5 ways accessibility in video games is evolving

We asked our Accessibility and Usability Consultants to share their thoughts about accessibility in gaming.

Like most digital sectors the championing of inclusive design in video games has been ongoing and becoming more prominent in recent years. Companies such as EA (Electronic Arts) have for some time considered accessibility and have posted help articles for their titles, but it wasn't until earlier this year that the EA accessibility portal was launched.

In-game features that may have originally been developed for users with disabilities are now having an overwhelmingly positive effect on all players. Subtitles in games are no longer only for players with auditory health conditions or impairments...

"Subtitles are an accessibility feature being used by over 60% of gamers — an example would be gamers playing on the underground with no headphones..." - Ian Hamilton at London Accessibility Meetup

Inclusive design results in better products and is future proofing a service given the increased awareness of permanent, temporary and situational impairments. So how has accessibility been emerging in video games recently and how is it similar or different to other sectors?

We’ve looked at 5 developments in video game accessibility…

1. Building in accessibility from the start

Accessibility was considered right from the get-go in the side-scrolling game Way of the Passive Fist (WotPF), which was released in March of this year. Accessibility was part of the design and development process for this game, and as a result players can remap every control in the game, play it one-handed or adjust the difficulty level. The animators also considered players that have trouble seeing and/or are sensitive to flashing lights, all of this resulting in a game that everyone over the age of twelve can enjoy.

Way of the Passive Fists in-game screen capture of combat

 
As with web accessibility, considering accessibility at the start of a video game project just makes more sense. Many companies still struggle to do this though and have to retrofit accessibility, as was the case a few years ago when CD Projekt Red received negative feedback about the text size on their title The Witcher 3 and had to release a patch to fix the issue. Had they considered the implications of an inaccessible text size at the beginning of the project it would not have cost them anything extra to implement.

2. Accessible gaming is award-winning and newsworthy

As previously mentioned the championing of accessibility in video games has been ongoing and becoming more prominent in recent years. In 2014 SpecialEffect won the AbilityNet Tech4Good Accessibility Award for their work adapting game controllers to enable people with specific mobility issues to play video games. This year Microsoft reported on the charity as they've created a way to play Minecraft using just your eyes.

Man using assistive technology to play a video game

Photo credit: SpecialEffect technology being used to play a video game via tech4goodawards.com

Ongoing research is also constantly making the news such as the RAD (Racing Auditory Display) interface created by Brian A. Smith. This specialist technology was developed to convey the visual information of a racing game into auditory information. It gives blind and low vision users an opportunity to play racing video games with the same speed and control as sighted players.

3. Different people = different play styles

Tweet from Matt Rowlabo - "Celeste's 'Assist Mode' is such a clever way of making a difficult game accessible to a wider audience. It's framed perfectly too - not insulting, not condescending, just accepting."One of the goals of accessibility in gaming has been to increase the number of different people who can play video games, making the necessary adjustments in both hardware and software. Everyone is benefiting from these efforts being made, as by allowing all players to change the gaming experience it is enabling different play styles. This is evidenced by platform game Celeste's assist mode which makes the game accessible to a wider audience through options that include becoming invincible and slowing the game down.

Many video games and consoles allow remapping of controls to allow for different play styles. Again, this benefits everyone and allows the player to change the gaming experience to meet their requirements. The Copilot feature introduced on Xbox One also allows the same game to be controlled by two different controllers simultaneously, opening up a world of possibilities in terms of different play styles.

4. More and more gaming organisations are embracing accessibility

As mentioned earlier, EA have recently launched their own accessibility portal, created to better support diverse needs and make it easier to find accessibility-specific features and resources.  Many AAA games, a term used to classify games with the highest budgets and levels of promotion, are being recognised for the work they are doing - the accessibility options added by developers to Uncharted 4 is a good example of this.

With all the major console manufacturers and games publishers embracing accessibility it’s becoming much more common to incorporate accessibility at an earlier stage of development. This marks a gradual but fundamental move into mainstream acceptance of both video games and accessibility. Conversations about inclusive design are much more common and this has even resulted in new conferences and events dedicated to the topic of accessibility in gaming, such as the Gaming Accessibility Conference (GAConf).

GAconf banner image with sponsors and video game background

Photo Credit: GAconf banner image via Twitter

5. Future plans

Now as much as ever it’s important we continue to think about the ways video game accessibility can be implemented to enhance the gaming experience and reach even more people.

Video game accessibility developments are happening at a reassuringly rapid rate with the hiring of internal accessibility advocates and increasing pressure and support from developers, senior managers and even influencers. Video games have steadily become more mainstream, and are a real cultural phenomenon.

Increasing awareness of accessibility and the provision of available tools will ensure efforts to make gaming as inclusive as possible will continue. In terms of what will happen next we're excited to see if machine learning begins to surface in the sector - offering the ability for a video game or console to learn what considerations need to be made for the player.

The future of video game accessibility is indeed exciting!

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