Game Accessibility Done Right

by Michael G.

Not too long ago I blogged about seeing high required video game difficulty as gatekeeping: an unjustifiable way of keeping people unlike "us" out of our games, most often weakly argued as necessary to a game's integrity. I got some pushback from some friends, but I still think I'm right: the only difficulty requirements should center on what is actually possible for developers to accommodate, with the ideal and intended experience set as the default.

This comes up again because this week Celeste, a new video game for the Nintendo Switch, released. Here's the trailer:

That's not a game that looks intended to be anything other than difficult. It even looks like difficulty is integral to the game's gameplay. And yet…

Hmm… That looks a lot like making a video game accessible to people who might otherwise find the experience far too difficult in its default, intended form. It looks almost as if the developer realized people who aren't skilled or just don't want to deal with the difficulty might have other reasons they want to play the game. Or maybe someone fully capable wants to see it all again without working hard the second time. It's almost as if there's no reason other than missplaced stubbornness to bar people from experiencing the game the way they want to.

But instead of looking at what it sounds like to me, let's see what the developers say. From New Normative's article Celeste's Assist Mode Brings Welcome Accessibility Options:

It’s clear about developer Matt Makes Games’s intent: “difficulty is essential to the experience. We recommend playing without Assist Mode your first time.” In an interview with ID @ Xbox, the eponymous Matt asked: “What’s the point of climbing a mountain if it doesn’t challenge you, right?”


Yet Celeste understands a simple fact: “every player is different.” This means that the standard difficulty might make the game inaccessible to some players for any number of reasons. Perhaps they have a disability, lower mechanical skill, or simply a limited amount of free time.

I won't paste the entirety of the article here. There's a little more there. The point is: Accessibility is right. Difficulty as requirement is wrong. Games should, universally, be as accessible as developers can make them.

2 & 10 x 26.2

by Michael G.

As I write this, it’s 11:30 PM, November 9 in Chania, on the Greek island of Crete. The days have blurred together and I really don’t understand how it’s Thursday night (Friday morning!?) already. One vacation of races and no sleep has bled into another with a bigger race and slightly more sleep. I’m awake, despite my friends and I getting to our hotel over 3 hours ago so we can make our very early flight to Athens. As it turns out, our hotel sits directly above a club. It is bouncin’. I'm tired and have no idea how coherent this will end up being, but also won't bother to proofread it before posting. I expect my friends will give the hotel a pretty negative review because even I, the easiest sleeper in the group, am unable to sleep consistently through the night–and I have seen them both get up tonight already to use the restroom much less well rested than I. I wish I could give them my ability to sleep, but I can’t. I wish I could give them respite from their irritation, the rest I can get that they can’t, or the previous rest I was able to accumulate on flights and in car rides that they weren’t also able to get–to give them what comfort I have that they don’t. But I can’t. Such is life.

The above isn’t really that important except to lay the atmosphere for when I’m writing this. It’s just over a week after the second anniversary of my first marathon. I should have written something last year. I wanted to and planned to, but was terribly unhappy with everything I produced. Such is life.

In just over 2 full days, I’ll be running my 10th full marathon–yes, 10 marathons in just over 2 years from my first. Getting obsessed with things is rather characteristic of me, to which anyone who knows me well can attest. 2 years of training, half a year of mistakenly thinking I was burning out on running despite not liking it any less (more on this in a bit), and 2 years of continuing to grow have all led to my 10th marathon being about as close to the origin of the sport as you can get: running the Marathon in Athens, Greece. I’m excited, but there’s so much more bouncing around in my head. Such is life.

My last marathon was just 3 weeks before the upcoming one. Being the Marine Corps Marathon, it was a beautiful race–easily my second favorite full marathon so far, decisively edging out the Chicago Marathon but not holding even a small candle to the bright light of the New York City Marathon (both the world’s largest and my first). The Marine Corps Marathon was beautiful, emotional, and an incredibly fun course–and personally filled with obstacles. I ran into some stomach issues I haven’t experienced for a race (couldn’t get fuel down and “bonked” as we say when referencing when a runner doesn’t have enough energy consumed and just runs out of energy). I struggled to get through the end portions not because of fitness, but because my stomach wouldn’t let me eat the fuel I’m used to. (As an aside, I increasingly think a good portion of this is my anxiety exhibiting itself in ways it hasn't before, not actually a stomach-related medical condition. Oh well.) It was frustrating, but it was also a friend’s first full marathon and that enthusiasm trumps absolutely any difficulty I might have had. (More on this sort of thing later, too.) Such is life.

This past weekend I was in Walt Disney World, in Florida. I loved it, as I always do. It was a race weekend: The 2017 Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend. I came into the weekend carrying the disappointment of having recently discovered Disney decided to cancel all of the 2018 Disneyland races in California. This wouldn’t be a big deal if not for the fact that over a year ago I had made the decision I would run every single runDisney race across the Disney parks in 2018. That means 9 race weekends (3 races each: a 5K, a 10K, and a Half Marathon) across 3 parks: 4 in Disney World, 4 in Disneyland, and 1 in Disneyland Paris–with one of the Disney World weekends (the first weekend of the year) including a 4th race, the Walt Disney World Marathon. I was so excited, had budgeted out the money and vacation time… and then the registration never opened for the Disneyland races. I waited. And waited. and waited. And then was disappointed to hear about the cancellation just a few weeks before this recent race weekend. And then, while I stood in costume in the front of the pack before the start of the 2017 Wine & Dine Half Marathon, Disney interviewed a guy who in 2016 did exactly what I had hoped to do–and will not be able to do due to reasons outside of my control–in 2018. I was actively sad, but also having a great time. I do every one of these races in a new and different costume. I had gotten attention in the pre-race festivities due to my costume and, it turns out, got included in the official runDisney Instagram post for the day! I knew I’d get over the disappointment of being unable to do the full suite of Disney races in 2018 and will keep an eye out for the first year it will be possible again. Besides, the whole weekend I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that the first two Disney race weekends of 2018 will have friends coming with me–and I can’t wait! Excitement for the future trumps disappointment. Such is life.

