Viewpoints

Viewpoint: More Accessibility in Games is Important

Many gaming communities pride themselves on being “inclusive”. While one can endlessly discuss what that term actually means, I have to chosen to focus on a certain type of inclusiveness: game accessibility – the one that should be way more evident than it actually is. With a quick search on Google, there is no reason to doubt the existence of articles and websites that offer information and measures on accessibility in games. However, I personally was not aware of how extensive this issue was. If you’re in the same boat as me, I encourage you to continue reading.

Recently, a friend showed me a YouTube video of Naughty Dog, PlayStation, and Josh Straub, one of the spokespersons for gamers with disabilities, talking about some of the efforts being made in the video game industry – it was essentially about how these small achievements make a huge difference for these gamers.

“What developers need to realize is that these games do more than just entertain the disabled. First of all, they provide an escape from the doldrums of being disabled. And second of all, they provide a social space where instead of being judged by physical appearance we’re purely judged by the action that we do and the things we produce in the game.” – Josh Straub.

Since there are so few gaming companies out there that don’t acknowledge the problem that not everybody can play their games, I believe there are more people out there like me who are not aware of this.

According to PR Newswire20% of casual gamers, that means one in five, have a mental, physical or developmental disability. Keep in mind, we are talking about disabilities ranging between bipolar, dyslexia, blindness, broken arm, and cerebral palsy – in other words, when they made this survey, they had a very wide grasp of the word “disability”. Either way, I still think it is important to acknowledge any type of disability, as it affects in a larger aspect how exactly we perceive games.

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An example could be the development of virtual reality, which is a major step forward in the gaming world. However, when we think about the accessibility of said VR, it is not that big of a step. There are many who aren’t able to try this revolutionary way of gaming because of a disability rendering them unable. Furthermore, this does not just apply to this new way of playing games, but also the traditional way too. While this is a subject that one could write a dissertation about, I only choose to highlight some important points.

According to the PR Newswire survey, games relieved disabled gamers of stress, it lifted their mood, and served as a distraction from issues related to the disability. It also functioned as a way to improve concentration and mental workout – each benefit varied from the type of disability. Upon acknowledging the fact that we all live different lives, have different life stories, we therefore obviously play games for different reasons. While many non-disabled gamers might relate to the same benefits of playing a game, and perhaps play games for the same reasons, I think it is important to acknowledge the fact that the same source of outlet has a major difference in accessibility.

“When I turn on a game like Uncharted, I’m not confined to a wheelchair. I’m a swashbuckler treasure hunter like Nathan Drake. That brief period of escape is why accessibility is so crucial, because the more games that offer that, the more people with disabilities will be able to escape and have better lives.” – Josh Straub.

Slowly, but surely, more developers are starting to listen. In a dialogue with Straub, Naughty Dog and PlayStation took what they heard into careful consideration, and started to introduce some important changes. Keep in mind that these are only a few of the many changes they introduced:

  • They added a color-blind mode in the multiplayer section of the game
  • The camera has lock-on features – this focuses on using only one joystick controller
  • Upon pressing down one button, the game will act as though you are pushing it down repeatedly

Naughty Dog should be proud of themselves for stepping forward as a role model when it comes to accessibility, making games available for as many gamers as possible. This goes to show how some video game developers are able to be considerate of their audience, by working towards the goal that every player should receive the same gaming experience. While there are still a lot of developers that could do a lot better in this regard, it’s good to take what we can get at the moment, and help bring the discussion into the light.

In my opinion, the fact that huge gaming companies that work alongside Naughty Dog do not talk loudly enough about this angers me. It creates an unnecessary unfairness that wasn’t meant to be there in the first place. 

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The LP Pad – an Xbox compatible controller made for gamers with little to no manual dexterity: designed to sit on the lap of the user. Picture taken from amsvans.com – you can read more about this controller here

As more game developers take into consideration the fact that people require different means of accessibility, the inclusiveness of the gaming community will expand. I think that with the right attitude and awareness, the goal is easily achievable. With further development, games will be available to a wider audience – everybody wins. We would thrive on a community where everybody receives an equal gaming experience. There are so many fantastic games out there: let’s include everybody in the fantastic world that is video games. I will never take for granted the opportunity I have to play any game, however I want, ever again.

You can read more about why and how accessibility matters here. You can also find the AbleGamers Foundation’s Game Accessibility Guidelines here.

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