficulties, people with mobility impairments which may be temporary or permanent, or people with cognitive disabilities. Design for people who are young, old, power users, casual users, and those who just enjoy a quality experience. (Jesse Hausler, Medium)


The number of people with vision impairments is huge, with statistics ranging from 1 in 7 to 1 in 12 males affected. But there are a number of tools available to help you ascertain if your images are causing problems. The Coblis Color Blindness Simulator, for instance, lets you upload your image to test it against different visual deficiencies, along with the downloadable Color Oracle.

There is also the Chromatic Vision Simulator app that gives you different versions of a photograph you take. I tested this by taking a photo of some cards I had on my desk, and as you can see (depending on your own vision) there are distinct differences (see image to the left).

In Australia, Perth game developer Wesley Lamont has conducted tests for his game COGZ, making the game colour-blind accessible (see image below).

In Lamont’s example, pattern works with colour to distinguish elements. So too, Hausler warns against using colour as the only visual means to convey information. In the example below, he shows how with grayscale the field you need to enter is presumed to be the one with the hazard icon, whereas in the full-colour version it is clear there are four fields that need entering. By using icons or other means to communicate other than colour, websites and any user-interfaces can be made more accessible. There are more guidelines for ways you can address visual impairment at the Includification website.


What are other ways you can work with visuals in your projects. Recently, researchers also came up with a new font for people with dyslexia. There are also games that use non-visual means of communicating vital information, such as the horror-themed audio game Papa Sangre, and the audio memory game of Egg Boss. But creating accessible projects isn’t just about broadening your audience either. Last year a blind woman launched an unlawful discrimination case against Coles over the changes to accessibility on their website.


Hearing-impairment is probably the best represented in visual media such as film and some TV. Closed Captioning describes important aural elements with text. It isn’t just subtitles (the dialogue of characters). Instead, closed captioning includes descriptions of what is heard, such as the sound of a saw in the background (if important), or a door opening. Many cinemas have closed caption viewing options, but not all games (for instance) have it (they often have subtitles instead). For more guidelines to address hearing impairments, see the Includification website.


The AbleGamers Foundation represents over 33 million gamers with disabilities. Mobility is another area to address for all artforms though: for making your venues accessible when you hold events and screenings, and for making the input requirements accessible. The Accessible Events guide developed by the Meetings and Events Industry of Australia in partnership with the Australian Human Rights Commission, offers insight into what you need to consider when putting on events. They cover event planning, venue selection, promotion and beyond.


And for games and other interactive projects, in order to be truly accessible the ways your players input commands are important. As the Includifiction website explains, many disabilities, such as Cerebral Palsy, limit the ability to manage range of motion, making it very difficult to move the mouse back and forth small distances. At the other end of the spectrum, some gamers with Muscular Dystrophy have range of motion issues that let them move the mouse only 1/16th of an inch in any direction. Star Wars: The Old Republic and Rift are good examples of games that allow players at both ends of the spectrum to tailor camera movement to their needs. The sensitivity of both games has sliders with a cap that allows for full camera rotation at 1/100th of an inch, or conversely, an area larger than a mouse pad depending on the user’s need.


The fallback position, they continue, if programing remappable keys is just not an option in your title, is alternative configuration setups. The idea is simple: develop predefined controller configurations that allow a player to select one that best matches their play style, and their disability. Conventional console developing logic requires including both normal configuration, southpaw, reverse and a few random layouts as a catchall. In order to be truly accessible the configurations must include right-handed, left-handed, button combinations near each other and one-handed.

To give a player the experience of playing at a high level (as if they were doing all the inputs necessary for advanced play), then single-button options can be offered. Bayonetta, for example, can be played with one hand.


In a short presentation Tom Jubert talks about the writing of the game FTL, and what he discovered in exploring the topic of slavery. He began thinking that invoking slavery was a device, but then realised important lessons about what such topics involve and interacts with the audience. You may be oblivious to what you’re saying with the subjects, characters, and images you invoke, but your audience isn’t.

[T]he conclusion of my talk was that it would be irresponsible of anyone to put out a game like this without thinking at least a little about the stance they are necessarily taking by making a game at all. Subjects like slavery and war are not simply there for our amusement — when we deploy them in interactive fiction we also need to design the choices and outcomes in a way that doesn’t undermine their seriousness, but instead uses it to express something worthwhile.

On the website ‘Go Make Me A Sandwich,’ the topic of cultural appropriation has been talked about extensively. In particular, they offer some top-level advice:

1. Cultural appropriation is bad

2. Don’t erase marginalized groups (Don’t combine 1 & 2)

3. Don’t reinforce stereotypes of marginalised groups

4. Over-represent if you feel comfortable with that

5. Get a second opinion

Just invoking settings and characters that seem cool can cause you and your career real harm. It is also, quite simply, unthinking creative decision-making. Do include settings and characters, but don’t do things like revise history by erasing marginalized groups. That is how you end up with games like Into the Far West, they explain, “a game that mashes up Wild West and Wuxia tropes and which doesn’t include Native people at all” (original emphasis).

