Recreated for NZGDC 2021 viewers. Please note that the text may not perfectly match, as these are my notes. I’ll be sure to update, as needed. Here is the official video: TBA. Thank you 🙂
Hello everyone, my name is Morgan Baker and I am an accessibility specialist and game designer. Today we are going to be discussing Where to Begin: Games Accessibility. And this is an introduction for all developers of any skills and professional levels.
Consider this talk today as your accessibility 101 singular lecture. I’m mostly going to discuss what to know in terms of video games accessibility. I’m going to be defining accessibility in games, how to frame accessibility, designing with accessibility in mind, common challenges in games, why everyone needs to be involved, and key takeaways.
At any point, if you have a question, feel free to contact me, which you can find my information in the NZGDC platform or my website leahybaker.com.
First, what is accessibility?
In the context of games, accessibility means breaking down barriers to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable player experience. Accessibility is neither expensive nor consuming to do on the very minimal level. Any developer has the ability and tools to make games accessible (Tools we will discuss today), but it typically just comes down to knowing what we need to know and do.
Sometimes, accessibility itself can be intimidating. Sometimes we will see development teams talk about the number of features they have, or the number of game developers they have working on accessibility, x number of user researchers or y number of programmers. It sometimes feels like there are a lot of things we have to do take meet some sort of standard.
But accessibility does not have a goalpost. As Ian Hamilton said it in his most recent GDC talk:
“There is no fixed bar for you to hit or miss. Instead, look at accessibility as an optimization process…”
And I’m inclined to agree with this mentality. Every single step you take to make your game accessible means more people can have an enjoyable, yet accessible player experience. It’s not some sort of all or nothing thing. It’s a process and contextual to our specific games. So, as you listen to this talk, I encourage you to think about your games and be prepared to get creative with your design and processes.
Contextually, 1 in 4 people live with one or more disabilities in their life. Where we would define disability as an impairment that limits one or more major life activity. These activities can include walking, speaking, sitting, hearing, seeing, focusing, and the list goes on. And disability can range from mild to moderate to severe.
There is, in fact, no singular disability experience. Even with the same diagnosis, no two people are identical.
Typically, when we think of accessibility, these are the people we are designing for.
But the beauty of accessible is just how applicable it can be to any gamer. We can break the reasons someone would need accessibility into three categories. The first is permanent meaning someone who has a condition that is unchanged in nature. The second is temporary, such as someone who’s has an injury, infection, or any other temporary situation. The last category is situational meaning perhaps someone who would still benefit from accessibility even if they may not necessarily fall under the category of having a permanent or temporary condition.
For example, closed captions or subtitles benefit people who are deaf, have a temporary ear infection that impacts their hearing, or patrons at a bar who cannot hear the television over the chatter and music of nightlife.
In general, the people who might benefit the most from accessible design are people who you might not even think of. By adding accessibility to our games, we are avoiding unnecessary barriers that would negatively impact people’s enjoyment, whether it be for permanent, temporary, or situational reasons.
But why should we care? Now generally, there are two arguments for why we should make games accessible.
The first is elevating those who have disabilities. Games are a form of entertainment and joy, as well as serve as piece of artistic medium. Some people use it for escapism, others use it as a way to express themselves. Or perhaps people use games as a form of socializing, whether it be through generated fandoms, multiplayer experiences, or simply chatting about their favorite games with friends. By including players with disabilities, we are promoting a form of inclusion as well as giving them a form of independence and a medium of joy, something that anyone can appreciate. Why should we not want to include gamers with disabilities in our games community?
The second argument is perhaps a little more corporate, but there is a financial gain from making games accessible. Recall that 1 in 4 people have disabilities, and that’s not even including those with situational reasons who would largely benefit from accessible design. More accessibility means more gamers which means more money, which means more games. And so the cycle continues.
But another argument is considering the design itself.
Ultimately, games are for everyone, but if us as game creators do not make meaningful strides to make our games accessible, we are not only leaving out a large demographic of gamers, but also not reaching the full potential of our design.
Good design is when some players have a challenging, yet fun experience. Superb design is when all players have a challenging, yet fun experience.
By challenging ourselves to think about our design and how to make it accessible, we are elevating ourselves as professionals to not just do what might be right, but also make our games genuinely better. Because what could be seen as just an accessibility feature should better be seen as an opportunity to offer better game design, furthering our field and breaking the boundaries of what is currently known.
