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With over 3 billion gamers worldwide and the gaming industry booming at over $180 billion – more than double the film industry’s value – gaming has become a massively popular pastime. People are diving into games with friends, competing with strangers, and even streaming for huge online audiences. But there’s a big piece missing: truly accessible games for everyone.
Many games still have hurdles that exclude players with various physical or cognitive challenges. Creating accessible games isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s essential for ensuring that everyone can join in the fun and enjoy everything gaming offers, from entertainment and challenges to escapism and social connections.
In our blog, we’ll explore the ways to build accessibility into video games. We’ll celebrate the wins and the areas for improvement, exploring the potential for making gaming a space where everyone, regardless of ability, can play.
Bridging the digital divide in video game accessibility
The accessibility of video games for people with disabilities has become a crucial focus in game design, however, British charity, Scope says that there isn’t much research into ‘the experiences of disabled gamers’. We do understand, though, that various disabilities can pose significant barriers to enjoying and accessing video games for many, presenting challenges often missed in conventional game design. These disabilities include:
1. Mobility Impairments: Covering a spectrum of physical disabilities affecting movement, these impairments can make traditional controllers and gaming setups challenging or impossible to use effectively. Gamers with limited hand and arm mobility, for instance, often find themselves at a disadvantage with standard gaming equipment.
2. Visual Impairments: From partial vision loss to total blindness, designing video games for visually impaired individuals presents a unique challenge in a medium predominantly reliant on visual cues and graphics. Without specific adaptations, many games remain inaccessible to these gamers, denying them the full spectrum of the gaming experience.
3. Hearing Impairments: Deaf or hard-of-hearing players frequently miss out on crucial aspects of gameplay that rely on audio cues, dialogue, and ambient sounds. This auditory dimension of gaming, often taken for granted, is integral to the complete experience and narrative immersion.
4. Cognitive Impairments: Including conditions like Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and various learning disabilities, cognitive impairments can make certain games overwhelming. Fast-paced action, complex interfaces, or intricate storylines can pose significant hurdles, limiting the accessibility and enjoyment of these games.
5. Speech Impairments: With over 80 million stuttering people in the world, speech accessibility and speech accessibility awareness become increasingly relevant. Particularly relevant in multiplayer gaming environments that rely on voice communication for coordination and strategy, speech impairments can hinder the ability to fully engage in team-based or cooperative gaming experiences.
Tackling these disability-related challenges is key for the gaming world to become genuinely inclusive. As awareness around inclusive design grows, developers are turning more towards adaptive tech and flexible gameplay features. The aim? To make sure gaming’s joy, sense of community, and endless creativity are accessible to everyone.
Top 5 accessible video games
Let’s shine a spotlight on 5 groundbreaking games built with accessibility in mind:
1. The Last of Us Part II: This game is renowned for its extensive accessibility features, offering over 60 settings to accommodate players with vision, hearing, and motor disabilities, including options like high-contrast modes, text-to-speech, and fully customizable controls.
2. Celeste: Celeste is celebrated for its Assist Mode, which allows players to adjust the game’s difficulty, including slowing down game speed and enabling invincibility, making it more accessible for players with various cognitive and motor challenges.
3. Gears 5: Gears 5 has been praised for its range of accessibility options, including a full suite of controller customization options, subtitles with speaker indicators, and a visual sound effects mode to aid players with hearing impairments.
4. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: This title stands out for its accessibility by including options like resizable subtitles, colorblind modes, and menu narrations, catering to players with visual and auditory impairments, and making the game more inclusive.
5. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2: This game is recognized for its advanced accessibility features tailored for the PS5. It includes options like customizable subtitles, high-contrast modes, and controller remapping, ensuring that players with various visual, auditory, and motor impairments can fully enjoy the immersive experience of being Spider-Man.
While there are standout examples of progress in video game accessibility, significant gaps remain. It’s evident that the industry needs to further its efforts in making accessibility a core aspect of game design, rather than an afterthought.
How to win at accessibility in video games
How do you ensure that video games are enjoyable for everyone? Winning at accessibility in video games is all about recognizing and addressing the diverse needs of players. This section looks into a variety of accessibility features, essential in game design:
Allow players to remap buttons and controls, accommodating various motor abilities. For example, Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is a pioneering example, enabling players with limited mobility to customize their gaming setup.
Subtitles and Captioning
Include clear subtitles for dialogue and descriptive captions for sound effects, aiding those with hearing impairments. Games like “Spider-Man” for PS4 have been praised for their clear, readable subtitles.
Color Blind Modes
Implement settings tailored for different types of color vision deficiencies. “Overwatch” is a notable game that offers colorblind options, enhancing the visual experience for affected players.
Support assistive technologies like screen readers and voice recognition, which can help players with visual and motor impairments.
Adjustable Difficulty Levels
Enable players to modify game difficulty, catering to a wider range of skills and comfort levels. The “Celeste” Assist Mode is a prime example, allowing players to adjust the game’s challenge to their preferences.
Utilize vibrations and tactile cues to provide feedback for players with hearing impairments. Games like “Astro’s Playroom” on PS5 make innovative use of haptic feedback to convey game information.
Offer tutorials that are adjustable in pace and complexity, helping players with cognitive challenges. “Minecraft” offers a flexible tutorial experience, making it easier for new players to learn at their own pace.
Play for profit with accessible games
Accessibility in games is not just a niche concern; it’s a huge factor in the gaming industry that can open up a lucrative market to an even wider audience, including players with disabilities.
With its staggering value, the gaming industry has massive global influence and potential but this booming market faces a significant missed opportunity if it fails to fully incorporate accessibility features.
By neglecting these features, developers and companies risk leaving a substantial portion of potential revenue untapped. In an industry driven by innovation and inclusivity, integrating accessibility is not just a moral imperative but a smart business strategy to tap into the full potential of this thriving market.
For developers, this isn’t just about being inclusive; it’s a strategic move to future-proof their products. Embracing accessibility features from the start is a savvy, long-term commitment for developers aiming at the future of gaming.
UserWay: game on for accessibility
Ready to play fair and integrate accessibility features into your video games? Our team of accessibility experts are here to guide you towards the right products and services to help you achieve this. Start with a free demo and elevate the gaming experience for everyone. It’s time to ‘level up’ and make your games accessible to all.
What are the most common types of features found in accessible games?
Common accessibility features in video games include customizable control schemes, text-to-speech and speech-to-text options, visual and audio cue adjustments, and difficulty level customization.
Can visually impaired players enjoy mainstream video games?
Yes, visually impaired players can enjoy mainstream video games that include accessibility options like high-contrast modes, screen readers, and scalable text.
Are there any gaming consoles designed specifically for video game accessibility?
While no gaming consoles are designed exclusively for players with disabilities, many, like the Xbox, offer adaptive controllers and accessibility settings to accommodate a range of physical and cognitive needs.