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

Updated: Oct 12


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


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


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


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


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: Recently another issue has affected my families’ enjoyment of games - anxiety triggered by in-game time limits. The time factor inherent to many of the levels in the third act of FreeSpace Blue Planet: War in Heaven certainly didn’t help matters. This was especially so for the mission 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 caused by this was only alleviated by my playing this mission as a test and letting it play out to see how long the time limit was - thus deliberately failing the mission - then acting accordingly when playing it ‘properly’. This is not an ideal solution, and the simple edition of a timer would have helped a great deal.


Another example happened very recently. My daughter was playing Sonic 3 and Knuckles. All was fine until the water sections, at which point she became panicked and asked me to complete the sections for her whilst she left the room. Why? Because the drowning countdown timer causes her great distress. An option to turn off drowning would have helped immensely here.




Quick-Time Events and Mini-Games


Many games feature quick-time-events. These too could be difficult for players prone to panic attacks, and to those who may not be able to react quickly or accurately enough due to processing or coordination difficulties. An option to slow these down considerably would help a great deal. An even better option would be one that removes the time limit entirely, effectively pausing the sequence until the button is pressed. Perhaps the best option of all would be one that turns the QTE into a cutscene, thus freeing the player from having to actively engage with it. I imagine many players would welcome this.

The same could be said for many in-game mini-games, such as the lockpicking and hacking minigames found in many RPGs. Quite often these minigames break the flow of gameplay and are not enjoyable to play in-of-themselves. If strict time limits are imposed too then they may become extremely stressful as well. Again, the option to remove the time limit would likely be welcomed by many players.


What’s more, in-game mini-games may also require a completely different skill-set to the main game, possibly a skill set the player does not possess and has no interest in obtaining. Far Cry 3’s mandatory poker games are a good example of this - if I wanted to play poker, I would be playing poker, not an open-world FPS. As with QTEs, the option to do away with them entirely would likely be welcomed by many players, including those without any accessibility issues.


Conclusion



In this article we saw how some medical conditions and developmental disorders can affect how people play games, sometimes in ways most people wouldn’t think of. If you suffer from these conditions, know that you are not alone and that others are facing similar challenges to yourselves.

This concludes part two of this miniseries. In the next article - the third and final part of the miniseries - we investigate the resources available to game developers to help them make their games more accessible, and the organisations that help differently-abled gamers to keep on gaming. See you all there.

Have you experienced similar issues with video games? If so, what games were they, how did they affect you, and how did you work around these issues - assuming you were able to of course? If you would like to share these experiences please do so in the comments section below. If you would prefer to do so privately please reach out via the e-mail address below - complete anonymity and discretion guaranteed.



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 the_nomad78@outlook.com

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