Making Video Games Accessible to All: Part Two – Personal Experiences

Updated: Feb 2

Sensory and Information Overload
Sensory and Information Overload can be a significant problem for some neurodiverse gamers.

Welcome back, everyone. In the previous article, we investigated some of the hardware available to differently-abled gamers to make video games accessible. We also looked at the controller input emulator software which allows players to use alternative control setups and non-natively supported controllers.

In this article, I will share some of my personal experiences with accessibility in games in case they highlight issues not covered elsewhere. Let’s dive in.

Auditory Sensitivity and Sensory Overload

Auditory Sensitivity and its resultant Sensory Overload are common problems for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They can also be caused by certain medications, other medical conditions and structural problems within the ear itself. Too much sensory information at once can easily overload some people’s sensory processing abilities (Sensory Processing Disorder).

This is something I suffer from in everyday life (as do my children) and on rare occasions, it has affected video games too. One example was the market section of Metro 2033. I found the sheer number of background conversations going on at once to be maddening. I ended up turning the speakers off and using the subtitles to follow the important conversations. Once out of the market - and thus out of the cacophony of sounds - I turned the speakers back on again.

Note that it is only the number of sounds which was a problem, not their volume - the background conversations were all fairly quiet as you can hear in the video below. An option to turn off non-vital background conversations would have been very welcome here.

Metro 2033 - Market

Video by MahaloVideoGames

Information Overload

Another game with which I have experienced problems was the third act - Tenebra - of the Blue Planet: War in Heaven mod for FreeSpace SCP. As I mentioned in my three-part article miniseries regarding the mod’s excellence in storytelling, I struggled with its third act due to so many novel gameplay mechanics being introduced at the same time. I suggested a more gradual phase-in of new mechanics over a longer set of missions would have been preferable, and objectively better for all players. It appears the mod creators agree as they have stated that this is what they are seeking to do with act 4 - if they ever get time to make it - life gets in the way when you are a middle-aged gamer/developer 😉

What I didn’t mention in the miniseries was the task and information overload I experienced whilst playing it and the trouble this caused.

For me at least, there were too many new gameplay mechanics to remember, too many new counter-intuitive controls to commit to memory, too many new HUD elements to keep track of, too many messages to read, too many allied fighters to give orders too, too many allied capital ships to protect and too many enemy capitals ships to disarm etc. On top of that, the missions were complex with rapidly evolving events. The player needed to keep on top of all of this information whilst dodging flack and dogfighting the disturbingly competent enemy A.I. fighter pilots.

I became so overwrought and stressed out that I couldn’t continue. It was only after watching Let’s Plays on YouTube - which A - allowed me to keep track of events on-screen without having to fly the ship at the same time, and B - allowed me to pause the video to read the messages and on-screen prompts - that I was able to play it through to completion. An option to remove all but the most vital messages and notifications would have helped here.

NB - I deliberately omitted this from the articles as I knew of no one else who had been as affected by this as I had. Thus, it would have been improper for me to comment on something unlikely to affect anyone else. If anyone else has had a similar experience with a game please get in touch - anonymity and discretion guaranteed of course.

The mission ‘Her Finest Hour’ - shown in the video below - is the best example of this task and information overload. A lot is going on in this mission. If this is your first experience of it see if you can keep track of all the events unfolding. Note there is time pressure too - the Carthage needs to be disabled before it can jump out and escape. Now imagine doing all this whilst playing the game, flying the fighter and issuing orders.

FreeSpace Blue Planet: War in Heaven - Her Finest Hour Reality Playthrough

Video by FreeWillFs2

Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD also affects some people’s ability to recognise differences in facial expressions, body language, tones of voice etc. or to interpret what they mean if they do recognise it. This is not a major concern in most games, but in those few games where such details are vital, such as LA Noir, this could render the game unplayable.

On-screen tooltips could help players play the game and perhaps aid them in real life too. For example “Suspect is fidgety - they may be anxious - do they have something to hide?’ or "They are smiling with their mouth but not with their eyes - they are not really happy to see you - why might this be?” with arrows or similar pointing to the ‘tells’ could both make the game accessible and could even help them to recognise such tells in real life.

L.A. Noire: Immersive Face Animations

The subtle cues from facial expressions and body language might be missed by some players with ASD

Video by Dench999or911

Players with ASD may also suffer from a degree of Social Anxiety Disorder, as indeed may many neurotypical gamers. This may make online play intimidating. Including offline bot match modes will allow players to practice in a virtual space they control free from outside interference. This could either be used as a prelude to online matches or simply enjoyed for its own sake.

Unreal Tournament GOTY - MAP - Overlord (Assault)

Note that the A.I. of the bots can be altered and the game speed raised and lowered. This allows players to fine-tune the difficulty and gameplay experience

Video by arvutihull

Hypermobility Disorder

We mentioned the problems people with HMD or EDS can have with keyboards in the previous article, but gesture control interfaces can be even more problematic when they are mandatory. This has affected me in a rather odd fashion - if I hold my arm out straight ahead for too long it threatens to sublux* out of its shoulder girdle. Therefore, games which required holding the Wimotes out in front of you pointed at the screen were a problem. The option to play these games without gesture interface on a conventional joypad would have been most welcome. Indeed, allowing players total freedom over their in-game controls is something that would benefit everybody.

Hypermobility Connect has more information about Hypermobility hardware and adaptations on their website.

NB - quite often what many people think of as dislocations are subluxations. A specialist once told me how to tell the difference - "If you can pop it back in it’s a subluxation, if not it’s a dislocation. A dislocation will probably require surgery". You learn a lot of useful factoids when your body doesn’t work as nature intended 😉

Time Limits and Anxiety

EDIT: Another issue has affected my families’ enjoyment of games - anxiety triggered by in-game time limits.

For example, the time factor inherent to many of the levels in the third act of FreeSpace Blue Planet: War in Heaven exacerbated the stress on my already overloaded brain. This was especially true for the mission 'Everything is Permitted', where the extent of that time limit was not explained and there was no on-screen counter to show how long you had left.

The stress this caused was only alleviated by my playing this mission as a test. I booted it up, then let it play out to see how long the time limit was - thus deliberately failing the mission. I was then able to act accordingly when playing it ‘properly’. This was not an ideal solution, and the simple edition of an optional timer would have helped a great deal.