They continue, giving warnings about spirituality and religion:

1. Don’t use symbols with religious or spiritual meaning to another culture — it belittles the meaning behind the symbol and dilutes the importance of the symbol

2. Don’t reinforce negative stereotypes. That just adds to the toxic background radiation that forms the dominant view of minorities

3. Be mindful of your place in a system where white artists routinely profit off of performances of cultures that aren’t their own. See Katy Perry’s geisha performance, or Miley Cyrus using black culture like a costume.

So what do you do then, if you’re unsure about a culture? If you don’t know about it but want to represent it? In an interview with Chris Chinn, he recommends the following:

If you want to make a game about something you haven’t grown up with? I strongly suggest getting to know about the culture a bit by interacting with those actual people and imbibing a lot of the media they create for themselves. It kind of says a lot about folks who are looking to make media talking ABOUT a group, but unwilling to hear that groups’ views or ideas. (interview)

In the interview, Chinn talks about other destructive tropes such as hypersexualisation of Asian women. Let’s move on then to gender & sexuality.

Gender & Sexuality

Some of you will be familiar with the Bechdel Test. This was created by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel in her 1985 comic strip:


The test has been used in films to see how women are depicted. It contains three rules:

  1. It has to have at least two (named) women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man

Unfortunately, the majority of films do not pass this test. Think about your own screenplay, or interactive experience — does it?

Along with gender bias, there is also non-representation and also negative depictions of your LGBT audience. But some people are concerned that they can’t get it right. If you do include a black character, or a lesbian character, you’ll be attacked for not getting it right. Some people recommend a way to address the problem is to therefore include lots of diverse characters in whatever you’re creating. Don’t just have one woman, have many. Don’t just have one gay character, have many. Then they represent lots of different people, they not trying to represent a whole gender, race, or sexuality.


But what if you are criticised for what you’ve created? What is the best way to respond and deal with it? In her blog post on ‘How to react if you’ve been called out for transphobia,’ Samantha Allen recommends the following (which can be applied in different contexts):

1. Stop talking and start listening

2. Repeat after me: “This is not about me.”

3. Intent doesn’t matter; actions matter.

4. Apologize for your actions, not just for their effects.

5. Acknowledge your privilege.

6. Educate yourself.

Conflict Styles & Competition

Photo by Todd Quackenbush, http://magdeleine.co/photo-todd-quackenbush-n-124/

Dealing with criticism is one skill you will develop over time, but there is also how you deal with conflict in general. Not everyone approaches conflict the same way, or indeed wants to deal with conflict. Conflict styles and attitudes competition affect the way you navigate your career, and the appeal of games. We will talk about leadership and communication skills in latter weeks, and so for now let’s take a look at conflict in your creative projects.

Conflict & Games

In her work (and the slide show embedded below), Amy Jo Kim explains how not everyone is motivated by “zero-sum mechanics”. That is: a zero-sum game is when there are winners and losers. If all of the wins were subtracted by all loses, there would be zero. This is seen in head-to-head battles like boxing, ranked competitions in sports, and gambling. But there are also non-zero-sum games, where everyone involved is a partner. They can both win, and both lose. These kinds of game, co-operative, are often overlooked but are rising in popularity.


Older studies on female preferences in video games have found a leaning towards “indirect competition” games. This means there is competition, but players do not act directly on their opponent. Examples of games include puzzle games, Tetris, racing games, and Pacman — which obviously appeal to men and women. So let’s look further into how your conflict design can appeal to both men and women. In her book, Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market, Sheri Graner Ray speaks about the how Ultima VII Part Two: The Serpent Isle progressed how an RPG could address these palyer preferences:

According to Lisa Smith, a designer on The Serpent Isle, each conflict point was engineered to give the player at least two options. One option was a directly compeittive solution, such as the player simply fought the monster until they were dead. The other would an indirect or nonconfrontational solution, such as providing the monsters with food to distract them, allowing the player to pass unharmed. This sort of conscious attempt to design outside of traditional confines resulted in a computer game with such depth and broad appeal that is sold over 1000,000 units and nominated as 1993's RPG of the year by Strategy Plus Magazine. ~ Graner Ray, 46

More recently, Ubisoft’s Child of Light deals with conflict in an interesting way. You fight (see below & in this video) on distinct cliffs, so there is no direct clashes of your player character(s) and the enemy. The attacks are also turn-based, which means you take turns attacking each other. This takes out any uncomfortable attitudes towards direct conflict, appealing to a broader range of players — male & female.


Returning to research on female preferences, Graner Ray highlights that one should not assume that violence is automatically unappealing to female players. Graner Ray refers to research conducted by Her Interactive, which found that girls didn’t like fighting games because “they lost interest in fighting the same opponents over and over again for no good reason” (Graner Ray, 48).

Competition & Jobs

Competition certainly goes further than games. Female representation in higher-level jobs and pay inequality are still an issue. Behavourial economists Uri Gneezy and John List tackled this area in their research, looking at the relationship between competition, jobs, and gender. In their book, The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life, Gneezy and List detail a field experiment they ran with Craigslist. They sort to understand if women would apply for jobs that required competitiveness. They did this by posting variations of jobs on Craiglist.

