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Interviewing One Odd Gamer Girl: A Conversation About Disability and Gaming

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I discovered One Odd Gamer Girl when I was scrolling through my Twitter feed one afternoon. Instantly drawn to the writer’s fluid writing style and unique perspective, it was as if I unearthed a rare gem. Susan Banks, the insightful woman who blogs about her experiences as a deaf gamer, reviews video games based on how deaf-friendly they are. She also writes about mental health issues.

Ashley (TMS): When did you start blogging about your experiences? Why did you name your blog One Odd Gamer Girl?

Susan Banks: Thank you so much! I’m really loving writing it and I’m so beyond excited that you are enjoying it! I’d thought about blogging for a while after a friend joked that all I did was talk about games anymore. He was into games casually, but I think he was trying to nicely hint that I was way beyond him in my interest, when he suggested I blog about it. It really hit me as something I could do though, when I bought Destiny and realized I’d basically wasted $60 because I just couldn’t get past a certain point (that annoying hive swarm, early on in the game) without being able to hear. I did a little Googling to see if there was anywhere I could find out how accessible a game was before I dropped $60 on it and the only site I found that was specifically for deaf players had been shut down a few years earlier. I hope that I can save somebody some money in buying games that weren’t designed with them in mind and if I’m really lucky, if deaf players in general are lucky, developers will start to see what we need to make a game playable.

One Odd Gamer Girl came about after I started finally being honest with people about what I was spending all of my time doing (I was embarrassed that I was so into games for quite a while. I felt so out of place and had no idea that there was a whole community of women gamers!) and every single time I’d tell someone that I’d really gotten into video games, they said the same thing, “Well that’s very odd, isn’t it?” The reaction of people always had the word “odd” in it somewhere. I didn’t want to blog exclusively about deaf accessibility in games, so it didn’t feel like my being Deaf should play a role in the title of my blog, so One Odd Gamer Girl it was!

TMS: Why do you think some people believe gaming is an unusual hobby? Though gaming seems to be more of a mainstream activity now, I find that the community can be a little exclusive.

Banks: You know, I think people outside of the gaming community still see it as something that’s a waste of time, something teenage boys do. For me, I think I felt that it was so strange and other people thought it was such an odd thing for me to do because I had an idea in my head as to what a gamer was and I wasn’t it. Within the community there seems to be an issue over what constitutes a “real” gamer, but I do think it’s changing. I see more and more people and communities on Twitter that are so inclusive and encouraging and are demanding better from their peers. It’s hard for me to really speak on community though because I have a hard time participating in it, not because of other people, but because it’s always been a struggle for me to connect with people on subjects that I don’t feel like I really know what I’m talking about. I’ve always been more of the outsider looking in in that respect.

TMS: What are some of your favorite videogames? Do you prefer PC or console?

Banks: I really love Bioware games and games like them. Anything where choices you make have an impact on the game. I think they’re a lot of fun and they give a chance to challenge myself personally, in safe ways. Being schizophrenic, I’m nervous around people, even when I’m doing well. I’m not great at maintaining friendships and building relationships, so I’ve found that games like Dragon Age, where you have to work to build relationships with people in order to fully experience the game, kind of give me practice at knowing I’m saying the right thing, making the right choice, if that makes sense. I really like any game with amazing game art too. I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Unity and Syndicate lately and I’m just blown away by the detail. That’s what has drawn me to The Chinese Room too, just stunning detail that makes me want to see all of the world in the game.

I started playing on consoles. I’d gotten my sister an Xbox One after she had broken her leg badly and was going to stuck doing nothing for a few weeks. She only played it a few times, but after I discovered Dragon Age and got hooked on it, I got a 360 so I could play the first two Dragon Age games. But I’m getting more into PC games, although I only have a Mac, so I’m a little limited in what I can play. I really love the diversity of game genres and styles on PC and I’ve fallen in love with survival games like The Long Dark and Stranded Deep, even though I’m about as bad at them as I imagine I would be if I was actually in a survival situation.

TMS: I’d like to chat about your experiences as a deaf gamer. You mention that you’re proud of that identity in your bio. Can you tell us more about that?

Banks: Being a deaf gamer has been interesting, for sure! My partner and I both play a lot and she’s hearing and it’s just amazing to me how different our experiences are. She can tell me things that I had no idea were a part of the game and I point things out to her that completely overlooked because she much less visually oriented than I am. She told me how beautiful the soundtrack for Everybody’s Gone ToThe Rapture is and even though I’ll never hear it, knowing that made me love the game (and the studio) even more because they put so much work into their games.

And yes, I am proud of being Deaf—very proud. It’s such a huge part of who I am, I love how I experience the world as a Deaf person, I love my language, there’s nothing I’d change about my hearing. A friend asked once if gaming is so difficult for me as a deaf person, why do I play and do I wish I could hear the games, and you know, I really don’t. My experience wouldn’t be better if I could hear. My experience would be better if game developers appreciated that there are numerous deaf and hard of hearing players and took us into consideration when making games. There’s long been the issue of people thinking deaf people need to be fixed, that we’re handicapped, and I think that carries over into game makers. Intentionally or not, I think we’re not often seen as the equals of our hearing peers, of hearing players, so we aren’t really thought of as wanting to or being able to play games.