Just over two years ago, I nervously went into the New York City Marathon… and I had a blast. My race pictures almost all contain me with a big stupid grin on my face. It’s difficult for me to explain the elation of that experience. I loved every minute, loved exploring the city, loved the crowd, had beautiful weather, and it was a life event I’ll never forget. I have no idea if running through Athens, Greece will feel similar, but that’s ok! If I never feel the same thing again, the memory will stick with me. And the things running does for me won’t be diminished. Running gives me time to think. It gives me time to process emotions, abstract thoughts, and… well… depression. That last one is a monster: one that doesn’t fade, doesn’t leave, and doesn’t get easier. It’s a strain on my life, on my relationships, on every single day, and on most thoughts with any sort of depth. Such is life.

My depression is not a thing I hide from people, but it’s also not a thing people tend to realize unless I tell them about it. To those who have it, it’s hard to describe. It’s difficult to pin down all the ways it drags down our ability to function in normal life. It’s difficult to describe how much it disconnects others from us without them realizing. By its very nature it fights our ability to do the very things we know we need to do to address it. It is ever present, insidious, and deep rooted. It doesn’t let go. It tells us we’re not worth loving. It tells us our desires are unworthy. It tells us there’s no point to trying at the things we want because we don’t deserve them. It tells us we should abandon the good things we have going for us because we’re wasting others’ time. It causes us to wake up with an impulse to quit jobs we love, and have loved for years, because we’re clearly terrible and don’t deserve what happiness we have. It tells us not to ask for others’ help because their attention is best spent elsewhere. And by its very nature, the people who love us and want to help us work against our own efforts to pull out of it and, unfortunately, make our stress in the moment worse. We love them and know they mean well, but without experiencing it themselves–or being taught by those who truly understand–the best meaning loved ones exacerbate both depression and that horrible beast cousin anxiety. Loved ones can listen, though. Sometimes the work lies on those of us who suffer, but sometimes they learn to ask others how to help us and learn that way. And it helps. It really, truly, helps. Knowing we’re loved always helps, regardless of whether or not particular actions do–and whether or not that help is enough for us at the time. Depression sucks. Love from those around us is good. That love isn’t enough sometimes, though. Such is life.

Very recently, I had the worst bout of depression I’ve had in a long, long time. The worst since my initial diagnosis… over eleven years ago. I didn’t understand at first. I just assumed I was having a hard time. After a while I realized the thought processes and approaches I’ve spent years honing just… weren’t working. I couldn’t get through a week without an especially dark moment any more. I decided I needed to go to my doctor… and then months went by. Because depression fights our impulses to resolve it. I eventually got to the point where every ounce of effort I had was spent just avoiding breaking down into tears going through my every day actions, without people around me knowing. The ideas of normal productivity and high level mental functions made sense to me but were so far removed from my momentary experiences that they weren’t worth any mental time. Due to an abundance of support, as I have always been blessed to have, I was eventually able (after far too long) to get a doctor appointment made, get a prescription, and medication has helped make some inroads. Thus far it hasn’t solved the problem, and I’m still struggling, but after a few weeks it was undeniable that I could very clearly tie my restored ability to function in society to medicine. Depression sucks. Love from those around us is good. That love isn’t enough sometimes, though. Sometimes love just helps us get to the solution we need. Such is life.

So here I sit, as club music is thumping beneath me, looking forward to landing in Athens, Greece for my 10th marathon at the home of the sport. As I sit here, I think of running. I think of my depression and all the people who get it as well as the people who don’t but help anyways. More so, I think of the love I feel for so many people who are nowhere near me right now. All the love for so many people who don’t–and probably won’t ever–really understand the love I feel for them. This isn’t some high-minded overvaluation of my ability to love compared to others, but rather a sadness of the limitations of how we communicate. Language is limited, and the same exact words that might describe our own meanings end up limited by the way others use those same words. When I tell people I love them, I know they don’t understand what I mean. When I get the opportunity to really sit down and explain, I can nudge people closer to that understanding, but it never quite gets there. People hear what we tell them through the filters of their own experiences and, without some major practice at not trying to relate everything heard to something directly knowingly felt or experienced, this inevitably translates to largely misunderstanding others’ feelings–whether in intensity, scope, or conditionality. Add in all the many people I’ve never explicitly told I love them because of the awkwardness that would entail given peoples’ expectations around words (if you’re reading this, chances are far better–nearly a guarantee–this includes you than doesn’t) and the problem threatens to be overwhelming. In the end, it matters more that we love people than that they know we love them or they understand that love. It matters more that we’re trustworthy than trusted. It matters more that we’ll look after them than they realize we are. There are two reasons we might want others to recognize our love for them. The first is so that they’re less likely to fight us on it and we can therefore help them more thoroughly and easily. The latter is, essentially, selfishness–a desire to be recognized and validated. Learning to wish for the latter but not require it is hard, but important and very rarely understood. This particular mix of a great deal of the former with very little of the latter is, as far as I can tell, rarely fully understood–and probably the single most helpful thing at my disposal outside of medication for working through the very worst moments of depression. If I can just keep moving forward, I can keep doing for those I love–whether they understand it or not. People don’t get it and won’t get it, but I don’t need them to. I just need to keep loving them as I do. Such is life.

