Video gaming is a medium that has the power to inspire awe, stimulate the imagination, and tantalize the senses. It is also able to facilitate the creation of friendships and communities that can come together to make unforgettable moments. Understandably, video games are a cornerstone of many childhoods, and they have helped plenty of people through incredibly difficult times in life. While it is easy to take the accessibility of video games for granted, gamers with disabilities often find themselves unable to play or complete certain games due to gameplay barriers that are difficult or impossible to overcome. Consequently, many iconic games have been cordoned off from a segment of gamers who would love to enjoy the experiences that others easily indulge in.
Fortunately, slowly but surely, games have been working at accommodating various impairments. Through accessibility options, gaming has opened up to more gamers while not infringing on gameplay or the creative visions of developers. Although many gamers will entirely ignore accessibility options, their increasingly widespread use in games is perhaps the most revolutionary change in gaming in recent years.
Accessibility Options for Sight
Video games are such an intensely visual medium that it can be hard to imagine that they are playable with impaired sight. However, through innovations and creativity, developers have been able to make their games more accessible to players who may have limited vision. Some of the solutions produced are so effective that they are useful even to gamers who may not have issues with sight.
Colorblindness is a condition that affects a considerable percentage of the population. The condition affects mostly men; it is estimated that 8% of males exhibit some form of colorblindness and 0.5% of women experience it. Colorblindness can make completing certain games difficult, especially when gameplay aspects are dependent on color, or when games use color to convey information to players.
Some video games have attempted to remedy this by including a colorblind mode, which adds a color filter. It should be noted that although this solution can be helpful, colorblind gamers claim that it is not the best solution. The Gamer’s Experience, a site that documents accessibility in video games, highlights that filters “changing all of the colors that are distinguishable to those with colorblindness makes the game look bizarre and unnatural.” Hence it is typically better if video games allow players to change the color of individual elements in a game or, better yet, rely on methods other than color to convey information. This is effectively done in games like Hue and Chromagun that use symbols in place of color in colorblind mode
Low vision and vision impairment is also a problem that faces players, and this should not stop them from playing their favorite games. To aid players with limited vision, The Last of Us Part 2 features a robust text-to-speech option that not only reads text but also narrates parts of the game. This includes telling gamers what gun their character has equipped, and how much ammo they have remaining. A swipe of the touchpad also lets players know their character’s current status. Visually impaired players can also make use of audio cues that let players know when they are around interactable objects, when an enemy is close enough to be taken down, or when players have got their gun aimed at a foe.
The Last of Us Part 2‘s accessibility options for the visually impaired were enough to have a blind YouTuber named Steve Saylor bursting into tears. According to Saylor, the game is so accessible that “anyone without visual impairment could actually close their eyes and be able to play this game with all the settings turned on.”
Accessibility Options for Hearing
Audio is an important part of most video games. A good soundtrack can elevate a game to new heights, and well-written dialogue performed by a skilled voice actor can ensure that emotional moments land with perfect precision. Unfortunately, there is a portion of gamers who cannot fully enjoy this aspect of gaming due to poor accessibility options for players who are deaf or hard of hearing. This trend is slowly changing thanks to the release of more games that provide accessibility settings for hearing.
The easiest solution for players who have hearing impairments is to include subtitles. However, a surprising number of games feature subtitles that are too small and, consequently, cannot be read unless the player is sitting close to the screen. Fortunately, some games are aware of this issue and attempt to mend it. This includes Life is Strange, a game by Dontnod which allows players to change the subtitle size from normal up to “hella large.”
The best option is to have visual cues accompany audio cues so that players never have to rely solely on hearing to navigate a game. This is implemented effectively in Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima; a game that lets gamers play as a samurai named Jin, who must protect Tsushima Island from the Mongol invasion. Typically, when enemies with bows are about to let off a shot, they will signal for their fellow teammates to duck via an audio cue.
When Projectile Indicator is enabled, enemies with projectiles will also have a visual indicator above them that alerts players when an arrow is about to be released, giving them ample time to dodge. If the enemy is off-screen, the indicator will appear on the side of the screen.
With Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut, hearing impairment accessibilities were further improved thanks to the DualSense controller, which can be used to replicate audio aspects of the game using haptic feedback. Consequently, while some players may not be able to hear the heavy hooves of a horse galloping or the low purr of a fox, they will be able to feel it in their hands.
Visual cues to accompany audio cues are a useful solution, but they do require developers to develop their games around this consideration, a task that involves not making assumptions about what players are capable of and what impairments they may have.
Accessibility Options for Motor Control
A good button-mashing game can be tons of fun, and learning complex button combinations and practicing until one can execute them speedily and flawlessly is an exhilarating experience. The excitement in a video game can also be heightened through crafting moments that require intense button tapping to mimic the exertion of the playable character on-screen. However, these moments can occasionally be the point where some gamers have to put the controller down or ask someone else to complete a section for them because of a lack of fine motor control or dexterity.
A relatively simple way for developers to add accessibility options for players with impaired motor control is to give players the choice of whether to hold a button down or tap it during certain gameplay segments. This is implemented quite well in Red Dead Redemption 2 where, in typical Rockstar fashion, repeatedly tapping the sprint button makes players run (or a horse gallop faster). Luckily, players can choose to instead hold the sprint button down instead of repeatedly tapping it, which can be a lifesaver not only for players with impaired motor control, but also for players who do not want to give their fingers an exhausting exercise.
Another option is to allow gamers to toggle different states so that buttons do not have to be held down for the entire duration of an action. For instance, being able to toggle between walking and running using a single button press can be incredibly useful. Toggle options are implemented quite well in Control, an eccentric game developed by the Finnish studio Remedy Entertainment.
Control offers three toggle options: With “Toggle On” mode, players need to press the sprint button once and Jesse Faden, the game’s heroine, will run until players stop moving her. With “Toggle On/Off” mode, Jesse will run after the sprint button is tapped once, and she will only stop running once the player presses the sprint button again. Finally, “Hold” mode will have Jesse running only for as long as the player holds down the sprint button. Toggle options are also implemented with aiming, and players can choose between holding the aim button down to keep Jesse aiming her service weapon, or pressing the aim button once to toggle aiming on and off.
Allowing players to remap buttons can also be of great aid, as it lets players fine-tune their gaming experience specifically for them and their abilities. Hence, if a button is difficult to press because it is too far away, some simple remapping can fix the problem. Perhaps the greatest solution to limited mobility comes from Microsoft in the form of the Xbox Adaptive Controller. This unique device has large, programmable buttons that allow players to design the perfect controller for their needs. It can also be connected to external switches, buttons, and joysticks to allow for greater customization. According to Can I Play That, a site that reviews the accessibility of games, “the buttons and overall customization are unparalleled in the gaming industry.”
Accessibility options for motor control are important because it is something that can benefit a wide range of people who wish to play video games. Younger players with motor control issues are accommodated for, but it is also useful for older players who may not have fast reaction times any longer, as well as beginners of any age who have yet to acclimate themselves to the world of gaming and handling a controller.
Thanks to the increasing awareness of accessibility options, games have become available for more of the public to enjoy. It is a confirmation of the fact that video games are truly for everyone, and no artificial barriers should be in place to prevent people from enjoying them. Hopefully, with enough innovation, no players will have to sit on the sidelines while the rest of the gaming world enjoys the best of what video games have to offer.
MORE: 10 Games With Fantastic Accessibility Features
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About The Author
Smangaliso Simelane (52 Articles Published)
Smangaliso Simelane spends most of his time writing. When he isn’t working on his imaginary worlds, he is writing about video games.