Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Here’s how Temtem’s community helped Crema Games strive for inclusive language

Something I really loved when I first played Temtem, a creature-collecting MMO by Crema Games, was the presence of they/them pronouns in its character creator. While I didn’t pick the option–I use she/they, but prefer the former–it brought me a little bit of joy knowing that it was there for the people who do prefer they/them, an option many trans and non-binary people who use those pronouns rarely get in a lot of games.

You’d think including such an option would be a relatively straightforward decision to make. In English, that’s absolutely the case. The problem is that in a lot of languages, gender-neutral pronouns don’t exist in any official capacity. One of those languages is Spanish, the native tongue of Crema Games, and of Temtem’s Game Director, Guillermo Andrades. “The most common usage in the community is using “elle” so we went with that. But we were only able to choose this because we’re Spanish and we know how it works in our language.”

Crema hoped that its translators would have answers, but there seemingly weren’t any. Internal research into community solutions ran dry, too. So, when Temtem left early access, some of its language options only had two pronouns, masculine and feminine. But people started leaving feedback, and one point of concern was a lack of gender-neutral pronouns in some translations; primarily French and German, two languages that have historically had a bit of a funny time with gender-neutral language. “So we’ve decided,” Guillermo told me, “to open a line of communication with them and try to solve the issue.”


And that’s what they did. Through the Temtem Twitter account, the studio asked for suggestions from the community. What were queer people from France and Germany using to refer to themselves, in place of anything suitable written into the rules of their own language? So far, there have been a few suggestions.

User YokuHel, from France, said that they use iel/ellui, and linked an article that they’d written about how to use gender-neutral language in French. Roguedrgn suggested Xier as a pronoun many queer people use in Germany. There were also a number of interesting conversations about the challenges queer folks run into when trying to figure out which of these words to use, and how to come up wth new ones  of their own.

It would have been really easy for Crema Games to not bother at all. Studios have been reactionary over less, like the refusal to include female characters in Escape From Tarkov by developers Battlestate Games. Not only with seeking out German and French solutions, but even with the English and Spanish translations, and for other non-gendered aspects of Temtem’s character creator, it’s something they could have just left at the weyside.

Us trans and non-binary folks would be used to it, unfortunately. But as Guillermo told me, that inclusivity has always been important to the studio. “We’ve never been fans of setting restrictions on how the player looks, why does a character with a [masculine] body wouldn’t be able to wear a skirt? Or one with a [feminine] body, a suit with a tie? So, we decided to remove those restrictions everywhere we can and give full control to our users on their looks.”

It’s arguably a whole lot easier to remove the labels of “Male” and “Female” from body shapes, to not lock certain hairstyles and clothing options to gender options. This is something that the Animal Crossing series is known for, particularly with its most recent entry, New Horizons. You don’t have to pick a gender, you don’t even have to pick a body type. Everyone gets the same shape, and all that differentiates each Animal Crossing avatar from the next is how you decorate and accessorize; hairstyles, skin tone, eye colour, and of course, clothes.

But taking the time and care to include gender-neutral pronouns, and to actively seek out community solutions for the languages in which those pronouns aren’t immediately apparent, shows an active commitment to making Temtem a game where many people as possible can make an avatar that better resemble themselves. While that isn’t necessarily a commendable act, it’s one that’s appreciated.

It also opens the door to making more inclusivity-driven design choices. Right now, Crema Games are working on making Temtem more accessible to play. “We’re currently working on making the game totally playable by using only the mouse,” Guillermo said, “Which will help our users with physical or mobility disabilities.”

I think it could go even further, and given how open to this stuff Crema Games are, it’s a distinct possibility that it will. I’m reminded of Moving Out, a co-operative party game about shifting furniture out of houses and into moving vans with your friends. One of the playable characters is a person who uses a wheelchair. This doesn’t impact gameplay, and it shouldn’t need to. Not only does it showcase the inherent and equal capability of wheelchair users, but it means someone playing Moving Out who uses a wheelchair themselves can actually play as someone like them.

Maybe Temtem could go so far as to make that an option for people in its character creator. It’s quite a specific proposal, and I do have to acknowledge that while I sometimes use a cane for mobility support, it isn’t necessarily my place to say it’s 100% a good idea, or to suggest how it might be implemented. But it’s one of countless possibilities in allowing people who play games to not only see people themselves in them, but to feel a deeper sense of connection to the character that they control on the screen. And surely that can only be a good thing.

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