With the various stresses of depression, and love for others, I don’t take well to our society’s (to me) insane obsession with competition. I don’t accept my advancement at others’ expense and don’t much respect much in the way of personal aspiration the way it’s most commonly exhibited and celebrated. From our legal system, to our economy, to our sports, so much of our society is very clearly unhealthily obsessed with a might-makes-right mentality: a weird obsessive and clearly demonstrably false idea that pitting people against one another not only always produces the best outcome, but should be encouraged to the degree that clearly distasteful behavior should be shrugged off when done in the name of victory as merely being an inevitable byproduct of an inherently (somehow) virtuous system. When people very clearly take advantage of others, we too often hear excuses about someone being “a good businessman” as justification where it very obviously is not justification to anyone with an ounce of moral honesty. Sports fans get weirdly agitated and angry when referees/officials make judgement calls against their preferred team–despite those calls very obviously being the correct ones according to both letter and intent of the rules. Thousands of people are wrongly convicted in legal systems, while obviously guilty parties go free, and people shrug it off because lawyers on both sides were simply doing their jobs in a system that values victory over truth. I’m not going to pretend to know the solution to any of these, but the society-wide justification of these clear issues is troublesome. This society-wide obsession with competition infects so much thinking about relationships, love, and how we treat others. Instead of focusing on the many ways this negatively presents itself in the advice people give one another about relationships (of all kinds), it’s worth noting how much distance running culture is like a personal antidote: highly cooperative, encouraging, and minimally competitive. One person’s success almost never comes at the expense of another’s. Completion is completion. A faster time is a faster time. The pool of truly competitive runners is so minuscule that in my experience runners just help each other work towards their next goals and little else is so equitable. If I’m attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon, it’s highly unlikely that helping even 10 other people toward the same goal is going to have any influence at all on whether or not I make it. I ran a 10K (The Peachtree Road Race) with over 50 thousand others that also served as the 2017 United States national championship for the 10K. I ran the same course as world class athletes and started mere seconds after them. (I finished much more than mere seconds after them…) Coincidentally, this past Sunday’s Walt Disney World Wine & Dine Half Marathon was also the first race at which a woman (Giovanna Martins of Brazil) became the first ever woman to win a major (10,000 men + women participants) half marathon ( I was there and started mere inches from her! (In fact, I’m actually in that article’s photo gallery–taken from the runDisney instagram account–both in a single from-behind finisher photo dancing in my Chef Mickey costume and in the zoomed-out start line shot.) On the very same day my good friend ran her second marathon, her first New York City Marathon, while Shalane Flanagan became the first American woman to win the NYC Marathon since 1977. With this equitably, this alignment of elites with normal people, and the incredibly encouragement that happens upward and downward, running becomes a more selfless, friendly sport than the many others corrupted by a desire to win over a desire to witness the beauty of human achievement and performance. Cooperation toward independent individual improvement vastly trumps competition both in sport and in helping work through mental and emotional struggles. Alas, unhealthy competitive attitudes remain far more common. Such is life.

I could probably write forever and should stop at some point, so I suppose I’ll leave it at just over 2 hours (it's past 1:30 AM now) and this: a brief beginning of a journey into how distance running, love, and depression intermingle–the latter largely helped by the former two. Running, or something like it, is likely to be ever present in my life moving forward as a way to work through my depression and to learn how to better articulate and act on my love for others. Two years and 10 marathons are just the beginning.

Game Difficulty as Gatekeeping

by Michael G.

You don't have to care about video games for this to be potentially interesting.

I feel bad that this is my first blog post in well over a year because this isn't anything near the most important current issue to me, but it's something that matters to me just enough to justify writing and little enough that I'm not terribly worried about whether or not I could do a better job. It started as a bunch of drafted tweets, so it's a bit messy. My grammar and punctuation are clearly off in various places.

Recently, because of various video game releases, gaming circles have been talking for the umpteenth time about whether or not it's ok for games to just be hard, whether or not they should have easy modes, and so on. I haven't bothered to read any of the new stuff, but made a comment to friends on Twitter that game difficulty is essentially just gatekeeping. There were objections potentially justifying it and I realized I used to agree with those objections and no longer do. My responses were too long for tweets, so here you go.

The cases I used to believe in for some games just being however difficult they are without accommodations for lesser difficulties (and the ones I believe most find most convincing) are:

  • Often great games are designed hand in hand with the difficulty as a core part of the design. They don't "work" without it as a part of the artist's expression.
  • Some books, movies, comics, etc. aren't accessible to people who aren't familiar with a particular genre or haven't gotten used to how particular stories or presentation styles work. Games are the same way.

I used to see these cases as valid, but I don't at all any more. Not even slightly. Though many look at those two points as independent, I believe they're inseparable if they're to be addressed. The core issue with the discussion on game difficulty is accessibility.

Fluency and ability should allow for optimal or intended experiences and should never serve as a deliberate mechanism for excluding people from art, media, or entertainment.

When we say books or movies are not accessible, we tend to mean they're figuratively not accessible to those without particular experiences or skills. They're not enjoyable. They're not relatable. Many who try to experience them just won't get much out of them.

