October 10, 2022

6 Min Read

corporate updates

How the Games Industry Can Create Better Support for Neurodiversity

From October 10-14, Ubisoft is hosting its third annual Neurodiversity Awareness Week, with a series of internal events and panels aimed at raising awareness and challenging stereotypes around autism, ADHD, and other neurological differences. The events are being organized by Ubisoft's employee-led Neurodiversity ERG, which offers programs and support for members, and works with Ubisoft management to find ways for the company to better support neurodiverse employees.

During the 2022 Games For Change Festival, one of the ERG's global co-leads, Aris Bricker, gave a talk on what it means to be neurodiverse, as well as how companies can build a neurodiverse-friendly workplace and design for accessibility. Bricker, an associate game designer at Ubisoft Red Storm, has ADHD and OCD, and is bipolar. They also hold master's degrees in higher education and game design, and work as a game-design instructor and student mentor.

To be neurodivergent is not rare; around 15-20% of the world's population likely likely falls under the umbrella of neurodiversity, says Bricker, citing an estimate from the British Medical Bulletin. However, neurodiverse people face social, learning, and career challenges, as well as high un- and underemployment rates; as many as 77% of autistic adults in the US, 78% of autistic adults in the UK, and 34% of autistic adults in Australia are estimated to be unemployed or underemployed.

And yet, as Bricker points out, neurodiverse people are often high achievers, and neurodiversities can come hand-in-hand with advantages that are desirable to employers. "People with autism excel at pattern recognition and spotting irregularities; people with dyslexia are really good at seeing the big picture," Bricker says. "Also, creative thinking - neurodivergent people by definition are outside of the box, so thinking that way is natural to them."

Neurodiversities are increasingly represented within the games industry, says Bricker, citing a 2021 study that found 18% of UK game developers self-identify as neurodiverse, up from 11% in 2020.

A big part of the Neurodiversity ERG's mission is to create a more neurodiverse-friendly environment at Ubisoft, both for employees and for players. The ERG has amassed more than 300 members across 20-plus countries since its founding in February 2021, and has been able to offer peer support, organize events like Neurodiversity Awareness Week, and provide training for managers and coworkers so they can better work with neurodiverse employees. This includes intersectionality training to help promote an understanding that people with neurodivergences may have more than one, or that other aspects of their lives - coming from a different marginalized background, for example - may also affect how they function.

The ERG is also working to create a more flexible hiring process to accommodate neurodiverse candidates, as they may find a traditional interview process too stressful, and even highly qualified candidates may not interview well. "This may include things like casual coffee chats, more written communication, time with neurodiverse leaders, and more," says Bricker. "We have the opportunity to attract and maintain excellent talent by making the hiring process more accessible to those who are highly skilled but may not do well in a standard interview process. The more Ubisoft recruiters and HR teams can adopt personalized approaches, the better it will be for everyone."

Other alternatives include longer paid training programs that would give qualified candidates an opportunity to show what they're capable of, while also giving managers and coworkers a chance to get to know them better. Ubisoft also has external partners, Bricker says, that offer training for recruiters and hiring managers, as well as offer access to networks of neurodiverse people as potential job candidates.

Once they've been hired, Bricker says, accommodations for neurodiverse employees can include alternative meeting methods, flexible work hours, different career-management structures that offer multiple paths to career goals, and even alternative ways to measure performance besides annual reviews. Studio and office design is another way to help neurodiverse employees feel comfortable; offering quiet rooms, headphones, and appropriate lighting are a few ways to achieve this. It's also important, Bricker says, to promote these options and trainings to all employees so that they know they're available.

There's also remote work, which has been a daily reality for many Ubisoft employees since the start of the global pandemic in 2020, and the feedback Bricker has heard from neurodiverse employees has been mixed, but more positive than not. "Working from home provides an individualized approach to work that is led by the employee," Bricker says. "Neurodiverse employees often have sensory and scheduling needs that a traditional office environment might not accommodate. However, these needs can be met in-office with the right modifications, most of which are easy to implement. We work directly with employees and office managers to create neurodiverse-friendly office spaces so the employee can be happy there, too.

"The key is to promote flexibility, encourage employees to ask for accommodations, and have managers understand that those accommodations positively contribute to the employee's productivity," Bricker says.

Neurodiversity inclusion efforts don't just apply behind the scenes - they're also important to include in the games themselves. This includes cognitive accessibility options that can offer players different settings and features that can help with mental processing - many of which are already common in games, like on-screen activity reminders, aim assist, and ways to let players access instructions and tutorials at any time. (These and other accessibility options are being continually implemented in Ubisoft games thanks in part to the efforts of the accessibility team.)

This also includes more representation in the form of characters who are deliberately written to be neurodiverse; examples from Ubisoft games include Watch Dogs 2's Josh Sauchak and Jäger from Rainbow Six Siege and Extraction, both of whom are portrayed as autistic. To help ensure that these portrayals are authentic and relatable to neurodiverse players, Bricker says, the Neurodiversity ERG offers review services to different projects, and Ubisoft also has an internal content review team with neurodiverse members that specializes in this kind of representation.

For more on ongoing inclusivity efforts at Ubisoft, check out our profiles on the Neurodiverse Employees at Ubisoft ERG, the Gente ERG for those of Latin American and Hispanic descent, Black Employees at Ubisoft (B.E.A.U.), Women and Non-Binary Employees at Ubisoft, Salaam, UbiProud, and the Asian & Pacific Islander ERG.

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