Video Gaming: Accessible to All?
Video games have come a long way and so have the guidelines in designing them for people with disabilities.
In London, an extensive resource has launched on inclusive games design, advising the games industry how to open up their products to people with disabilities by avoiding the barriers that often unnecessarily exclude players.
A significant portion of the advice is for gamers with motor impairments — everything from button remapping to alternative input methods for motion-recognition games. Motion-recognition games that require full body movement, such as the best selling Kinect Adventures by Microsoft, are an obvious issue for wheelchair users.
It has been produced as an international collaboration among game studios, specialists and academics, with contributors including Blitz Games Studios and the BBC's head of accessibility.
September 3, 2012, saw the launch of a comprehensive developer guide to address the accessibility issues faced by more than 20% of video gamers. Coordinated by Ian Hamilton, an accessibility and usability specialist with a background in game development, a group of developers and experts created www.gameaccessibilityguidelines.com.
The website offers guidelines on how to better serve the needs of gamers with a range of visual, hearing, speech, learning and motor conditions. The hope is that by highlighting the relatively simple changes needed, the games industry as a whole will be able to ensure they quickly become part of its normal working practices.
According to Hamilton, “Studios and publishers often don't realize the huge number of gamers who struggle with existing games due to barriers that could be easily addressed as part of the development process. Recent research by PopCap showed that as many as 20% of gamers are disabled. On top of that, 15% of adults have a reading age of below 11 years old, almost 10% of male gamers have some degree of red-green color blindness, and many more have temporary impairments such as a broken arm, or situation such as playing in bright sunlight. Developers are usually very keen to work around these barriers, and there are simple solutions, too, such as combining colors with symbols or allowing text to disappear on a button press rather than a timer. Often all they need to make their games more inclusive is just a bit of information to start from.”
Other simple but important suggestions in the guidelines include configurable controls, choice of difficulty, clear text formatting and visual cues for audio information. All these are easy to implement if thought about early enough, and are generally part of good game design that benefits all players.
At the same time they have tremendous benefit for certain players. For example, a woman became so frustrated at being unable to understand cut scenes without subtitles she resorted to lobbying games publishers on their forums. Or the quadriplegic gamer who felt the need to plead via Twitter for developers to give him the ability to move the fire from the trigger to a face button so he can play the same games as his friends.
For Hamilton, creating the guidelines was a six-month process, driven by his desire to do something about the number of studios who unwittingly ignore the needs of players through a lack of knowledge about the barriers disabled gamers face when trying to play their favorite games.
“The guidelines started really a few years ago as a personal project triggered by work I did while at the BBC, which included creating games and products for disabled children,” he says. “That expanded into advising internal teams and third-party game studios on game accessibility, which made me realize firstly to what degree gamers were unnecessarily being shut out by the games industry through lack of awareness, and secondly the huge value that games have. It’s not just about delivering access, it’s about entertainment, culture, socializing — the very things that are the difference between existing and living. Gaming really does have a huge impact on people’s lives.”
After requests from working with the wider industry, Hamilton gathered a group of studios, accessibility experts and academics to develop them further, including Blitz games studios, Headstrong Games, Aardman Digital, OneSwitch and Stockholm University.
“Through the process we’ve spoken to developers around the world, from small indies to large triple-A studios, and the support has been fantastic,” Hamilton explains. “There are already several games in development that are using the guidelines to deliver the best possible experience to as many people as possible.”
One of the developers that the guidelines have already helped is Poland-based Vivid Games, which sought Hamilton’s help when creating a PC version of its recent mobile and PS3 game, Speedball 2: evolution.
“When we were developing the mobile version of Speedball 2, we included a special mode for color-blind gamers, which changed the palette and increased the contrast to ensure that all the on-screen action was still visible,” says Remi Koscielny, president, Vivid Games. “For the PC version we wanted to increase the accessibility of the game, so we worked closely with Ian to ensure that every part of the game was optimized for impaired gamers. Having learned what a major difference can be made to so many people with just a little extra effort, we certainly hope that all developers take on board the fantastic work Ian has done.”
www.gameaccessibilityguidelines.com is an open and free resource for anyone involved in the games industry around the world to use. It will continue to evolve, and feedback from developers is welcomed via the website.
This article is from a press release made available courtesy of Gamasutra and its partnership with notable game PR-related resource GamesPress.