We're not generally saying they're literally inaccessible.

High learning curve books are unenjoyable, but not impossible, for those not fluent in genre/context. Even when we have harder barriers to accessibility, we reject them and work around them. We don't accept language fluency as a requirement for books. We are happy to actively translate them for a "less-optimal" version to basically any language we can.

Genre books are figuratively inaccessible, not literally inaccessible. Books for which people don't have the ability to read at all start as literally inaccessible, but we don't believe they should remain so. The opposite is true. We value increasing literal accessibility as much as possible.

Difficult comics may be difficult to navigate or comprehend by those without a history reading comics. Panel order can be confusing!

Those readers can still choose to read the bubbles and realize they're missing detail in visual cues. They can just flip through the book if they want to experience the visual artwork. They can enjoy whatever components of the comic they find worthwhile on their own terms.

These difficult comics are figuratively inaccessible, not literally inaccessible.

We reprint comics on different paper stock, at different sizes, with different inks, and even in entirely different mediums (digitally) than the creators originally intended and may have explicitly and deliberately designed around. Sometimes one experience is palpably "worse" than the original or "improper". We don't say we shouldn't make those changes or that people shouldn't be able to download the comic to read panel by panel on their phone instead of page by page (ok, some people in the comics world do say that last bit, but of all the examples here comics industry and culture is the closest to gaming in attitudes and issues). 

Films are made with a target experience in mind, but can be experienced by anyone how they want, even if "wrong" (theater, standard definition, high definition, TV, tablet, laptop, phone, airplane seat screen). We don't require a given number of surround channels of audio, a particular size screen, or particular lighting environments. Very few people declare a film designed to take advantage of the most elaborate cinema experience possible shouldn't be made available to people in other ways, even if it would be universally agreed what the optimal experience is. We don't say we can't/shouldn't allow people to watch the films elsewhere. Even if we do believe there's a best way to experience something (and I'm firmly in the camp that this is often the case), we don't require people to experience it that way if they want to at all.

Language, color perception, eyes, and ears are great, but we do closed captioning, subtitles, and descriptive audio.

These things allow optimal experiences, but we don't accept them as requirements to experience the films at all. We don't accept any of these as something that has to make the experience literally inaccessible. We accept the artist's vision as an ideal target, not a literal requirement.

Before getting to video games, the next example that comes to mind is puzzles. Surely the whole point of some puzzles is to be more difficult than others! Clearly at least that's a requirement. Let's talk about sudoku and nonograms–both purely geometrical/numerical puzzles. (If you're familiar with Nintendo's "Picross" games, those puzzles are nonograms.)

I'm not going into great detail explaining these puzzles. How they work isn't all that important here. It's enough to know they're both different grid-based puzzles where you fill in the grid based on numbers provided with the puzzle. In both there are various difficulties based on the combination of numbers provided and grid size. With nonograms in particular, a fun element that might drive people to want to complete such a puzzle is that the solved puzzles often become an image of something.

If you're working on these puzzles on paper, the difficulty is inherently tied to the medium. For the more difficult or larger puzzles there's not much you can do to change anything once written. This seems pretty clear cut, but let's explore a bit:

There are limitations to what are both possible and feasible. If I write a novel, I literally do not have the means to translate it into 40 languages by myself. If I can't fund translations, then I can't make translations available. 

In both the paper puzzle game and self-written won't-sell-any-copies novel, I'm not claiming that I shouldn't make the art or entertainment more literally accessible. I don't see changing it to suit those who literally can't access them as something that shouldn't be done or invalidates the work. It's not possible to make the paper puzzle more accessible, but it would be great if I could. It's not feasible to make the book more accessible because I have neither the audience nor the means. I should make those changes if something, imaginable or unforeseen, happens to make something newly possible or feasible.

If a celebrity finds my book, talks about it, and it suddenly starts selling in large quantities, I should commission translations, and perhaps an audio book as new feasibility allows.

If my puzzle becomes electronic or computerized, I should enable assistance options if a player wants to use them. I can make the defaults what I believe to be optimal and design for what I think best, while also providing tools for greater accessibility: I can choose having a timer vs no timer. Penalties and immediate notification on wrong entry vs immediate notification of errors without penalties vs never notifying about errors so a player has to figure out they're incorrect just like on paper (only telling players when they have everything solved). Allow undo. Provide hints. The biggest and most complex puzzles may still be figuratively inaccessible because someone isn't getting nearly the "most" out of them if they use all the assist tools available, but they are at least literally accessible for any who decide they want to experience it. And the designer can have the default settings be exactly what they believe the optimal experience to be.

This brings us to video games.

Game skill is nothing other than fluency and ability. Saying gaming ability should be a requirement to experience parts of a game is to say some people should be barred from some games, unlike how we look at any other form of art, media, or entertainment. That's a hard case to make without 1: Illustrating impossibility and infeasibility or 2: demonstrating an elitist belief that video games are somehow worthy of being the sole major exception among different types of media or art, where people must be good enough to be worthy of experiencing a game.

Yes, video games are often designed around a particularly well designed and constructed difficulty level. I love many games more than I otherwise would because of the exacting nature of the experience the designer intended. But there are even more games I appreciate or enjoy despite some factor others, designers included, believe integral to the design. I may have the ability to get through a particular aspect of a game leaning on a mechanic I just don't enjoy in order to get to the parts I do. In these cases I may very well just not care that the developer and others think the "right way" to experience the game is with the designed difficulty. I may want to make those parts easier so I just don't have to deal with them. I want to enjoy the game on my own terms. 