Now we will discuss how to frame accessibility in games development.
Historically, accessibility has been used as a way to create equal access. Make sure everyone is equal and has the same opportunities regardless of abilities. However, though this does make sense in many fields, especially in educational contexts, the better way to frame accessibility in games is “create accessible experiences.”
Too often we think of a game itself as being accessible, but what we really need to focus on is player experience. We think of the player experience as what the player goes through when they play the game. How do the players experience the mechanics? What are their motivations? Is the game usable? Are the players actually having fun?
Dave Eng cites that the player experience can be broken into six categories, such as motivation, meaningful choices, balance, usability, aesthetics, and fun.
And ultimately, we experience games using our perceptions, meaning sight, hearing, and touch, and from there, we process the information and make meaningful memories through said experiences.
AbleGamers uses the APX triangle, APX standing for Accessibility Player Experiences triangle, to describe this phenomenon in the context games accessibility—which if you have the time, I suggest you read through the triangle on your own.
But what we want to focus on is not just creating equal access, but also creating accessible experiences that make the game usable, challenging, and fun.
When we think about accessibility in the context of video games, we can break games accessibility into five general categories.
The first is motor accessibility. Motor accessibility pertains to the controls and mobility of the video game. Common accessibility features we will think about include simplified controls as well as controls remapping. This is particularly helpful for those who may not be able to use a controller or for those who may not be able to use a mouse and keyboard.
The ultimate example of motor accessibility would be the Microsoft XAC, which is an accessible controller that allows for flexible hardware for those with fine motor or major mobility impairments.
Our next category is hearing accessibility. Hearing accessibility pertains to those who are hard of hearing, deaf, or have an auditory processing disorder. Common accessibility features for this category includes closed captions, subtitles, and integrated visual cues.
From here we have vision accessibility. This can pertain to sight, colors, light, and displays. Most commonly we think of color blindness, which affects 8% of men, as well as visual processing disorders, but we also have those who may be low vision, blind, and sightless. Common accessibility features include colorblind friendly options, sizeable HUD adjustments, menu narration, and unique audio cues.
This leads us into cognitive accessibility. Cognitive accessibility is related to thoughts, memory, and processing speed. Common accessibility features include simplified language, tutorials, hint systems, gore filters, and motion sickness options.
In our last category is speech accessibility. This includes voice chat and speech recognition. For this category, the most common accessibility features we may see include ping systems, text chat support, and other visual means to communicate with other players.
Please keep in mind that though there are five categories here, there is a ton of overlap between them in terms of just disability as well as accessible design. For instance, someone can have both motor-relatable and hearing-related disabilities. Additionally, an accessibility feature can target more than one category at a time. For example, closed captions benefit those with hearing disabilities, as well as aid those who require cognitive access due to processing speed.
Categorizing accessibility into these five areas can be helpful, especially as we ease ourselves into accessibility, because when you think about it… each one of these are a type of perception we use to engage with games. For motor, players perform inputs and engage with game mechanics. For hearing, we include sound design to enhance player experiences. For vision, players may receive visual information to engage in gameplay. For cognitive, players may be required to internalize and think about the game design in order to progress. For speech, players may use oral means to communicate with others in a multiplayer setting.
The five categories very nicely capture games in general, and by thinking about these categories we can better internalize how to make our games more accessible to as many people as possible in the long run. Especially given that, if you recall, anyone at any point can fall under one of these categories. Maybe you broken your arm and need to play one handed. Or maybe a baby is sleeping in the room so you want to keep it down and use text chat instead.
For a more in-depth breakdown of these five categories, I suggest that you go to gameaccessibilityguidelines.com. The core contributors did a lovely job cataloging and maintaining these guidelines, which are free for anyone to use.
Now there are typically two ways we can go about making our games more accessible, the first being baking accessibility straight into the game.
Baking in accessibility is the idea that the game itself is inherently accessible due to core design decisions. For example, to assist those with colorblindness, we can ensure no essential information is conveyed by a color alone.
Here are two images with a set of colored pencils. On the left, the image of the colored pencils are unaltered, whereas the right image has been altered to show what the colored pencils look like to someone who is colorblind. Can you spot the difference? Well to millions with this type of colorblindness, the two images look identical.
