The Dyslexic Games Designer – How my hidden disability gives me my designer abilities.

Many of you will not know that I carry a hidden learning disability – Dyslexia. It can affect my daily life, it affected my education, and has shaped me as a person. I wanted to write up this blog post so I can share with you that having this disability isn’t necessarily a negative, and if you are affected – to give you reason to keep pushing and show you you can still be a successful designer.


As a note, for this blog post – I am going to be the lone editor so you can see how it can shape my language and thinking. Brave – as I often get others to check my work, however I will be keeping the spell checker on!


The dry description of Dyslexia is that it’s a “specific learning difficulty” that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling. My intelligence isn’t affected. There are plenty more symptoms too that have helped shaped me. Other well known Dyslexics include Richard Branson, Bill Gates, James Dyson and Steven Spielberg – so I feel like I’m in good company!


The Early Years

When I was in primary school I had had many rounds of hearing and sight tests, all requested by the school, to see why I was not copying the board clearly or able to keep up in some lessons. I was diagnosed after I got into my grammar school, when I was around 12 or 13, by a wonderful English teacher I was lucky to have had. She realised I was excelling in some areas, but had a lot of issues in others – and saw my reluctance to read aloud in class. I did an IQ test which clearly showed I was Dyslexic.



 My hair was so long.. !


After being diagnosed, things changed a little at school. I got a little electronic dictionary (which was pre-prediction times, so only so useful!), had extra time in exams, teachers didn’t pressure me into reading aloud (though sometimes I wanted to, so did). I found the extra time in exams incredibly useful – as I had no idea how anyone had time to do all the questions before I found out about my disability. I finally had time to read, write, and check through what I had written.


I still had to do the same work as everyone else, but there was a couple of friction points. This often came down to the misunderstanding of the teachers of what I was capable of, which did burn me at the time and can be a sore spot now.


My History teacher didn’t want me to take the course for GSCE, as it involved a lot of essays. Well, we had to take one humanity and they all involved essays! But, I showed her, I got an A or A* (can’t remember now, too many years ago!).


My Graphics teacher broke my dreams. They were starting up a new graphics design course, and I was already messing around in computer graphics since I was in primary school. I really loved it, and would often present my work with needless extra showmanship of my skills. However, she wouldn’t let me on the course, saying that my dyslexia would mean I would have scruffy work and would get a poor grade. I still want to walk up to her now and show her what I’ve done – that despite her best efforts, I’ve ended up as a designer, and have worked as a graphics designer as a job before now. I’ve designed the logo’s and graphics on all of our work. I feel like she set me back a year or two while I have to learn everything on the job, and in my spare time while I was at university.


Otherwise, I HATED languages, but my GCSE French teacher was a wonderfully patient women who really worked hard with me so a ended up with a great grade (somehow!).



University times!


Who I am now


I’ve been shaped by my coping mechanisms, and it’s not until recently when I’ve found that it’s not just spelling that’s really been affected. So much more makes sense now!


I don’t read books. I find it a frustrating experience as the information is too slow to come into my brain, and it’s like I can feel the restriction of flow. I read slow, and can try and read quicker but then I end up missing words and whole lines. I forget where I am on the page – so you will see me maybe using my finger or a ruler to see where I was, which of course gets in the way. I don’t mind reading as much on a screen – I think the contrast helps me but also I tend to keep my eyes on one location and move the text, rather than move my eyes while reading. This means I’ve become VERY good at skimming visuals and seeing images of that in my head (i.e. browsing Netflix catalogue is lightning fast for me!). I think that’s because I’ve moved to using more of an image based memory and recognition.


Autocorrect is a must, but it’s so frustrating when I can’t even Google the word close enough. Fortunately Google is great when you give it a sentence like ‘What is that word when you..”. That’s helped me so much! It also means my Googlefu is awesome, and so I can find information VERY quickly when I need it, using the right keywords to find what I need.




This visual gag has helped me a lot with my grammar.

Thanks Hyperbole and a Half! 


I have a much lower range of vocabulary, probably due to my lack of reading. I cope by again, using Google, but also just spending a long time editing.


I forget, a lot, as my working memory is poor. This means I can almost forget what I was just said, halfway reading into a paragraph, or what even just came out of my own mouth. This one is probably the most embarrassing, and it probably means that it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve met you, unless your name was communicated in lots of different ways, I will forget it every time. I also I can’t do mental maths despite having a degree in physics. I find it very had to commit equations and letter/number combinations into my mind. To deal with this I have ended up learning in very different ways, like through actions, images, movements, music – rather than reading or hearing someone speak. The best lessons where always those when we did the activity, which is why I feel like I was a better learner in labs and at school rather than in lectures at university.