Saying that it's too bad and I just have to deal with experiencing it exactly as intended is very much akin to people saying someone shouldn't be allowed to experience a particularly affecting film or show with the lights on and with breaks because the ambiance and palpable fear are "essential" to the movie–even if that person actually immensely dislikes those aspects of the film but respects its role in film history or loves some aspect of fictional world building/lore despite an aversion to horror or horror-adjacent trappings. In this situation, the viewer is someone who has the ability to view the film as intended but chooses not to do so because she prefers another method or even finds core elements of its design unpleasant. Big fans might say in response "Oh no, you watched it all wrong!", but if the person viewing said they just can't handle watching horror without getting nightmares and that they were going to either watch it this way or not at all–we generally wouldn't describe a fan's response of "Well then you should just never watch it" as anything other than elitist or snobbish.

And, of course, some people just can't play a game well enough to progress no matter how much they try. They may not really understand RPG strategies, or have the hand-eye coordination necessary, or have the years of video game experience successful players do, but really love the art, music, story, or some combination therein.

A major additional rub specific on this topic to video games: It's generally less difficult to eliminate game difficulty as a factor in either dictating experience or barring experience entirely than it is to make most of the aforementioned adjustments and allowances we already afford film, television, and literature. Yes, I understand technology. I'm familiar with the painful reality of people often saying things in technology are "easy" when they don't understand the work that goes into it. I'm not saying this is always easy. It is, though, often easier.

Developers can and should make the uncompromised game they want designed around the ideal intended experience and difficulty. A developer doesn't have to spend time balancing alternate difficulty modes if that's not where they want to spend development time. The same is true for developing some kind of AI to auto-play for the person with the controller. Those things are extra credit and deserve additional accolades. Most of the time, however, there is at least some bare minimum effort for optionally dropping difficulty and suddenly making a game literally accessible, even if the developer's perception of the experience would be greatly reduced with those options enabled.

Let the player choose to be overpowered. Let them toggle invincibility. Let them choose to get more experience points, have more HP, or just flat out be overpowered in an RPG. Let them choose to just be told where to go on a map instead of having to figure out where to go. Let them turn off timers. Let them slow down quick time events. Let them skip levels they don't like or are stuck on. Let the user "cheat". There's almost always something you can easily implement just to make your game suddenly literally accessible to those who would be barred otherwise.

It really doesn't matter if these adjustments "break your game", or what you envision the game to ideally be? It doesn't really matter if you think there's "no point" to the game without the difficulty? If the person playing is choosing to change those things, those aren't the reasons they're playing your game. They're just getting value out of a part of something you still made disproportionate to your expectations.

The actual content of the game doesn't need to be the line across which people take pride in being better than others at games. If you care about delineating who played the game "properly" versus who didn't, reward players with trophies, achievements, badges, or other markers on a save file. Don't bar them from content. If people would have otherwise, they will still talk about the canonical version of the game–the part you spent so much time hand tailoring and made the default. Defaults are powerful.

There are two reasons games come out without some kind of easier options for accessibility. The first is simply that the developers didn't even think of the fact that some wouldn't be able to progress. This is the vast majority of cases. The shortcoming here is not thinking of others, much like if you make a puzzle game reliant entirely on color shades indistinguishable by some colorblind people (aside: use shape in addition to color). It should be addressed, but it's not intentional exclusion. The second reason, though, is choosing not to include easier options. That's less innocuous. Intentional or not, that is stating both "I want people to experience playing this game my way or not at all" and "I want to exclude some people from ever experiencing playing it at all". Yes, of course artists have a right to do whatever they want. Designers have a right to not put out a game with any way to experience it in a way they feel is compromised, and therefore intentionally exclude people from it. Having a right to do something isn't the same as it being right to do.

Requiring particular ability or skill to experience the content merely because you've decided people should have to earn the right or be "good enough" to experience something properly rather than choose what value they get out of it on their own terms is prideful and indicative of the immaturity of the video game industry, the culture around it, and the perception of games from those outside of gaming culture–that games aren't worth treating like other media, art, and entertainment. There is not a good reason for difficulty to be what makes a game literally inaccessible to a person. Unless it is impossible or infeasible for you to make the game easier, choosing to keep difficulty as a barrier to literal accessibility is active gatekeeping, regardless of intent. If the reason for not including easier methods of progression is that you don't want to, rather than that you can't–you are gatekeeping. ("Can't" meaning the aforementioned impossiblity and/or infeasibility.)

Art, media, and entertainment should be made as literally accessible as is both possible and feasible, regardless of its figurative accessibility or optimal and intended experiences. We treat nearly everything else that way. Video games should be model examples of this, rather than the sole major exception. People can decide what they value for themselves and can enjoy things in their own ways.

"How does 30 feel?"

by Michael G.

The post below started last night as an Instagram caption, got far too long, and in my exhausted state I couldn't think of an appropriate place to put it and posted it on Facebook. A very smart friend reminded me in a comment that I have a blog I almost never post to. Oops. So here it is, the morning after.


"How does 30 feel?"

Today marked 10 days of me getting this question, laughing it off along with whomever is asking, and replying offhandedly, "just like 29!"

Today was both just another day and a day full of so many parts of my life and so much inadvertent introspection that I have a real answer.

Warning: You’re going to have to work to get to it.



