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GDC Speaker Q&A: Cherry Thompson explores disabled representation in games

At the 2019 Game Developers Conference, you can look forward to an array of talks from speakers across the video game industry. During the week, you'll hear from industry legends, niche experts, and amazing advocates, many of whom will want to learn about you and your work as much as you do theirs. 

During this year's Game Narrative Summit, advocate, writer and consultant Cherry Thompson will be presenting a talk on how you (yes you!) can better represent disabled characters in your game's story. 

To introduce you to Thompson before their talk, we reached out for a quick Q&A which you can now read below! 

Would you please introduce yourself and talk about your role in game development?
I'm Cherry Thompson, a games accessibility and inclusion consultant. I was a professional photographer and artist for over 12 years, but disability meant I had to shift careers. So, these days I bring my experience in visual storytelling, the tech and film industries to help workshop and educate developers on inclusive approaches to everything from gameplay to narrative design. 

I've worked with organizations of all sizes - tiny indies to AAAs like Ubisoft, Sony and Microsoft Studios. I do everything from identifying cognitive, motor and visual barriers in gameplay, controls and UI to working through potential solutions. Slightly less often I consult for writing, art and narrative design teams on representation issues. A year ago I started putting my experience into motivational talks. 

Without spoiling it, what will you be talking about at GDC?
This year I'll be talking about including more disability in games from character design and world building to writing and everything in-between. Specifically we'll have a hard look at how the mistakes we often make with disability representation can further existing social stigmas and the impact that has on players. I'll leave everyone with some practical ideas and starting points for including disability in not only respectful ways but also more realistically.

What excites you most about the future of game development?
The way the industry is constantly moving forward is the most exciting thing for me! And, also, how games continue to be more powerful for players every year; whether that's entertainment-wise, emotionally, socially or all of the above.    

What's something about your specific field you want your colleagues to know more about?
The percentage of disabled players is often much bigger than many people realize - especially because disability is the one thing that spans all demographics. Early research is starting to show upwards of 20% of players identify as disabled.

Tell us about your favorite project you worked on in the last year
The Xbox Adaptive Controller because of what it means for the industry, players themselves and how far we've come. Seeing developers light up when learning about it and players able to game well that weren't able to before is brilliant. Don't get me wrong, we still have a ways to go for inclusion of all kinds but this peripheral puts disabled players on the map and includes them like nothing else before - in no small part because it's so much like any other piece of gaming tech.

Thumbnail image via Cherry Thompson's website.

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