“There is much more understanding needed from employers to help autistic people to be included and appreciated in the workplace” – Debugging D&I with Autistica Play

Amiqus’ Liz Prince talks to Jake Mackey, Games Partnerships Manager at Autistica and the Lead of Autistica Play about how studios can make their working environments more welcoming to neurodiverse individuals and why they should get involved with the DARE programme.

Jake Mackey

Why should games companies embrace neurodiversity within their organisations?

With neurodiversity, we’re essentially talking about diversity of the mind – different ways of thinking, different ways of coming to problems, different ways of finding solutions. And as an industry, we’re constantly looking for new ways to innovate, capture the player’s attention and new ways to tell stories. I think it’s so vitally important to keep in mind that, as one of our ambassadors Dominic Shaw says, ‘Diversity isn’t only skin deep’.

What unique skill sets do you think that autistic individuals can bring?

While everyone’s an individual, there are certain traits that can be recognised in many autistic people. Those traits include the ability to focus and attention to detail. This could mean that an autistic person will focus on a task or deadline and be completely dedicated to that goal. It could mean that they become hyper focused on solving a particular problem. Or they could focus on a particular topic – and learn absolutely everything there is to know. Their attention to detail may mean they spot details that others miss.

And as I mentioned before, they may have different ways of thinking that bring really creative angles or solutions that others may not have thought of. 

This diversity can really add to the performance of a team as a whole. 

Why do you think so many neurodiverse individuals are gamers, and want to work within the games industry?

Autistic people experience the world differently to neurotypical people, they face barriers that others do not. For example, things like socialising, going to loud environments and events may be inaccessible to autistic people and they may prefer doing similar activities that are more within their control, like playing games.

Also, we usually play games at home which can be a safe space for people so they are able to engage, interact and socialise in that way, in a safe space and with more control. 

Many people grow up playing games and you naturally gravitate towards wanting to make a job out of your passions so it’s not surprising that many people who play games want to work in games. But, as we all know – getting into the industry isn’t exactly straight forward and when you add neurodiversity, the path into the games industry becomes even less straight forward. 

But why do you think that autistic people struggle to find a job or to keep a job? 

Autism impacts how an individual communicates and navigates the world so going for a job interview, for example, and working in an office environment can be a challenge. In the majority of cases, an individual will not know the interview questions they’re going to be asked in advance, the faces and names of the people they are going to see, the building or how to get there, or what to do when they get there. This can all add to the anxiety of an already difficult experience. An autistic applicant may be perfectly able to do the job but may struggle to communicate that in an interview and be discriminated against. 

If an autistic person gets a job, they may also be misunderstood, under-appreciated or not adequately supported in the workplace. There is much more understanding needed from employers to help autistic people to be included and appreciated in the workplace. Reasonable adjustments can help though. And the pandemic may lead to a new more flexible normal that could work well for autistic people. 

So, in terms of the recruitment interview process, what can studios do to put neurodiverse people more at ease?

Providing the information upfront is vitally important, particular during the interview process – setting an agenda, providing the interview questions, sending photos and names of the people involved, sending a guide of the building, etc. Also, language in job listings. Are you open to someone needing certain adjustments for the interview? Consider wording like: ‘We are an inclusive employer. If you need any reasonable adjustments, do let us know and we will facilitate those needs’. Simple sentences like that can make a huge difference.

I believe it’s vital that actions and improvements are made based on evidence; it should be done based on what works and what doesn’t and if we don’t know, we should work towards finding out, together as an industry. 

We know it’s estimated that there’s three to four times as many autistic people in games than any other industry. And it’s now common for people who work in the games industry to know that neurodiversity is a part of our industry, whether it’s our colleagues, ourselves and our players.  So, it’s really important to have a foundation across the industry that we can use as a baseline for understanding, adaptations and inclusion. And that’s why I’d like to discuss the DARE programme. If organisations want to make a long-lasting change – not just tick a box – then take a look at DARE and become a DARE partner with Autistica.

If more games industry companies become DARE partners, it means our games industry benchmark can expand. Then we can begin to have a baseline through which policymakers and organisations can have a template to work from that’s based on evidence and data, and actual knowledge of what works and what doesn’t – instead of what we think might work.

If we come together as an industry and feed into this research project, it means not only will individual companies be able to identify and adapt processes to become more inclusive to neurodiversity and know what works and what doesn’t for their companies, but also collectively as an industry, we will have a stronger foundation through which we can begin to remove the barriers that autistic people face in employment, to create equal opportunities, a first for neurodiversity employment. DPS Games are industry pioneers as our first Games industry DARE partners. I would love to see more companies in the games industry join them and us as we continue to break new ground for neurodiversity employment.

There was a survey published in February by the Office for National Statistics that said 21.7% of autistic people are in some form of employment. That is the lowest employment rate of all disability groups.

This confirmed my reason for jumping from the games industry to Autistica to begin campaigning for change, so that we can start making that happen. We have BAME in Games, we have Women in Games. We need something that represents Neurodiversity in games that makes a systematic, long-term difference. For me, that’s DARE.


Find out more about the DARE programme at https://www.autistica.org.uk/news/autistic-people-highest-unemployment-rates

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