Updated: Feb 2, 2021
Hello again, everyone. In the first article of this miniseries, we investigated some of the hardware available to differently-abled gamers to make video games accessible. We also looked at the game-agnostic controller emulation software which allows players to use alternative control setups and non-natively supported controllers.
In the second article, I shared some of my family and I’s personal experiences regarding accessibility issues in gaming, in case these issues are not covered elsewhere.
In this, the third and final part of the miniseries we investigate the resources available to game developers to help them make their games accessible, and the organisations that help differently-abled gamers to keep on gaming. Let's dive in.
Game level adaptations are adaptations which can be made on a game-by-game basis, and are generally made by the following groups;
1) The game’s developers who may cater for such alterations during development or post-launch via patches and updates.
2) The modding community who may create accessibility mods after the game has been released if the developer fails to do so, or if the modders feel they can do better.
3) The player’s themselves once they own the game.
The range and number of adaptations that could and should be made are staggering. I had already created what I thought was a fairly comprehensive list of suggestions ‘off the top of my head’ before researching this article. However, I thought wrong, and the suggestions I had considered barely scratch the surface. How do I know this?
Because when researching this I was pleasantly surprised to learn that several organisations around the world have been working to promote and support accessibility in gaming for some time. They have already created far more comprehensive advice and guidance materials than I could. What’s more, many are involved in one-to-one work with individuals and consultancy work with game developers, health care providers and the like. So, instead of writing out a long list of ideas here, I’ll leave it to the experts – links and details below.
Game Maker's Toolkit YouTube Channel
Mark Brown’s Game Maker’s Toolkit YouTube channel has a superb series titled ‘Designing for Disability’. In this, Brown explains video game accessibility features whilst showing examples of games that get it right, and the games that get it wrong - the latter serving as examples of what not to do. The description text of these videos contains links to other valuable resources - many of which are listed below.
Designing for Disability Part one
NB - the rest of the series can be seen by following this link:
SpecialEffect are a UK-based charity that puts fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games. We use technology that ranges from modified games controllers to eye-control, and we’re finding ways for people of all ages to play to the very best of their abilities.
There's no one-size-fits-all way of doing this, so normally (i.e. pre-lockdown) our occupational therapists will meet people face-to-face - either by visiting them or welcoming them to our Games Room in Oxfordshire. Our team will have talked to the person before the visit to build up a picture of their abilities and what they want to play, and during the visit they’ll work with the person to create a personalised gaming control setup using carefully-selected technology from the huge selection in our loan library. The loan is then backed up with lifelong follow-up support as the person’s needs and abilities change, and as potentially suitable new technology evolves.
Although these face-to-face visits aren’t possible at the moment, our virtual doors are still open to those who need us. Our team is carrying on its life-transforming work through online assessments, remote support and equipment provision. We’re continuing to welcome new referrals as well as supporting people we’ve previously helped, so please do get in touch via email or through our website if you think we can help. We don’t charge for any of our services. (Quote kindly provided by SpecialEffect)
Special Effect Website:
Game Access Website:
SpecialEffects YouTube Channel:
"Gamers Outreach is a 501(c)(3) charity organization that provides equipment, technology, and software to help kids cope with treatment inside hospitals. In short, we aim to provide video games to hospitalized children across the US. We do this by donating Gamers Outreach karts (GO Karts) to hospitals. Our GO karts can be easily disinfected and wheeled around everywhere from playrooms to individual hospital rooms and are equipped with a monitor, a gaming console such as an XBOX or PS4 pre-loaded with games, and adaptive and regular controllers.
We estimate that one kart can provide gaming to more than 2,000 hospitalized children a year, and are currently supporting an estimated 1.5 million children a year overall. Now more than ever, we're getting more GO Kart requests from hospitals due to increased isolation. Our goal is to continue to brighten a child's day by offering them the ability to build a mansion in Minecraft, race a parent or sibling in Forza, or even build and score goals in Rocket League." (Quote kindly provided by Gamers Outreach)
Gamers Outreach Website:
The AbleGamers Foundation, also known as AbleGamers Charity, is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit public charity that aims to improve the overall quality of life for those with disabilities through the power of video games.
Video games allow individuals with disabilities to experience situations that may be difficult or limited in the real world, provide social networking opportunities to maintain mental and emotional health, and participate in one of the world’s largest pastimes. (Text as per the AbleGamers website 'Our Services' page.)
Accessible Games Website (Powered by AbleGamers):
Accessible Player Experiences (APX)
An excellent online resource aimed at video game developers to assist them to make their games accessible.