Take for example the game Two Dots, which uses both symbols and colors to convey the same information. This design choice bakes accessibility straight into the product, as players can easily perceive information without any customization. We see this with other games like Among Us, Grounded, and Sea of Thieves.
We can also make our games more accessible by adding features into the menu. Customization is particularly helpful in contexts where it might be hard to predict what players might need for our games, especially since there are many different types of abilities and backgrounds. As so, we can give players the choice to decide what works best for them.
An example of this being Celeste, where players can use assist mode and customize the game to fit their individual needs. For this platforming game, players can change the game speed, stamina, and number of air dashes, as well as decide whether or not they would like to use an invincibility mode.
But when we come back to it, which is better? Baking in the accessibility, or providing accessible options?
Well, the answer is, “it just depends.”
Every game calls for different things. A game doesn’t need a million accessibility options to be accessible, but sometimes it’s hard to bake accessibility into our games as the game become more complex in terms of mechanics and design. It’s fair to say that you will typically see both in action for any given title.
For example, we can make our games colorblind friendly by making sure information is not conveyed by just color alone in our design. But we may also want to include the option for players to remap any given controls to assist with motor and mobility access.
This leads into my next point of making sure we must consider accessibility early and often. Doing so will allow us to make decisions on whether or not accessibility should be baked straight into the content, or provided as customizable options.
Now it wouldn’t be a conversation about accessibility without a mention of universal design. Universal design means creating products, services, and spaces that are accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability, or other factors. This topic should be reminiscent of the Microsoft toolkit, which shows that anyone can benefit from accessibility. Universal design derives from educational practices, and is used to help teachers make their curriculums more accessible to all students.
However, in modern day, universal design is used in almost any area of accessibility and inclusivity initiatives. There are in total seven principles that outlined in universal design. We have, equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use.
There are plenty examples of products that are designed with these principles. Take for instance, an elevator. Elevators benefit those with physical disabilities who may use a mobility aid, such as a walker or wheelchair. However, they are still particularly helpful if you are pushing a stroller or carrying a heavy box up a flight of stairs.
Similarly, universal design transcends beyond international borders.
A stop sign in Malaysia is still easily recognizable to a New Zealand citizen, thanks to its typical octagon shape and distinct red colors and white outlines. And though there may be small discrepancies, the sign is perceptible enough to transcend language itself.
But above all, universal design means creating design that is beneficial by everyone. An example would be Unchartered 4, where they included extensive accessibility features related to motor skills, including button remapping and simplified controls. In particular, some of the features benefit those who game with one hand, using a single stick. This would include using things like camera assist, lock-on aim, and more. Now Ian Hamilton, a games accessibility specialist I mentioned earlier, points out that people who have one hand typically make up less than 1% of the population. And yet, it turned out that almost 30% of the player base used these features, since they ultimately universally benefit everyone.
So digesting this information, how do we design with accessibility in mind?
When considering designing with accessibility, I will provide you a universal approach for most if not all games
The first is making sure the design is clear and intuitive. Information is distinguishable, channels are clear, and the input or output are intuitive.
What do I mean by clear channels? Channels are the concept of different means of perceiving information from a video game. We see a screen, we hear the audio, we feel our controllers, and so on. Making the channels clear means that the information can be easily taken in by the player and from there, processed and understood. You can learn more about channels from the APX Triangle. Additionally we want to make sure that the corresponding inputs/outputs related to these channels are in themselves intuitive in nature.
What are some ways we can go about making sure information is clear and accessible to our players?
For example, if a change of color (such as graying out text, icons, or objects) is used to inform the player that this specific thing isn’t available, another method should also be used, as according to the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines. This is achieved in Sea of Thieves, where items for purchase that are currently locked aren’t only “grayed out,” but they also have a lock symbol on them indicating the items is not available.
Additionally, we can provide players with the ability to review tasks and objectives at any given time. Descriptions of tasks and objectives should be clear and straightforward.
Take this example from the game, Grounded. Objectives appear on screen for players to reference at any time. The game also provides subtasks for each main objective such as “Unblock the obstructed laser” and “Find whatever is weakening one of the lasers” so that players have a clear understanding of how to complete an overall objective.
This leads into the next approach for all games, which is providing multiple channels. This means that information can be accessed through multiple modalities in a clear and consistent way.
If channels are the different ways we perceive information, having multiple channels means giving players several ways to access, process, and understand content at the same time. So perhaps information that is visual is also auditory.
