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How to Tell Meaningful Stories Through Games with Paula Angela Escuadra (Safe Space Podcast Season 2, Episode 1)

In the first episode of Season 2 of the Safe Space Podcast, Rosie talks to Paula Angela Escuadra about her vast experience within the game development space where she has broadened the conversation around inclusivity, representation, sustainability and climate consciousness.

We talk about the importance of using games to portray important messages, and how it differs from messages within more static media such as films and books, and what steps developers can take to implement these messages in ethical and proactive ways. We also discuss the effect that video games can have on player’s introspection and identity, and how it can act as a support mechanism to those who may often feel unsafe to be themselves in person.

Click here to listen!

There are two people in the foreground (Rosie and Paula), between them is a Audio waveform graphic in white and the text 'Safe Space', with a white siow logo at the bottom. There is a forest with light flickering through the trees in the background and a SIOW Pink wave shape at the top.

About Paula
Paula Angela Escuadra (She/Her) has spent +12 years elevating the power games have to redefine our relationship with failure and create meaning. She leads research for Xbox Game Studios Cloud Publishing, helping developers make great games that foster meaningful communities. She co-founded IGDA Climate Special Interest Group, co-authoring its newly released Environmental Game Design Playbook. She’s also on Cologne Game Lab’s advisory board with a focus on unlocking sustainability competencies.
(Lastly, she’s a very strong advocate for community care, psychological safety, and dog cuddling as a form of self-care.)

Links

Want to listen to more episodes of the Safe Space Podcast? Check out the full list of episodes at this link

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Autistica, Mass Effect & EDI with Dom Shaw (Safe Space Podcast Season 1 Episode 8)

On this episode of Safe Space we welcome Dominic Shaw from UKIE’s #RaiseTheGame pledge as our latest guest.

In this episode we talk about Dom’s life; from games he enjoyed growing up through to the games industry introduction and eventually him settling into UKIE. We also go into depth about LGBTQ+, autism, dyslexia and support within the industry, as well as the journey he took to get where he is today. Dom also talks about his work with Autistica Play.

As always, we grill our lovely guest on his all-time favourite games, and talk about Dom’s love for the Mass Effect series and how he used to skip school just to experience BioWare’s ever-growing Universe. We also go into depth about the impact that video games had in Dom’s life.

You can find Dom here on Twitter.

Follow the Safe In Our World Podcast here on Twitter for clips, updates and guest interactions!

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Exploring DEI, inclusivity and diversity with Raccine Malcolm (Safe Space Podcast Season 1 Episode 5)

This week we were delighted to have Raccine Malcolm on the Safe Space podcast!

Raccine is a communications professional that specializes in empathy-driven, engagement-based community development and management. Multicultural awareness, belonging, DEI, mental health, along with the interconnectedness of communities are some of her deepest interests and driving forces behind her work. We are delighted to have Raccine as a Safe In Our World Ambassador, championing mental health within the games industry alongside us. 

On this episode, we discuss the importance of incorporating DEI into companies and communities, promoting inclusivity and diversity within the games industry and how mental health fits into these topics. We also chat about our favourite mental health related titles, including Raccine’s all time favourites such as When the Darkness Comes and Sunshine Days.

You can check out the episode over at Anchor.FM where we have all of the Safe Space Podcast Episodes ready for you to listen to.

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Please, Not The Fade Again by Chazz Mair

Representation in media is better than it’s been in the past – I don’t think that’s a strange statement to make.

People of different skin colors, sexual and gender orientation see more exposure now than this time ten years ago. Things are better but not quite there yet. Seeing nonwhite people in leading roles is still a rarity – with the most recent one coming to mind being Spider-Man: Miles Morales. For a while now, games with expansive character creation tools do their part to bridge that gap, but if I have to pick between having a shaved head or looking like I googled “Black Goku” instead of doing my homework in 2003.

Monster Hunter: Rise is excellent; I’ve put in around 40 hours of playtime in the first week after its release. I love hitting large dragons with a big stick alongside my cool ninja dog. The start of my journey was immediately soured by how few hair options were available. The only black hairstyle available at launch was a shaved head – which is how the previous game, Monster Hunter World, launched but after adding so many in Iceborne, I had hoped that the sequel would keep them.

Hair is part of culture in the same way that food is. If it wasn’t, I would just sit here and let it grow however it wanted. But even that would be an active decision influenced by the things that made me, me. My hair grows a certain way – it curls and coils in on itself like wool. It doesn’t straighten; it twists. I’ve twisted it into braids and locs. I’ve had fades, icepicks, and waves, and I would just appreciate it if even a fraction of those options were represented in the escapist worlds video games seek to make me a part of.

I’ve seen too many stories about black trauma – in film especially. Video games are unique through their interactivity, and while there are plenty of games that try to emulate cinema, they haven’t tried to make me go through a playable version of the underground railroad since Freedom: the Underground Railroad, so I’m appreciative of the differences. I don’t want to relive a painful history for the umpteenth time; I want to see someone who looks like me fight a cool lightning gorilla. And while those stories about pain are essential, it shouldn’t be as hard as it is to find fantasies that want me to escape that pain with them.

It’s upsetting that right now, every new release that markets itself with “immersive character customization” feels like a lottery. Many people got the opportunity to create polygonal replicas of themselves for generations of gaming; my hair is a cut feature if it even gets that far.

The last time I recalled being able to live that same escapist fantasy was in Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive, nonetheless an energetic romp through a contemporary setting. The options were by no means expansive, but there were enough there to make me feel considered. I could create authentic and believable black people and experience the story with them at the heart of it.

Sunset Overdrive and its setting are a lot of fun, a zombie apocalypse called by a soda corporation. People invent weaponry out of old guitars and music records – I desperately wish it had a sequel. But when I take a step back and think about it, I can’t help but be reminded of how those modern-day cityscapes are one of the few settings where I’m allowed to be without raising those bad-faith arguments of inauthenticity or pandering.

I understand that Monster Hunter: Rise is an unabashedly Japanese game – and it’s good that this game is reveling in its culture so much – those things also don’t exclude the possibility of people of other complexion living in their world. Culture isn’t inherently tied to skin color. Monster Hunter gave me the choice of creating a character, inviting me to this world but only if I wore a wig. It’s a quiet but prominent reminder that people like me and I are still outliers.

Still, I’m happy we’ve at least gotten this far. I remember the days when to have a darker complexion in Animal Crossing, you had to let your character stand in the sun until they were a crisp, golden brown.

I can’t personally create the lead of my favorite movie, but video games want me to. I would like for my inclusion to be the standard instead of an afterthought.


Chazz Mair is a black, New Jersey-based freelance writer and stand-up comedian who often spends his free time hanging out with friends at the local arcade or staring at toasters. Nowadays, he does more of the latter. An avid advocate of diversity, Chazz hopes to create stories about people who don’t make it to the front page.

 

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