Accessibility Guidelines Website:
Full list of Game Accessibility Guidelines:
Can I Play That? (CIPT)
We are a game accessibility resource for both players and developers. Here you will find in-depth accessibility reviews for games, commentary and opinion pieces from disabled gamers, helpful accessibility guides, and our Community Soapbox feature where you can get to know members of the community. (Text as per the CIPT website)
Can I Play That Website:
CIPT Deaf and Hard of Hearing Accessibility Guide:
CIPT Motor/Physical Accessibility Guide:
CIPT Cognitive Accessibility Guide:
Blind and Low-Vision Accessibility Guide:
Color-Blindness Accessibility Guide:
Game PR and Marketing Accessibility Guide:
Since 1997, Level Access has supported the accessibility initiatives of more than 1,100 organizations, from Fortune 500 enterprises, to public sector and government agencies, educational institutions, and private sector businesses of all sizes. Our industry-leading software, consulting, and training solutions provide the full 360-degree coverage needed to ensure accessible and compliant websites, mobile apps, software, and other technology, while protecting against legal risk.
Our ultimate goal is to create a world where digital systems can be made readily accessible to users with disabilities - so digital technology can become a profound, empowering force in their lives. (As per the Level Access Website)
Color Oracle is a free colour blindness simulator for Windows, Mac and Linux. It takes the guesswork out of designing for color blindness by showing you in real time what people with common colour vision impairments will see. (Text as-per Color Oracle website)
A free-to-use typeface designed to be more easily readable by those with dyslexia.
Purchasable font packages designed specifically to improve legibility for people with learning disabilities.
The Harding FPA is a suite of applications that tests media for photosensitive epilepsy triggers.
VR & accessibility | Gamasutra
Accessibility in Games in Action
Historically, accessibility options have tended to be either neglected or implemented haphazardly, and seemingly tagged on as an afterthought. However, this appears to be changing, perhaps due to the sterling work done by the aforementioned content creators, charities and organisations.
It is gladdening to see that accessibility is being taken more seriously now by developers and accessibility features are improving over time. The Last of Us Part II was praised for featuring particularly well thought out accessibility options, as the video below shows. If a developer wants to know ‘what good accessibility looks like’, then The Last of Us Part II is a good place to start.
The Last of Us Part II - Accessibility Features Gameplay
Video by COGconnected
Mods to the Rescue
If a developer is unable to implement these features, then they should ensure their game is fully moddable with full mod support and dev tools. The community will then cater to its member’s needs, for example, the 'Wuss mod' for Soma. Indeed, the modding community may provide an insight into what a game’s player base wants, thus pointing the devs in the right direction when it comes to updates and future titles. SOMA is a great example of this too, as its developers went on to replicate 'Wuss mode' in the guise of the official 'Safe Mode' via a patch.
If you are a game dev reading this and you are concerned you will not be able to remember everything, don't worry - it can be summed up by this simple mantra;
Options, options, options.
No one can know in advance what every player’s needs and preferences are, therefore trying to create presets for each player’s needs - whilst commendable - is ineffective. What’s more, it can come off as a little patronizing in a ‘developer knows best’ kind of way. In practice, even the most well intentioned developer is unlikely to know what is best for an individual, since it is impossible for them, or anyone else, to do so. The only person who knows exactly what an individual player’s needs are - is the individual player themselves.
If devs provide the player with enough options, the player can tailor the game to their exact requirements. Devs may be concerned that presenting players with such a range of options will be off-putting or overwhelming for them - especially so in this dumbed-down, restrictive, and prescriptive epoch of gaming. My advice to devs regarding this is simple: Don’t be.
Gamers with specific requirements are well aware of what those requirements are and will appreciate being granted the freedom and autonomy to cater to them. These individuals will likely have configuring their games down to a fine art since these requirements will be common across almost all games and genres. They will be able to fly through an options menu in record time setting everything up ‘just so’. For some, this is part of the fun, as it serves as a pre-game ritual which helps them get in the right frame of mind. They may also get a kick from knowing that they are creating an experience that will be unique to themselves.
I am a perfect example of this. I have used the same keyboard and mouse controls, FOV, music, speech, and sound volume settings for every FPS game since the ‘90s. After installing a game configuring it is the first things I do, and it takes less than five minutes. I fully expect to be able to do this, and if I find I am unable to I’ll likely not play the game and ask for a refund. The chance that anyone could predict exactly what this setup is in advance is next to zero, so it would be useless to try, and the same goes for any other player’s exact preferences.
Providing players with options is good for everyone, not just those with specific accessibility issues, so taking the time and effort to code for these benefits everyone.
The Bottom Line
If you are a game developer or a publisher and you are reading this, you may be wondering why you should care about making your games more accessible, after all, it may take additional resources to incorporate the suggestions above. I posit this - think of it as an investment. By taking the time to make your games accessible to a wider audience you increase your potential customer base. The increased sales may more than compensate for any increased development costs. What’s more, it is likely to generate significant goodwill which will no doubt benefit your reputation, brand and company as a whole.
For any game developers reading this who would like to ensure their games are accessible to people with such conditions, firstly, thank you for thinking of us, and secondly, I recommend reaching out to the charities and organisations representing these groups listed above. They are likely to have the knowledge and experience to help you.
Have you been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, or know someone who has? What have your experiences of accessibility in games – or lack thereof – been like and how could they have been improved. Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below. If you would prefer to do so anonymously and privately (full discretion guaranteed), please reach out to me at email@example.com
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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