I have never been to a gaming convention. I come from a comics and literature con background–sci-fi at a push–but a video game convention? EGX Rezzed is an industry-based event, promoting new games, showing off the demos that people have spent years putting together, and putting Square Enix and Nintendo next to the tiny indie teams who have done it all off crowdfunding in their front room. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I had let myself in for.
Turns out, I had walked into one of the busiest, most informative and creatively stimulating three days of my life. I worked out that I played roughly 65 different games over the event and talked to God knows how many people about their games, the show, and their general love of gaming. It was really rather wonderful, although I have never slept so well in my life as I did when I got home. Phew!
The biggest thing I took away from Rezzed was how diverse gaming is. I think there is still this perception from certain areas of the gaming community, as well as from people outside and the media, that gaming is for white boys sitting in their dark bedrooms, not talking to people, but, let’s be honest, it hasn’t been that for some time. Rezzed brought this to the forefront. Almost every game I played had either a woman or a person of colour, or in fact a women of colour, as the main character. It was fantastic. To see the diverse nature of players being shown in the games was wonderful. And it wasn’t just in the small indie games it was across the board, from Square Enix and Unreal Engines to Coatsink to the independent games in the Leftfield Collective and BAFTA.
This diversity was not only reflected in the games, but also the people attending and working at the show as developers, artists, writers, journalists, and E-sports gamers. The best example of this comes from the guys at Fireproof games, who had a woman in her eighties travel two hours on the train just to see them and to see the new game they were making. It was rather heart-warming to hear how she got pictures with them all and waxed lyrical about how much she loved their games.
As well as this the booth for Special Effect, a charity helping people with physical disabilities play video games. They make controls, head sets and displays designed for each client’s specific disabilities. They had several different control methods set up for people to try and give them something of an understanding of how easily we can pick up a control and just have fun playing games, something that a lot of disabled people just can’t do.
“…people with physical disabilities have lives beyond simply ‘being disabled’ and want to enjoy themselves. We provide the specialist technology, advice and support for everyone to benefit from the fun, friendship and inclusion of video games, leisure technology and communication.” –Special Effect Press Pack 2017
Of course one of the best things for me was seeing how many women, of all kinds, were there. And a lot of them were working, either as journalists like myself or as developers. Pretty much every team I spoke to had women involved, and if not, they were making a conscious effort include women in their game. The game developing community felt very much like one of inclusivity and actively pushing that. Over and over people told me that they were sick of white, male leads in games, that was no need for it, that gaming was diverse and open and welcoming and that there was this small minority shouting for it to stop. Honestly, it was very refreshing.
A few of the games that really impressed me:
Lost Words is a game telling the story through a diary, moving your character through the game by following along the diary pages like a side scroller, but using the words themselves to solve puzzles and move on through the pages. Rhianna Pratchett is involved in the story development, and the story really is the highlight of this game. You play as a young girl desperate to become a writer, while also dealing with her grandmother having a stroke. You explore her feelings to do with her relationship with her grandmother, as well as her dream of writing, through her diary, following as she creates the imaginary world called Estoria. It’s charming and uplifting, with a wonderful coming of age story, focusing around female relationships and friendships, as well as keeping a playful twist with the game mechanics.
Town of Light, on the other hand, has been developed by a group wishing to talk about the issues surrounding mental illness and how we interact with it as a society. The game itself is a horror game, but has clearly been made to come across as a physiological thriller, rather than a jump scare game, demonising the mentally ill. The game focuses on a woman called Renee, who as a teenager was incarcerated in one of the biggest mental asylums in Europe. You play from two different time zones, the present day as you explore the now abandoned asylum, and in Renee’s memories of her time there. As you play more the game you discover more about mental illness and can decide for yourself what illness you think Renee is suffering from and this changes the path you take through the game. It is a very insightful and kind approach to this sort of story, trying to avoid the tropes that surround mental illness and asylums in the horror genre, while also trying to be truthful about the suffering that took place in many asylums.
Lastly, on a slightly more cheerful note, Knights and Bikes. This game feels like Steven Universe meets Powerpuff Girls, meets Happy Tree Friends. It’s weird and quirky and kind of dark, but utterly enchanting. You play as two little girls going on an adventure together. The demo level is in an abandoned theme park, though it’s dark and creepy like you’d think. The whole game is pretty and full of pastel colours and stylised animation, 2D characters in 3D world, with lots of fun combat encounters (you have to throw water balloons at people), as well as touching emotional moments between the characters. Plus you had to set on a tiny, child’s bike to play the demo, which I loved.
It’s encouraging to see that there is a huge movement within gaming to press forward with diversity, even if it’s taking awhile to get to the AAA games at the top of the pile. But I think it will, especially with the gaming community continues to support indie titles who represent the wide range of players. If shows like EGX Rezzed continue to showcase people at every step of the game developing ladder then gaming has very bright future ahead.