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Ladies in Gaming Biz: Accessibility with Britt Dye at Whitethorn Games

Being LadiesGamers, we feel it’s important to give women that work in the gaming industry a podium in our series of articles, featuring ladies who are working in the gaming business.

A lot of avid gamers would probably love to have a job in the industry themselves and we think it’s especially important to encourage girls in particular to go for their dream job. So when we got the news that Britt Dye is taking the new position at Whitethorn Games as Chief Accessibility Officer, it was definitely time to talk to her!

Meet Britt

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Who is Britt in everyday life?

I think I would consider myself a person who loves learning new things. I’m always looking for something to learn about, going down rabbit holes, looking to learn from others or cultivating a skill. I like to hang out with my significant other and my pets. I enjoy spending time outside gardening my herbs, drying them, and trying new recipes.

One of my and my significant other’s favourite summer activities is taking our cameras to state parks and playing a real-life version of Pokemon Snap, where we try and photograph cool creatures, insects, or mushrooms. Sometimes we give ourselves points based on the photo. Of course, I also love playing games, watching others play games, and chilling on the couch with my dog and cat.

What is your professional history when it comes to gaming?

My professional background in gaming started when I joined Whitethorn. Much of my professional background was making services and information accessible to people of all life experiences. I was hired as a Usability Analyst in September 2021 and had a passion for accessibility already, so I began advocating for it in my projects. Accessibility fits with the already existing mission of Whitethorn as a publisher of inclusive games by diverse teams. The culture and our team were very supportive of accessibility as a goal. It then became a part of my title as a Usability and Accessibility Specialist, where I worked closely with developers’ teams to provide support and test games for unintentional barriers. Over time, the scope grew, and that brought me to my current position.

Does your educational background match your position in the gaming industry?

I guess my answer is “somewhat”. I’d say my educational background is non-traditional but facilitates the role. I have a bachelor’s in philosophy and a certificate in paralegal studies. I worked for a public defender in a metropolitan area before deciding to get my Master’s in Library and Information Science. During that program, I tailored my coursework to games, information-seeking behaviours of game players, connecting people with what they were seeking, and inclusivity, equity, and accessibility of information.

Games, their mechanics, and their UI, all work to provide information to the player. The player engages in a feedback loop to determine where they are, what to do next, and how they’re performing. So, in that way, I think my educational background does match my position. I help make information from games accessible to the player, information about our games accessible to our community, and information about barriers accessible to our teams.

Chief Accessibility Officer at Whitethorn

Whitethorn is a publisher that focuses on inclusive, accessible, low-stress indie games including Calico, Lake, and Wytchwood. When did you start working there and how do you feel about their focus?

I started working at Whitethorn on September 1, 2021. I remember because my first day was the release day of Lake. I absolutely loved their focus when I applied. I thought the mission of Whitethorn was one I resonated with and could see myself working toward. I think the focus is one that is underrepresented in not just the games industry but all industries. It’s refreshing to have a company that supports inclusion and accessibility and wants to help the community, its teams, and its studios and foster that mission throughout every department.

Congratulations on your new position with Whitethorn Games as Chief Accessibility Officer. What does the new position entail?

I have some freedom to craft this role. This will entail advocating for accessibility and pushing that mission into other aspects of the company. I will help make sure we are considering accessibility in business decisions and advocate for it in policy. Some of the things I plan on doing in the role are: making sure we continue to consider accessibility from the beginning, upholding accessibility standards in our games, overseeing accessibility testing, and helping to create and grow accessibility plans for internal IPs. I’ll also continue to create resources, guides, and support our department teams and the studios we work with, to listen to our community feedback and advocate for their needs, as well as support our internal teams and developer partners.

With your appointment, Whitethorn Games’ executive branch is now 75% women-led. This further highlights the company’s commitment to gender equality and diverse representation in leadership roles. Can you tell us a bit more about this mission of Whitethorn and why gender equality is so important in the gaming industry?

Whitethorn’s mission speaks to inclusivity and diversity in our games, our community, and our teams. Whitethorn being 75% women-led is an outcome of embracing inclusivity as a pillar and as an aspect of company culture. The commitment to inclusivity, diversity, and accessibility can be seen in the culture of the company. By living out that mission, Whitethorn has cultivated teams with diverse life experiences, ideas, and skills, which has helped us grow.