TMS: What can developers do to make games deaf friendly?

Banks: So many things! If they aren’t able to hire a disability consultant (is that a thing?) then the very least they should do is try to play through their own game with the sound off. They’d see the importance of visual cues for important collectibles and controller vibration for giving a stronger sense of the action. They’d see how difficult it is to read tiny or yellow captioning and subtitles. When I first started blogging and posted a deaf review on Twitter, Ian Hamilton (@ianhamilton_) Tweeted me a link to his accessibility guidelines for creating games and if more developers followed them, games would be so much better for everyone and I can’t help but think it would be more profitable for them in the long run because people would buy games if they could play them. But really though, I think the easiest way for games to be made more accessible is to just ask people what they need, talk to your customers. Get a few beta testers that have different gaming needs and take their feedback to heart.

TMS: I really liked your review of Until Dawn. (I killed all the teenagers, too) You seemed genuinely surprised by it. Can you tell us about your experience?

Banks: I was enamored with Until Dawn! I had my doubts about it, it seemed like it would be really hard for a deaf player to enjoy, but I love horror movies, so I had to get it. I never imagined a game could be so lifelike. I’ve tried, many times, to see if game character lip movement matches their subtitles and it never does. But in Until Dawn, there were a few times where I could lip read the speech as though it was a person standing there talking to me. That amazed me. And I really appreciated how obvious everything was in the game. It’s a dark game, so had there not been visual cues, it would have been very hard to play because you’d never be able to find anything, so that helped both deaf and hearing players. I loved the style of the game too, the sense of having no idea what was the right choice and what would happen as a result of your choice. I thought the acting in it was great too and how well it was acted physically (facial expressions are everything when you’re deaf) because it didn’t lack emotion even though I couldn’t hear the tone of the speech.

TMS: You mention (in your bio) that you use games to self-medicate. Can you expand on that?

Banks: I do use games to self-medicate, every day. As I mentioned, I’m schizophrenic and can get a little lost sometimes, in irrational thought or delusions and I obsess over them. The more and more I got into games, I noticed that they took me out of my head. If I felt something coming and could get ahead of it, playing a game let me avert the crisis, so to speak, because my mind was in the game, a different reality that I was controlling. Games let me escape the mess that’s in my head sometimes.

They also give me a sense of accomplishment that I rarely get in real life. I’m not good at talking to people I don’t know well or starting and maintaining relationships, it makes me nervous, but in games, I can do those things. I can play Dragon Age Inquisition and get everyone to like me and talk to me or I can play Mass Effect and make choices that make people admire me. It might sound a little silly, but it makes me feel better about myself because I can do those things successfully in a game, so maybe I could do it in my life too. I started playing Fran Bow recently and that gave me a whole different version of self-medicating. Fran Bow feels like it was written for me. So much of the writing is stuff I’ve thought about myself or said to myself and it just perfectly captured what it feels like, for me, to live with this mental illness and that was an overwhelming feeling, seeing so much of myself in a heroine, seeing my thoughts and experiences validated like that.

TMS: Regarding the representation of a mentally ill character, how do you think Until Dawn handled Josh’s mental illness?

Banks: My love of Until Dawn aside, I think that Josh’s mental illness was handled poorly. A psychotic, violent crazy person, that’s the stereotype, and that’s what Josh was made out to be. I think an ending more fair to mentally ill people would have been ending it with having all been a hallucination or delusion, rather than things that Josh actually did. I do appreciate that they didn’t have Josh actually hurt anyone, but the fact that his motives were violent, whether anybody got hurt or not, didn’t do any favors for the stigma of mental illness.

TMS: Do you play online games? If so, what’s that experience like for you?

Banks: I play Elder Scrolls Online and Destiny (if that’s considered an online game?) but I don’t really get the online experience because every time someone has added me as a friend in the game, they’ve deleted me shortly after because I can’t use the voice chat, so it’s too hard to communicate. I’ve kind of given up on Destiny because many areas are too hard to play solo, but I love that ESO is really enjoyable to just play solo.

TMS: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Any future projects on the horizon?

Banks: I really appreciate that you enjoy my blog and are interested in gaming accessibility, I never imagined anyone would actually read my blog when I started it, so getting to talk about it is really exciting! As for the future, I’ve got a huge backlog of games that I want to review and I’m really excited about games that are coming out in the future, so I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and hope my reviews will help someone out!

Ashley Barry writes for several pop culture websites. Her freelance work has appeared in Kill Screen, Gadgette, The Mary Sue, Luna Luna Magazine, FemHype, Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Bitch Flicks, and Paste Magazine. She also runs a YouTube channel called Hyrule Hyrulia. Her channel features interviews with Ashly Burch, Patrick Klepek, Nina Freeman, and more.

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