This morning I woke up knowing I get to go to an awesome job I love. I got to walk to work. I got to work with amazing coworkers I love, many of whom came to my birthday party last week and I couldn't have fathomed not inviting. I got to have meaningful conversations focused on investing in *people* and am blessed to have a role in the office very focused on that investment. None of these things are new to 30. Not the company I work for. Not the walk. Not the amazing coworkers. Not my desire to invest in others or the role I have that allows me to so much. None of them are taken for granted. All of them are amazing, and better at 30 than they were at 29.

During the day today I had multiple text message threads going with friends I made in my freshman year of high school in August of 2000. I was 14! That was 16 years ago, and those text message threads? Totally normal: politics in one, video games in the other. This isn't new to 30. The relationships nor the normality of these messages. To me they’re still amazing and better at 30 than 29. And as an aside, one of these two friends was at that birthday party last week I mentioned earlier (the other living in another state).

After work I walked home, dropped my laptop off, then walked to Marta with an umbrella and a nerdy programming podcast in my ears to go to Buckhead Church for a Kick Off event celebrating the start of a new year as volunteers with our children's ministries. The torrential downpour caught me when leaving the station, nearly taking my 8-years-old and well-loved Georgia Tech umbrella clear out of my hands. I arrived in the church totally soaked and just found it hilarious instead of frustrating. It didn’t occur to me once that I could have chosen not to come to the event because volunteering at this church has been the highlight of my week nearly every single week for 7 years. This includes exactly 2 full years (to the day) I lived in Tallahassee, Florida and drove up most weekends (at least 3 times a month) to continue to volunteer because this service is a deep, important part of me that gives to me immensely more than it takes from me.

I arrived and saw a multitude of familiar, loving, amazing faces belonging to other people with huge hearts for service and for children. I happily grabbed two name tags and wrote my name twice: Once on my Waumba Land (Preschool) tag and once on my UpStreet (K-5) tag and grabbed my volunteer shirts for both… because I’m excited to be returning to both this year–coaching some amazing dedicated fellow volunteers in 5 rooms full of 2-year-olds during the 9AM service as well as going up to 1st grade (FIRST GRADE!!!) with my own small group kids during the 11AM service. I’ve been with those kids since they were 2! The idea of starting a new year with these adults and with these children is overwhelming and fills me with more joy than any other aspect of my life. I don’t know how many more years I’ll have it in me to serve during multiple services, but this year certainly isn’t the year I’m going to stop. As we sat down to see the stories of families who’ve felt the love we feel for them and prepared to worship and bring in the new year, the staff announced they were going to hand out a few prizes. I was very surprised and honored to hear my name called first because of a funny story I shared with my RSVP. (We have a song in Waumba Land a child was once singing to me. The moment went like this: “My God is so big, so strong and so MIGHTY, there’s nothing my God cannot do!………*pause* Mr. Michael, are you God?”) Because of this story I “won” an awesome water bottle I will absolutely treasure because of where it came from and the fact it was specifically chosen for me because the staff knows how much running I do these days!

This is where someone else might reluctantly say they were secretly hoping to get the spotlight put on them when put on camera and others applauded, but if you’re reading this you already know I was hoping I would “win”. To be clear, this is because I love attention (which you know), not because I somehow think I was more deserving than a single other person in the room. There are so many other volunteers for whom the commitment is more difficult, for whom the stretch from their comfort zone is further, or who have been serving longer or more effectively in any number of ways that I couldn’t even begin to pretend I was more *deserving* than others. No. I just wanted to “win” because I like attention a lot. Especially in groups. I would have happily bounced onto the stage, taken a bow, and said a few words. So yeah. Not so secretly wishing I would win. (Did I mention I like attention?)

We finished the evening and this is when things started clicking in to place. None of this evening was new to 30. Not the umbrella. Not the nerdy podcasts. Not the church. Not the service. Not being surrounded by other people I love who serve. Not the love for serving. Not how much I enjoy attention in large groups. None of them are taken for granted. All of them are better at 30 than they were at 29.

One part of the “clicking in to place” during the service was a personal moment during some worship music that is not a rare moment. Some introspection started and I began to reflect on some recent events. Recently multiple coworkers (including my boss today!) have asked about my well-being when I've seemed "less smiley", more tired, or more quiet than usual. Today I responded with an honest thought that I was totally fine and that sometimes I just get locked into concentration when I haven’t been around people much (it’s true, I had basically been locked away in my headphones with no people in my vicinity for most of 2 hours at that point). It turns out, though, that my coworkers have been on to something before I was. I don’t want to turn this into an entirely different post, so it will suffice to say what they were noticing–and what I hadn’t noticing–is a bout of my clinical depression creeping in. Before you ask me why, if there’s anything you can do, etc: Don’t worry! I’m not just fine. I’m good! As anyone who has depression knows, but few people who don’t do, it’s not a thing that generally has a particular cause and it’s not productive to try to nail one down. I have strategies that have long served me in managing it, am blessed to have it generally be mild enough that it can be managed, and a very very big part of managing it for me is recognizing when it’s affecting me–and relying on others’ observations of me is a huge part of that recognition. These wonderful coworkers of mine asked the right questions at the right time, now I realize what’s been happening and can see the slump, and I’m equipped to get out of it. None of this is new to 30. My depression isn’t, my recognition of it isn’t, my refusal to be afraid of it isn’t, and my being surrounded by insightful, caring people who help me deal with it day in and day out without knowing it isn’t. I don’t take these things for granted, and they’re better at 30 than they were at 29.

