No, this is not about Web Content Accessibility

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Thankfully, critics and consumers have been talking more about accessibility these past few years, and the creation of the new Innovation in Accessibility category in 2020 The Game Awards shows that no one can ignore this conversation now. Well, except for a certain company.

But I do not see people talking about accessibility regarding content very often. One of the few times I saw an website publish a piece explicitily about it was How Darkwood Became a Horror Game That is PTSD-Inclusive published in The Mary Sue in 2017. Of course, such matters do not become important or valid only when famous websites write about them, but doing so brings more visibility to the issue.

[The Game Awards website: October 21,2020. Innovation in Accessibility Award Added to The Game Awards. Today The Game Awards announced a new award that will be presented starting in 2020: Innovation in Accessibility. This award will recognize developers that are pushing the medium forward by adding features, technology and content to help games be played and enjoyed by an even wider audience. The Innovation in Accessibility honor join the Global Gaming Citizen program, the Games for Impact award, and other, to be announced initiatives, as ways to highlight those helping grow and diversify the types of people that create and consume video game entertainment.]

In the same manner buildings need ramps for wheelchair users and oral content need closed caption for deaf, hard of hearing and people with auditory processing disorder, every work should strive to be clear about its own content and make it possible so everyone can engage in it if they are interested in doing so.

This is already done in some manner. We have age ratings for video games, movies, TV shows and books and they have small warning such as “fantasy violence” or “gambling”. Apart from assigning an age to content (being an adult doesn’t magically gets you comfortable with gore), this is not specific at all. It does not describe the portrayal of the content, as a character mentioning they attempted suicide in the past is widely different than a suicide scene, nor the exact “location” of it. How many times have you seen a generic “adult content” warning in works of fiction? Ok, so what that means? Debt?
Content/trigger warning should be the most specific as possible, but that should be made with care. The FAQ for Tell Me Why by DONTNOD have questions that are more like bullet points about the content and, if you want more details about it, the specific events only appear when you click on them.
Another good example is the visual novel May I Take Your Order? by Alexis Royce which provides the content warnings in a text file inside the game folder, which is even better than being on a website, detailing very specific violent acts and also changes to the UI such as “The save screen changes from a white background to a dark background”.
This practice is super great and helpful, but still doesn’t solve all the problems.

[FAQ for Tell Me Why: — Is Tyler’s birth name, or deadname, used anywhere in the game? — Was Tyler’s mother transphobic? (SPOILERS) — Does Tell Me Why depict any transphobia against Tyler? (SPOILERS) — Is Tyler misgendered in Tell Me Why? (SPOILERS) — Does Tell Me Why depict violence against Tyler? (SPOILERS)]

You have probably seen spoiler warnings in written texts and videos. They usually look like:

SPOILER ABOUT THIS AND THAT!!

the spoilers are here

END OF SPOILER

And in videos, content creators usually tell you which time to skip to. Simple right?
Most people think this is a good and respectable practice. Regarding content/trigger warning, some people get defensive, arguing “you should get out of your bubble” or “but you’re not enjoying this content properly”. I remember around the time Doki Doki Literature Club by Team Salvato was released and some people were posting trigger warning lists on their personal blogs so they could help other people, but some gamers were getting mad at the possibility someone might get spoiled. Fuck your trauma, you should not ruin the experience of this holy work, I guess.

With video games, as it’s a highly interactive media, simply skipping the necessary parts don’t cut it. For example, it’s common to have the option to skip sex and rape scenes in visual novels that include them, such as Cute Demon Crashers by SugarScript and Sweet Pool by Nitroplus.
Even though Cute Demon Crashers has a big focus on sex, you’re able to skip the sex scenes and even stop them. No, not by closing the game, the Main Character can ask to stop and this is acknowledged and respected by their partner. You do not miss any plot or relatinship development due to skipping.
While in Sweet Pool, if you do not have the patch to unlock the sex and rape scenes (which is not available through Steam), the game simply cuts them and do not explain what happened or what the characters talked about in those scenes. This is simply frustrating and confusing. You could have a simple and careful explanation of important points (yes, there are important plot points in such scenes).

I find this kind of solution so simple to implement, devs don’t even need to alter the work in any way. Why should we not be allowed to choose to enjoy the rest of the work if only a part of it is not accessible to us? Clear and specific content warnings are super important, but they are only the first baby step, and skipping the parts we need without explanations is half-assed. To make content actually accessible, not only ignorable, creators need to provide us the option to see a safe summary of the content we skipped.

he/they. Trans nb. Demisexual and panromantic. Chronically and mentally ill. Hard of hearing. Huge language nerd. I rant about literature and games.