The Whys and Wherefores of an Inclusive “Dragon Queens”

Our chief goal with Dragon Queens is, of course to provide an entertaining experience. No surprises there. More than that though, we at Box Kaleidoscope are setting out to make this and all our future games as inclusive and accessible as possible. We’ll be exploring some of the ways we actually go about this – and the ways we’ll be enabling other creators to do so – in future blog posts. For now though: I, Gemma, would like to address our core motivations. Why are trying to make Dragon Queens as accessible and inclusive as possible?

"Dragon Queens" banner image, depicting the title in a brass-coloured, fantasy-medieval font. Either side of the logo stands a tower: one gothic, all arches and spires; the other a more modest and stocky turret. Each one has a dragon queen sat atop it, with various food and luxury items spread at the base of the towers in tribute to them.

The question almost answers itself, of course – greater accessibility means more players will be capable of enjoying the things we make. But beneath this abstract, moral philosophy lay some startling numbers. I’ve spent part of this this year delivering a talk on this topic, entitled The Art of Letting More People Play Your Game. It starts out with a broad exploration of just what constitutes a “minority” audience, and at the risk of sounding cliché: the conclusions may indeed come as a surprise.

In a photo depicting a fairly typical, small stage with projector screen backdrop, Gemma can be seen at a small podium table on the left. At stage right is a pop-up banner display the Nordic game logo, and those of its sponsors. The projector screen shows a slide which itself describes a series of pointers for flexible control schemes, summarised as "consider the physical interactions within your game".
Gemma delivering her talk at Nordic Game 2016 (photo by Ian Hamilton)

When it comes to sizing up both our audience and the sorts of constraints we should design around, it’s good to start with a few guiding questions:

  • Just what kind of physical and cultural circumstances might game-players find themselves in?
  • How are games failing to pay due respect or attention to these factors, and thus causing discomfort and/or disabling circumstances to arise?
  • How can we fix this?

It’s a straightforward process, from which I pulled together the following list of demographic ‘tags’:

Ethnicity, language, culture & beliefs, sexuality, gender expression, cognitive ability, learning difficulties, autism spectrum, mental health, physical impairment, sensory impairment, age, social mobility (e.g. wealth & education)…

We can use these to narrow down census data, of course – but more importantly they can help us consider our players, their circumstances and our design choices. Take each ‘tag’ in isolation and you’ll end up with what might be considered a minority demographic; mix more than one and you have intersectionality. This represents not only a broader picture, but also a truer one given how many of these factors can and likely will overlap for people.

Start applying that census data, and we begin to see that for example: while colour blindness may indeed affect an estimated 44 million people in Europe, some of this significant body of people will inevitably experience other factors such as physical impairment, poverty, or even having a cultural background which differs from what might be considered a ‘western European standard’.

The conclusion at which we arrive is basically this: if we wish to expand our audience from those who are already being amply served, we must do so somewhat flexibly and broadly, rather than with a very narrow focus – such as one might initially expect.

A green cup of delicious, fragrant tea

The good news – for us at Box Kaleidoscope, for players, and for other developers who may want to welcome more players in – is that many of the design steps we can take will actually serve more than one demographic ‘tag’. Moreover, when we consider design guidelines such as: monitoring visual contrast; ensuring the game controls can be re-mapped or operated with one hand; and keeping a broadly-representative cast of characters.. these steps carry benefits for all players, whether they regularly encounter disabling barriers to play or not.

For example: the ability to slow down on-screen text and not feel pressured by arbitrary time constraints may be a game-changer for those with learning difficulties and/or cognitive impairments, but it also adds quality and choice for those players who may simply be distracted, in a rush, or looking to play whilst engaged in some other task.

A gold ring encrusted with blue gems and a large, blue central gemstone

All this adds up to why we’re going a little bit further with our interfaces and overall game experience. Which is not to say that we (or anyone else) can go all the way: common sense dictates that here as with any endeavour, our resources have their limits, and even our efforts to engage people in a visually-driven experience for a particular set of hardware will exclude some. We have, however, identified a series of steps we can take to avoid unnecessary and disabling barriers in Dragon Queens, and we look forward to opening up our findings, tools and processes to as many people as possible.

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  • You can see a transcript of Gemma’s talk from Castle Game Jam 2016 (in Örebro, Sweden) at her website: