Video games have a unique place in storytelling. They allow a type of interactivity that movies and literature cannot provide. I recently subscribed to Apple Arcade and discovered the game, A Fold Apart. The game follows two people in a relationship who are separated. One character moved to the big city for work; the other stayed. The game explores how they dealt with the impact distance has on their relationship. The game is played using paper as a storytelling instrument: You fold the screen in an origami fashion to connect paths and bridges in order to move the story forward. The story is told through streams of text messages and thoughts that express the lover’s emotions. It also shows how miscommunications happen when the lovers are limited to text messages. The stories told in A Fold Apart gave me an unexpected insight and ‘unfolded’ the ambience of the Human Resources profession.
A Fold Apart is a very well-made and fairly short video game, played for about two hours depending on how long it takes you to solve the puzzles. New origami features are introduced as you progress in the game, starting with only being able to fold the page horizontally and vertically and then eventually diagonally as well as rotating the page.
The part of the game that really stood out took place before the game actually begins. In the first screen after selecting play, it gives you a choice of four different lovers to choose from. This allows you to set up the gender dynamics within the relationship of the main characters. The options are male and female, two females, two males, and female and male. The last option reverses the jobs of the characters (teacher and architect) from the initial male and female option. To some this might seem like an innocuous choice: You choose whoever you identify with and the game plays out the same no matter what the gender dynamics are. That may seem trivial but to someone who has never been given this choice in how the story is told. This floored me.
Representations of LGBTQ characters have found its way into the mainstream culture over the years. Typically woven into the game through the storytelling itself. Examples of this come from the BioWare franchises: Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Throughout the game you have the option to romance various characters, which allows you to determine your own sexuality through role-play. It is not part of the character creation screen. While the overarching story and gameplay do not change, you find yourself more immersed in the game when you are fighting alongside your character's partner. The depth of the dialogue options allows the player to go deeper than a superficial infatuation.
For those whose identities are strongly linked to their sexuality and queerness, having the ability to select gender identity and sexual expression as part of character creation prior to the start of the game is deeply personal and important. This character creation within the game allowed me to immerse myself on a whole new level. I quickly identified with both characters in A Fold Apart and how their struggles in a long-distance relationship. I saw past and current relationships that I’ve had, and the struggle felt directly connected to my own. The game itself does not change regardless of gender and sexuality choice. The concept of long-distance relationships is not unique or specific to a certain pair of lovers. It is truly a shared experience.
This made me think of how important it is to be able to express yourself in all facets of your life, especially in your work life. We talk a big game in HR about work-life balance. However, we still try to separate personal and work personas with a hard line. That is challenging because no matter what you do you bring yourself to your work every day. Having the ability to express yourself as you truly are is what helps people engage in their work. In Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why”, bringing an authentic self to the workplace is necessary to finding your purpose and values in the workplace. I have worked in workplaces where I felt I had to hide my sexuality, despite it having no impact on my productivity or my ability to do my job. My coworkers did not even care either way; however, the stigma I felt around me made me feel that my sexuality was a detriment. I have also worked in places where my sexuality could be celebrated and respected. In both cases, I was able to bring my authentic self to the workplace - I was able to engage in my work on a deeper level.
What can the HR industry do to allow people to bring and encourage their authentic selves to the workplace? That can start at the first day after the offer has been accepted: during the onboarding phase when we ask something as simple as the gender identification question. Having the options that are applicable to the individual (male, female, X, Nonbinary, other). It may seem like a trivial question to ask but has a big impact on the individual filling out the form. Ironically this may mean that you need to change your HRIS to adapt to this new idea of gender expression. Most HRIS only has the “standard” binary male and female choices. In addition to the paperwork, having open discussions within the organization regarding personal expression and even areas like dress code could be easily addressed to meet the needs of those who do not identify with the binary male and female gender options. Video games have had these mechanics for years. Mario was a single character until his second outing, and then you were given the choice of 4 characters, including Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach. A gender option was now available, and more people could see themselves in the game. It also provided more opportunities to replay the game, as each character had unique traits that changed gameplay for each of them.
Another example in the workplace is provided by GM CEO Mary Barra about General Motors dress code. It is simply two words: Dress Appropriately. While it is deceptively vague, it allows for the individual to view their surroundings and colleagues and express themselves as they see appropriate. For those who may bring up the example of those who required PPE within their work, I would highlight that the first all-female spacewalk only took place in October 2019, since not all space suits were “fit them best”. This idea that having appropriate options need to be available seems to have illuded NASA for since the first female, Sally Ride, astronaut went to space in 1983.
A Fold a Part, is an excellent example of how truly innocuous small choices impact the users experience at the end of the day. The visuals and gameplay of A Fold Apart were engaging regardless how you identify with the story, the fact that I was able to choose truly allowed this game to be an interactive medium and is an excellent case why video games are now considered art. We can spend more time in the at work then at home, and to not be our authentic self during all that time would be exhausting. HR can learn a lot of game design, user experience and make the workplace a great place to be.
How does your workplace provide you ways to express yourself? Do you see yourself in your companies mission and vision? Comment below and let me know!
Passionate about technology, human resources, and nurturing great talent!