So then I got home and the next thing on my docket was to hit the treadmill and train. This… I guess this is new to 30! I mean, I’ve liked running for a few years, but at 29 I was in the beginning stages of training for my first full marathon and had done just 2 half marathons total. Both without training even the tiniest bit. For the record: Don’t do that. It is stupid. I was stupid for doing that. Don’t be stupid like I was. At 30, I’ve done 2 more half marathons, several other races, 3 full marathons, and am currently training for both my 4th and 5th–with aspirations to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and have many bigger race challenges on the docket soon. This is new to 30. It’s awesome. I love it. And yet it’s also reflective of my long-standing trait of just getting entirely obsessed with things and not letting go.

Right as I was heading down to the gym for the treadmill, I received a text from a friend I do a podcast with and we decided to scrap our next episode’s topic in favor of taking notes while reading the new Harry Potter play so we can talk about that instead. This friendship isn’t new to 30. The podcast isn’t. My love for reading and other media isn’t (did you know I was grounded from reading as a kid?). Nerdy conversations that have way more organization around them than is entirely necessary (but is oh-so-satisfying) aren’t. My love of Harry Potter isn’t. My desire to critically read/consume media instead of just passively doing so isn’t. They’re all better at 30, though.

After getting back from training, I opened some packages that arrived today. Among them are some prize additions to my budding retro video game collection: A Sega CD add-on for the Genesis and a Famicom Disk System! (Some of you know how exciting this is to me. Some of you don’t have even the faintest idea.) As a bonus, today at lunch a coworker drove me to my place to give me an old CRT TV he wanted to get rid of that I want to properly hook up all these old video game systems to. There are very very obvious through-lines from 8-year-old me to now. Pretty much none of this is new to 30. Not my love of video games. Not my nostalgia. Not my proclivity for collecting things in a huge burst with eventual slowdown and no regret (as can be confirmed by anyone who has seen my media collections, my long-growing video game collections, my small-ish but budding record collection, my comics collection–especially digital, or my toy collection on my desk at work). Not my obsession with doing things “the right way” and to completion (what good would this retro collection be without a CRT to play them on!?). Not even my irrational love of Sonic the Hedgehog. (Piece of trivia: All I’ve been listening to at work this week, most of last week, and while typing this post up has been Sonic the Hedgehog music… this is not uncommon.) These are all pretty much exactly the same as they’ve been my entire life… but I sure as heck enjoy them just as much as ever at 30.

Earlier today I was bummed to tell my mom I wasn’t free tonight or tomorrow because she, my cousin, my brother, and I want to make plans to watch Jungle Book together. Clearly my family isn’t new to 30. My desire to do things with them isn’t, either. Nor my love for Disney movies. All better, though.

Next I get to think about the things I’m looking forward to this weekend: Aside from the obvious first Sunday of the new service year at church I’m excited to follow a huge event (to me) through social media. She’s the First, a charitable organization I absolutely love and am happy to contribute to, is having #STFSummit ( to celebrate and promote everything involved in their mission to send more girls in developing nations to school so they can be the first in their families to graduate. I love the vision of the women who founded this organization, love what the organization does, love my newfound awareness of it, and am happy to be involved. Side note: If you ever want to do something for me or get me a gift, just donate through my STF fundraising page (here). It would mean the world to me to know you are helping to pay for girls’ education around the world even partially because of awareness I’ve brought. My desire to help others isn’t new to 30. My awareness of and commitment to raise money for She’s the First isn’t entirely new. My passion for it is, though, and I’m really grateful for that.

Also coming this weekend and on the front of my mind today is a joint belated 30th birthday party and celebration of my brother being temporarily home with family and close family friends who have known me my entire life. My excitement and love of these relationships isn’t new. As yet another aside: My brother is about to spend a year traveling the world to educate community leaders on how to use soccer to enact positive social change starting with Cambodia and Indonesia, then on to numerous other places that will benefit immensely from him. The dude is amazing and I’m so glad we share a passion to help others who’ve grown up without the many advantages we’ve been afforded in our lives.

So yeah. There’s a lot to unpack here. At some point several years ago I crossed from being someone who knew who he wanted to be to becoming someone who is who he wants to be. Since then it’s just been a matter of continuing to be better at being me. The important things that make me… uh… me haven’t changed since then. Some of these traits existed before I became who I want to be, but it’s when they all became true that I knew I wasn’t reaching to become a different person any longer. I’m hungry for knowledge and want to continue to be ever hungrier for it. I’m a person who wants to be uncomfortable with disliking things and seek to find the value in everything… and seek to only have a larger number of passions over time. I seek to not take my own advantages and privileges for granted, and to continue to continually understand them further so that I can leverage them to help those who don’t share them. I try to recognize, understand, and diminish my many prejudices as they become evident to me through listening to others. I firmly believe that I am, and everyone else is, always missing something important–which means I should be (and seek to be) always open to new knowledge and perspectives large and small that fly in the face of my own observations. I strive to continually get better and better at pretty much everything, just for the sake of doing better. I seek to have an accurate view of my abilities: both when I’m better at and when I’m worse at something than others–to better recognize when I’m in a position to help others or should seek assistance from, learn from , or defer to others. I believe deeply in assessing other people accurately and genuinely–getting to know them and appreciate them for who they are. That means not pretending people are the best or worst versions of themselves, but instead focusing on their positive traits first, knowing they’re valuable and worth loving for who they are, and then also recognizing those peoples’ flaws–not out of a cynical recognition that everyone is flawed, but out of an appreciation that everyone is flawed *and those flaws do not diminish them or the respect and love they are due*. This means seeking the genuine things to praise people for, of which I’ve rarely (never?) found people lacking–and avoiding the damage that comes from undue praise. I’m immensely introspective, constantly revisiting and reassessing my own character to see how and when I can improve. I have very nearly no temper at all, barely remembering what getting angry at someone feels like. I don’t do grudges. My life is dedicated to serving and investing in others, to building new quality relationships continually, to maintaining the ones I have as best I can, and to continue to do all these things better as time goes on. Lastly: I love you, whoever you are, from basically the moment I meet you to forever, whether I’ve told you so or not and whether you believe it or not–and it’s not negotiable (others might say it should be, but I absolutely qualify this as one of my strengths–I don’t WANT it to be negotiable, it took a lot of effort to make this the case, and don’t plan to ever let this change). All these things have been a part of me for years, and I continue to get better at them.

