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Accessibility in gaming

The very first commercial video game was launched in 1971. It was called Computer Space. Since then, gaming has grown in a billion dollar industry with thousands of games and many different platforms.

Research from the The Interactive Games & Entertainment Association and Bond University released in July last year, revealed that two thirds of Australian play video games, with half of those players women and girls.

It’s estimated that 20% of people who play video games have a disability. But just how accessible is the gaming industry? Inform spoke with Mark Brown who runs the Game Maker’s Toolkit YouTube channel and has published a range of videos on accessibility in video games to learn more.


Accessibility options useful for everyone

Mark’s interest in accessible gaming stems from personal experience.

‘Like pretty much everyone, I know at least one person who struggles to enjoy certain games because of a disability. I personally struggle with things like button bashing because of repetitive strain injury, and my partner can’t play certain 3D games due to problems surrounding motion sickness. So we’ve both found accessibility options useful. And from there, it was interesting to see what else is being done, and can be done, to provide more options,’ he told Inform.

Mark says that accessibility for video games generally means providing options that change how the games works.

‘The three main categories are visual—such as colourblindness, motion sickness, and low vision options—audio, such as subtitles, and control, such as letting players change which buttons perform which actions. Developers can also think about providing a greater array of difficulty options, which can help make games accessible to all sorts of players.’

Woman in wheelchair and daughter playing video game

Design for disability

In an effort to encourage developers to do just that, Mark created his Design for Disability video series.

‘Designing for Disability is a four part series where I look at the major types of disabilities—audio, visual, motor, and cognitive—and talk about the options and design decisions that games can provide to assist people living with those disabilities. For example, I show how to design a colour palette that it suitable for people with colour-blindness, and what sort of controller remapping options should be provided.

‘While that series has finished, I now release a new video each year looking at how that year’s games have fared in terms of accessibility. Hopefully, as time goes on, there will be lots to celebrate and fewer and fewer games to complain about!

‘Luckily, the videos have proven popular and have been watched at many game studios—small and big—and I’ve already seen games that have added accessibility options having been inspired by my video series!’


An important conversation

Marks says the conversation around accessibility is one that the gaming community, including game designers, is having.

‘Examples of good accessibility options are being noted in the media and in the gaming community, and developers are being taken to task for not including basic options. For example, the Spyro the Dragon remake released without subtitles, which was a huge news story. Eventually the developers added the subtitles in, via a patch.

‘Game developers also get consultants in to help with accessibility options, and ask gamers with disabilities to provide feedback before the game is launched.’


More games are now accessible

And game designers are listening to the conversations around accessibility in gaming and making games more accessible. Mark mentions Celeste as a good example.

‘This game is a really challenging platformer game—like Mario cranked up to 11. But it also provides a suite of what it calls “assist options” that let you slow the game down, or give the main character invincibility. The developers told me that they want everyone to be able to enjoy the game, and so provide options to let people tweak the experience to a challenge they can face.

‘Luckily, many big huge companies like Sony, Ubisoft, and Microsoft are also doing a lot in this space: so last year’s Gears 5 can be set up to be played with one hand, and Ghost Recon Breakpoint lets you completely change the user interface to make it easier to see crucial details.’

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