Opinion: Accessibility in games and why it’s important

I’ve developed a little bit of a tradition whenever I start a new game. I always head into the options menu and take a gamble whether the subtitle option will be in the audio settings or the game options. Once I find it, I turn it on since I’ve been playing with subtitles for essentially my entire gaming lifespan. I also credit subtitles for the vocabulary I have today since reading thousands of lines of text tends to teach you something about the English language.

But why do I use subtitles? It’s become a tradition for me, but I’ve forgotten the real reason why I turned them on in the first place. I have something called Auditory Processing Disorder. In short, I have a hard time distinguishing sounds from each other and that causes me to lose comprehension of what’s happening in front of me. So, for example, if we were in a busy cutscene full of explosions, loud music and people screaming, I have zero idea what is being said and what is going on.

Subtitles enable me to follow along with the dialogue and have a safety for when things get too busy and I’m having a hard time keeping up. The disorder has subsided over the years as I got more and more used to it, but subtitles remain an integral part of my gaming experience and I can’t imagine a world without them. However, this isn’t even scratching the surface of the accessibility options we have in games.

Contrary to popular rhetoric, gamers are massively diverse. Outside of race and gender, we have many individuals with individual features that are sometimes a hindrance to their gameplay experience. The other most common option you’ll find in the options menu is colourblind mode, which enables a sizable chunk of the gaming population to do something as simple as distinguishing the enemy team from the friendly team. It’s such a small addition, but to someone with the condition, it’s a godsend.

Then we move to those that are a little more underrepresented. Some gamers can’t handle the aiming stick well due to hand-eye problems or some other factor that prevents them from having the speed and accuracy one would need to go through a game. I’ve only seen a few games do this, but in a game like Uncharted 4, you can crank the auto-aim to the maximum it can go and aiming basically doesn’t happen anymore. You just press a button, the reticle goes to an enemy automatically and you shoot. The entire right stick doesn’t even get used for aiming anymore.

Uncharted 4 is basically a good template for how accessibility should be done. There are a bevy of options available to you to cater the experience exactly how you want. You can hold a button instead of mashing it during a QTE which is invaluable to those that don’t have the physical capacity to do such a thing,

Then we head into more extreme territory. Gamers that are blind, deaf, are paraplegic or don’t have good control over their limbs due to sickness and the like. There aren’t many options for blind gamers as you obviously lose an entire critical sense, but there are games such as Killer Instinct that gives blind gamers additional audio settings to make the game playable. Deaf gamers are easy because we have pretty much standardised subtitles and closed captions for every game that releases, but there are additional options that can be given to them as well.

Gamers without limbs or have sicknesses that cripple them need special tools to be able to play games. We have gamers that have custom setups such as RockyNoHands who uses mouth operated controllers such as the ones provided by QuadStick. Many other disabled gamers also have custom rigs that allow them to still play games without their disability getting in the way of their enjoyment. Microsoft has also been an integral part of this when they released their Adaptive Controller.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is a wonderful device that allows anyone to connect additional controllers and have custom made setups work with the Xbox One through a simple all-in-one interface. It’s a revelation for the disabled gaming community because in the past these adaptive controllers were usually custom made and expensive. To have a native and standardised option at $99 is a massive victory.

So now you know most of the different avenues of accessibility in games. How it’s traditionally implemented, what kinds there are and so on. There are a lot more options out there, but they usually fall in too big of a niche to really talk about. Accessibility has come a very long way since the days of the arcade and with gaming growing into more regions all over the world, the desire for accessibility increases.

To implement accessibility options with the same thoroughness of something like Uncharted 4 is not easy and it usually takes precious development time to implement. But in making it a priority, you open up your game to a whole host of new players, even if their numbers are in the vast minority. But just hitting the simple stuff such as subtitles, colour blind modes and maybe stronger auto-aiming shouldn’t be a problem and wouldn’t take much time.

Then we head into the thorny subject of game difficulty. This has been a hotly contested subject in the gaming community for years now, but difficulty modes are also a form of accessibility. Do you think someone who can barely move by themselves is able to play The Witcher 3 on Death March difficulty? No, that would be madness, unless that person is really good with their setup which is also a possibility.

Allowing gamers to choose difficulty is a critical tool in the world of accessibility. Many gamers lack the pure reflex that is needed to competently play games on high or medium difficulties. Sometimes these games don’t have traditional accessibility options in the first place which makes the process a lot harder for someone with disabilities. Providing an easy avenue through a game is honestly the only way.

The debate happens when you go to games with static difficulty, the most famous of which are the Souls games. Fans of the games believe that the games receiving an easy mode would be a “betrayal” towards the vision and intent behind the games. But really all that’s happening is that people out there who want to play these precious games you hold in such high regard, simply won’t.

Providing an easier difficulty isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of inclusivity. I’d go a step further and say that they should just provide a God Mode option in a game that will allow you to be invincible. Because what does that take away from the experience? Exactly nothing, because you don’t have to pick it.

The logic is so simple. I don’t understand the arguments against providing an easy mode because they can all be countered with “then don’t pick it”. Your experience is your own and someone else’s experience is their own. Do you want to be the guy or girl who tells someone with cerebral palsy that they should just git gud at Dark Souls? Do you want to be the person that tells someone with a debilitating muscle dystrophy illness to stop being such a casual scrub and catch up? Also, don’t you think some people’s lives can be difficult enough?

For some reason, the topic of inclusivity is a touchy subject for many people out there. They feel like their pure experiences are being sullied by all these additional options and easier difficulties. The odd thing is that their lives aren’t being changed at all when these things get implemented. But someone else’s entire life changes.

Accessibility in games is extremely important. I almost don’t want to elaborate on that statement because it’s the simple truth. More options, more ways to play and more techniques to allow those previously unable to play in a sanctuary that we ourselves hold so dear. We can share this gaming paradise, let’s just start by making the stairway to heaven wheelchair accessible, okay?

I am way too tall, played way too many games and I love to write about what we love about games. In the end, I'm just being #Thabolicious

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