Similarly, my many flaws have long been accepted: I can be overwhelming to others. I talk… a lot… and can hijack conversations unfairly. I often come off as thinking something much more decisively than I intend to, leading people to think something has been decided when in fact I’d love to hear their input. I like attention… perhaps a little too much. I, despite an air of confidence, am never ever free of near-debilitating levels of second-guessing (this and my appreciation of attention are a very very delicate balance). I can want to talk things into the ground when others are tired of a conversation. I get very very overzealous about a lot of things. I have a major tendency to overcommit myself to the verge of burnout, then flake out or withdraw into a proverbial shell. I struggle continually with depression. These have all been true for a long time and aren’t likely to go away, but they’re all things I’ve gotten drastically better at recognizing and managing with time.

In the end, 30 year old me is the same as 29 year old me, 28 year old me, and on back several years to some undefined point in my early-to-mid-20s when I became who I wanted to be. As time goes on I just get better at being the same person. *I’m more unabashedly me.* With all that said, let’s go back to the original question.


“How does 30 feel?”


Amazing. Just like 29… but more so. And not quite as amazing as 31.


(Final aside: This whole… mess of a thing I wrote in a single draft with weird paragraph breakdowns; far too many commas, ellipses, and em dashes; a meandering stream of consciousness; and no real thought as to where it should go is so. completely. me.)

DCAU Watching Order

by Michael G. in

People who know me know I like a lot of things very passionately. One of these many things is the amazing DC animated univrse (DCAU) from the 1990s through early 2000s. From the minds of Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and a few others, the DCAU is a stretch of several DC comics-based TV shows in the same continuity that are really, truly great. There are some pieces of fiction you love as a child that only hold up due to nostalgia when revisited as an adult. These aren't like that. These contain interconnected stories beginning with Batman, moving on to Superman, Static Shock, the totally original Batman Beyond and Zeta Project, and into Justice League/Justice League: Unlimited (which was actually used to tie up Batman Beyond's story after its premature cancellation).

The series move from early 90s era episodic stories to larger serialized stories, poke fun at comic book tropes, contain some of the most moving storytelling you'll see in any medium. Just the 14th episode, from 1992, Heart of Ice won an Emmy and established what we now think of as Mr. Freeze's origin story. It introduces what is still to this day one of the best examples of a sympathetic villain I can think of. The three-part Superman story The World's Finest is an excellent execution of the Superman-meets-Batman dynamic DC looks so poised to fail horrendously at with their upcoming Hollywood movie and later there is an episode which covers a character's death with such immense weight that I may never forget the line ""in the end the world didn't need a Superman just a brave one" (Apokolips...Now!, Part 2). If you're a fan of the character Harley Quinn, you owe that to the Batman: The Animated Series as well. Numerous other original and moving stories are told with the trappings of DC superheroes in the universe, making it all pretty easy to recommend.

Knowing you want to watch it, though, doesn't mean the universe is easy to navigate. A few years ago I wrote up a "watching order" to organize the several shows into a suggested viewing order for anyone intending to dig in. Instead of just storing the list on my own machine, it seemed reasonable to go ahead and put this up here. A friend asking to borrow Batman: The Animated Series, the origin of the whole DCAU, this weekend seemed like as good a reason as any to put this up.

DC Animated Universe Watching Order


Film - This is an in-canon movie.

Optional - Clearly all of this is optional, but these are sections that aren't particulary important and more for completion than "essential" material viewing.

  1. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Watch any time early during Season 1 of B. No real continuity issues, so you could watch before the season, but I think you should at least start with Episodes 1 and 2 of the show to get a feel for it before watching this movie.)
  2. Batman: The Animated Series Seasons 1-2
  3. Superman: The Animated Series Seasons 1-2
  4. Batman & Mr Freeze: SubZero (Watch before episode 3 of Batman Season 3, Cold Comfort. Easiest to just watch before starting the season.)
  5. The New Batman Adventures (aka Batman: TAS Season 3)
  6. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (Movie. Actually made very late, in 2003 in the universe of New Batman Adventures.)
  7. Superman: TAS (Season 3)
  8. Batman Beyond (All 3 Seasons)
  9. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (Movie. If you can, watch the "Unrated" uncensored version. If you don't have the option, the censored version is acceptable.)
  10. The Zeta Project (2 Seasons. If interested, watch after Batman Beyond. No other tie-ins.)
  11. Static Shock (4 Seasons. If interested, watch after Batman Beyond. Before Justice League.)
  12. Justice League (2 Seasons)
  13. Justice League Unlimited (3 Seasons) (This show should to be the last thing you watch in the series, so if you're interested in watching the optional series, watch those first.)