I can’t read my own handwriting! I end up doodling a lot more, using Google Keeps and other apps, big felt tips help too.


Speech communication can be very challenging. I get the order of words and logic around the wrong way, and often cannot see how it’s wrong. I can find it hard to find the right word – especially with nouns. I’m always saying ‘can you pass the thingy!’. I can listen to someone say something, and it can literally go in and out of my head instantly. I can sometimes even react, and then completely forget what was said and what I just said. Worse though is just not understanding something that has been said AT ALL, and this translates me to saying ‘excuse me, what did you say?” as if the person was being quiet, but it’s actually that I just don’t understand the words. Loud places is so hard for me, that I will still avoid talking in them, as I can’t distinguish words from what’s else is being said around me (and I can’t lip read).


I will often shout, in order to try and make myself clearer, or if I’m failing to understand something – which will often come across as aggressive. I mispronounce a lot, or use the wrong term, and can fail to realise the consequences of what I’ve said. I can misunderstand people, interpreting sometimes over-literally – and will always assume the worse as my coping mechanism.


My Career


I’ve been a games designer at a few studios, and was also a programmer at one. As a games designer I have to not only think of some idea, but also work out possible problems and solutions, and to be able to communicate those to the team. I have to keep my eye on the big picture as well as every time detail.


With the issues I’ve mentioned, you can see how this can affect how I could work if my job relies so much on communication. Early on in my career the fashion was to create giant GDDs (grand design document), with all the games design in, before you even talk to any artist or programmer. This wasn’t optimal for how I would think and work, so it would seem to take me longer to write up what I was thinking, then I would more often or not have to go over and explain something again. I communicate much better when talking with someone when I can use my body language. I end up using Google Slides for docs as it allows me to communicate with diagrams and images much easier.



Frontier Developments, my first job!


My avoidance of public speaking has been overcome by public speaking! The developers that come up to me and thank me make it worth it. My simple language, and the skills I picked up at university about how to explain complex physics ideas to a non science person, seems to help!


I avoid loud industry parties, or try and catch people outside and convince them to go elsewhere. Not great to be outside with the smokers for my lungs, but at least I can understand the conversation.


The worse was as a programmer, in LUA, where I could create new variables on the fly (yay!) just with a spelling mistake (boo!) and cause LUA – this would only be caught at runtime (grrrr) which lead to MANY HOURS of debugging over simple mistakes (facepalm). The hard bit was checking the logic and knowing it’s right, reading it over and over, then someone else having to point out the spelling mistake.


In more dry terms, has a great list of things which I guessed I found, but didn’t actually attribute it to my Dyslexia until now. Sorry my previous producers!
Becomes frustrated at “planning meetings” and sequential tasks – already has the answer and how to do it.
Has difficulty focusing and staying on task – may feel more comfortable managing many different tasks simultaneously
Makes sense! I’ve always enjoyed having a lot of tasks on my plate.


However, because of my ways of coping, I have grown to have some interesting skills. These (according to the British Dyslexia Association) “can include ‘big picture’ thinking, problem-solving and lateral thinking abilities, an instinctive understanding of how things work, originality, creativity and exceptional visual-spatial skills”. And I guess this is why, despite the communication barriers that can often happen, these other skills are a great advantage!


The types of  games I make and enjoy are affected by my who I am. I stick with new gameplay and interesting logic much more than than text and story.


When I’m playing a game, I can immediately see how it was made, what the designer is thinking. I can see past the smoke and mirrors before I was even a designer. What it can lead to is that I may not be able to play an FPS well, but I can pick up a game incredibly quickly, seem to predict where every collectable is hidden, know it’s weaknesses and use them to my advantage to win. I’m evil at new board games, just ask the old Sony board game group! But it does mean a game has to work hard to please me, as I can find them too predictable and slow, or I find all the holes grating, and get really frustrated if they haven’t done something in a way which seems like there’s an obviously better way in my eyes.

When creating games I’m much better at communicating what the player has to do via the actions they perform and the level design, rather than the tutorial text. My designs are VERY gameplay oriented, and quality of interaction is key. You can tell I think outside the box with how Unseen Diplomacy works – although it’s still strange to me when people say ‘well how did you think of it’ when it seems so obvious to me!  


Would UD have happened if it wasn’t for Dyslexia?


But I am where I am today because of my abilities, and I believe that my ways of coping with my disability has lead me to actually be a better grames designer. In conclusion, if you’re expecting a designer who writes up a big traditional wordy GDD I may not be the best – but if you want someone that communicates in a range of ways, with some really out there ideas and ways of problem solving, then don’t be afraid of the Dyslexic game designer.


If you want to read more about common characteristics of adult dyslexia, read here.


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