Among the tests they ran, one job would pay a flat fee for per hour. In another, they were paid according to how well they performed in relation to a coworker. In the second competitive scenario, there was a lesser set fee, but with incentives based on whether they performed better than their coworker. Both the jobs averaged about the same salary, with one being incentivized via competition and the other not.

You might be surprised (and saddened) by the actual gender breakdown of who applied for each kind of job. In general, women didn’t like the competitive option; in fact, they were 70 percent less likely than men to go after a competitive job. Further, the women who did apply for the highly incentivized job tended to have more impressive resumes than the men who applied for those same jobs. These findings seemed to underscore the fact that, when it comes to competition, men aren’t nearly as shy as women. ~ Gneezy & List, 37–38

Gneezy and List went further. Is it the case that women are born to be averse to competition, or does society influence their inclinations? Indeed, because of the preference for in-direct competition in games for instance, some people have assumed that females are naturally wired for this kind interaction. In other words, females can’t handle direct competition because of their biology. So Gneezy and List sort to understand:

Is there an important innate difference between the sexes that would lead them to act this way regardless of how they are raised? Or do societal influences play a vital role in our competitive inclinations?

To test this, they conducted competition games in “two polar-opposite tribes — the ultra-patriarchal Masai tribe of Tanzania, and the matrilineal Khasi of northeast India” (41). In Tanzania, villagers were invited to participate in a task: they throw tennis balls into a bucket from about three metres away. Before they throw, however, they are given two payment options that operate like the Craigslist field experiment. They can choose to receive a fixed amount for each ball that landed successfully in the bucket, or they can receive more per successful throw if they were better than their opponent. If both participants succeeded, they would both get the lesser fixed amount. “That is, we asked the participants to choose between two options: one in which their payment depended only on their success, and one in which they would compete with someone else” (44).

After a couple of weeks, they analysed the data. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results were similar to the Craiglist test in the United States. 50% of the Masai men chose to compete, but only 26% of the women did. In the United States, it was 69% men, and 31% women. So more men in Tanzania, but about the similar amount of women chose not to compete in both cultures.

But we still don’t know if this is a worldwide phenomenon (in other words, a biological cause) or not. So next Gneezy and List travelled to the matrilineal society of the Khasi people, where land inheritance moves from mothers to the youngest daughter, and where a woman marries results not in her moving into his home but he moving into her mother’s home. The grandmother is the head of the household, and women hold the economic power. The results of the bucket test? 54% of the Khasi women chose to compete, whereas only 39% of Khasi men chose to. So the Khasi women were more competitive than even the super-patriarchal Masai men.

The Khasi experiment sheds some insight — in this domain — into the long-standing debates about sex differences. […] Our study suggests that given the right culture, women are as competitively inclined as men, and even more so in many situations. Competitiveness, then, is not only set by evolutionary forces that dictate that men are naturally more so inclined than women. (53)

So now we can put aside any assumptions about gender and competitiveness inclination. We still have the issue of societal factors influencing these behaviours. An employer can miss out on talented employees by conducting competition-based application processes. How can you as a creative who may run a studio, or apply to be hired in a studio, alter the Western influence on competition?

To answer this question, Gneezy & List conducted another field experiment regarding pay negotiation. They posted jobs on Craigslist with variations including a job that had a fixed salary, and the other listed with a fixed salary but also stating it was negotiable. What they found was that in the fixed salary, men were more likely to negotiate for a higher wage than women. But then for the job that said the salary was negotiable, women bargained slightly more than men.

We found that by merely adding the information that the wage was “negotiable,” the gender gap in job applications shrank by approximately 45 percent. […] The results show that women avoid job postings that are not explicit about the rules of game, whereas men ambrace such postings. Clearly, if they want a healthy pool of both men and women, prospective employers should be explicit in the details of the job and the wage/benefit offering. (59)

Diverse Teams & Events

There are many more ways you can increase the chances of your own success in being hired, and increasing the diversity of your own team. Ashe Dryden has extensive resources and research on her blog and in her book The Diverse Team. As Dryden explains:

Recent studies have shown that a team comprised of people from various backgrounds and lifestyles lead to a more diverse set of ideas, out-of-the-box solutions, and products that appeal to a wider segment of the population.
(book website)

A fascinating tool to discover more about how diversity affects our lives, not just our workplace, is the “playable post” by Vi Hart and Nicky Case called “The Parable of the Polygons”. With this interactive, you can sort through making a polygon world diverse or not diverse. But it turns out, these two extremes are not simple solutions…

Screenshot of “Parable of the Polygons” — http://ncase.me/polygons/

Further Resources:

Self-Directed Practitioners

SAE Creative Media Institute’s “Overview of Industry” (CIU111)

    SAE Creative Institute

    Written by


    Self-Directed Practitioners

    SAE Creative Media Institute’s “Overview of Industry” (CIU111)

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