Inclusive Gaming

Speaking to gender equality, in particular, we see some problematic behaviour in the games industry: sexism and a lack of gender equality. An industry-wide culture shift is needed, but as a single person, it can feel daunting at best and impossible at worst. That’s why, as a company, it’s important to be the change you want to see. I think Whitethorn has been doing that with all of its missions. There are changes we want to see in the games industry, so we’re going to start by making those changes here. Doing the work and letting our actions speak for themselves. It all begins with the foundation, though. It has to permeate all aspects of the company. We hope others may follow suit or that we can help show that it’s doable, maybe tread a path that will make it easier for others to walk.

Accessibility in Video Games

The press release mentioned that you have led the charge to integrate support for the Xbox Adaptive Controller into Whitethorn’s titles. Can you tell us more about that?

The project I am working on with regard to the Xbox Adaptive Controller is more about awareness of the importance of allowing key remapping, input customization, and integrating that rather than integrating the XAC specifically. By providing the XAC, switches, and analogue sticks to the studios we’re working with, the developer teams are able to get hands-on experience working with something other than a gamepad or mouse and keyboard. I created a guide for the developers on how to set it up, how it works, and some ideas to consider for physical accessibility.

In general, I want to provide a space that helps our teams consider other perspectives. Using the XAC helps generate awareness surrounding the importance of key remapping, allowing remapping upon startup, toggles instead of button holds, the ability to allow the use of both digital and analogue inputs for actions and navigation, along with other input accessibility options and features.

Accessibility in video games has obviously advanced a long way in recent years, are there any recent advancements that particularly stand out for you?

I am really curious to see the advancements made with developer tools and engines that will help developers make their games accessible so much more easily. I think it’s great to see Project Leonardo being embraced, and I’m looking forward to watching how that affects the industry. I am also thrilled with the strides in support for blind accessibility with games like Stories of Blossom, Sea of Thieves, and BROK the InvestiGator. Accessibility journalism, advocacy, education, and other projects are becoming much more common.

It’s an exciting time, really. Almost akin to a Renaissance, it feels like. So many steps are being taken in so many directions, I am just absolutely delighted to witness the amazing things everyone in the space is doing.

LadiesGamers BROK

Do you have any other thoughts about how accessibility in gaming might develop over the coming years? Perhaps about a specific issue you want or expect to be solved?

Accessibility is an evolving space. It’s constantly learning and growing, and new voices are advocating. I think we will get better at helping people, advocating, making connections, designing for accessibility, listening to others, and we will get better at making games accessible. There are so many moving parts that a win can be made with the hardware, with the software, on platforms, by helping developers use tools, by making those tools accessible, by talking about accessibility and showcasing games that are doing it well, among so many other possibilities. What I really want is for accessibility to be considered a core pillar of game design. I think once it’s being considered in that way, a lot of other aspects surrounding accessibility will fall into place.

Gaming Habits

Do you play games yourself, or have you played them in the past growing up? And what kind of games are those?

I do play lots of games! And not just as part of my job! I’ve been playing games ever since my dad handed me his original GameBoy and let me play his NES. I enjoy lots of different types of games, but my favourites are turn-based TRPGs or other strategy games like deck builders. Games like Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Wildermyth are some of my favourites. I’ve recently started playing Slay the Spire and am having a lot of fun just trying new deck mechanics out. I enjoy simulation games and narrative-driven games. I have a lot of hours put into games like Stardew Valley, and I played so much Harvest Moon as a kid on my N64 and on my GameBoy.

Slay the Spire

I also just love seeing what other people are creating, and I love watching people play games, too, especially games that are difficult for me to play. I feel like I get to experience them even if I’m unable to play them myself. I love learning about why people love the games they do, and watching them or talking to them about their favourite games is so insightful.

If you could be a character in a game, which one would it be and why?

This is a question I’ve actually asked a lot of people, and so it’s one I’ve considered quite often. I always thought that if I were to wake up in a video game, I would probably live my best life as an NPC shopkeeper, healer, or blacksmith somewhere in a beautiful coastal town. But I would probably want to be at least able to use magic. I would love to just have a quaint, magical life in a fantasy world. If I were a main or named character, though, I think I might go with someone like Sir Lora from Divinity: Original Sin 2. Lovable, magical, goes on adventures with his best cat-like friend. What a life!

Thanks, Britt for answering our questions, and good luck with your new position! 

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