This can either be baked straight into the game or provided as a separate option.
Take for instance, Fortnite, which provides the ability to visualize sound effects. Within the visualization, there are visual cues such as treasure chests, gliders, gunshots, and footsteps. Additionally, colors within the visualization helps distinguish which sounds are neutral vs. dangerous. Opacity is also used to indicate distance of the sound.
Therefore, players are not only able to listen to sound effects, but can see them as well should the option be turned on.
As mentioned, for multiple channels, you can either have this baked straight into the game or provided as a customizable option in the game’s menu.
For instance, Fortnite’s “Visualize Sound Effects” is an option that you need to turn on in the audio menu, and can be universally beneficial to anyone ranging from those who may have a hearing disability or perhaps those who are playing on mobile without headphones. Just as we discussed earlier, this feature is beneficial to permanent, temporary, or situational conditions.
However, take the game HyperScape by Ubisoft. Hyperscape offers similar visualized sound effects, but rather than having players turn on these multiple channels in the game’s menu, it’s automatically turned on for everyone. As so, these multiple channels and accessible design are baked straight into the game.
No one is necessarily better than the other, but either way, both development teams made a successful effort in making their games accessible with the use of multiple channels.
Lastly, we want to make sure our design is flexible. Meaning, players can adjust displays, sound, difficulty, controls, and entries to meet their needs.
For example, we can let players customize audio sliders. In Overwatch, designers provide players a master volume, and separate sliders for sound effects volume, music volume, and in-game voice volume. We can also provide them subtitles for all critical gameplay, conversations, and anything else that’s relevant.
Flexible Design is particularly important if a game might be played on different platforms, or played in different ways such as a controller vs. mouse and keyboard vs. a mobile device.
Take this example from New Zealand’s own studio, PikPok. The premise of their game, Into the Dead, has players running through a field of zombies that they need to dodge, otherwise the zombies will eat the player and it’s game over. Throughout the development, the controls for the game were tiltng a mobile device to determine which direction the player with run. But right toward the end of development, a user researcher named Hadley Bellam, persuaded the team to consider accessibility options. Because though tilting the device feels really fun, he wanted to include players with disabilities too. For instance, it might be hard to pick up the tablet and move it around if you have a disability related to mobility or something.
So the designers added some alternatives, including a left and right button on each side of the touch screen, or a touch screen thumb stick, where players can decide if it will be on the left or right side of the screen. This in total adds up to four different control schemes.
And though the tilt option was certainly the most fun way for some players, the designers were willing to add options for accessibility for this potentially small group of people who might find it helpful.
But as it turns out, they tracked the user data, and the data showed that for these four options on this powerpoint, the usage data came out with an even four way split. 25% of players used tilt, 25% used the left and right buttons, and so on. So this gesture, which was originally intended for accessibility, ended up being universally applicable to a wider range of people.
If you want to learn more about PikPok’s story, please check out the talk “Gaming and Disability Boot Camp: Myths and Reasons” from 2017 which goes into a little more depth.
Now that we talked about some general ways we can approach accessibility in terms of design, what are the most common accessibility features? Feels like we already talked about a lot, but let’s hash them out.
On this PowerPoint there is a non-exhaustive list of common accessibility features that you may see in video game titles.
First is subtitles and closed captions. This essentially means creating text for dialogue and sound effects.
Subtitles and Closed Captions may be one of the more common accessibility features, and likely one of the most important for hearing accessibility.
The difference between subtitles and closed captions are pretty simple. Subtitles pertain to just the dialogue, where is closed captions pertain to the dialogue and sound effects. The names are not immediately intuitive, but I don’t make the rules.
Here we see an example from the last of us part two. Notice how the size is fairly easy to read, and for this title they actually offer three different size options for the text. Additionally, you may notice that there is a black letterbox behind the text, to assist with contrast and readability. You may also notice that there is a speaker name, in this case a WLF Soldier in the color orange. The color helps distinguish from different speakers, but is completely optional. You may also see that there is a very subtle arrow to the left of the subtitle. This arrow is to assist players in understanding exactly where the sound is coming from.
Subtitle system from the last of us part two is exceptional.
For any game title, if there is spoken dialogue or sound effects, subtitles and closed captions are an absolute essential.
In fact, David Tisserand, Senior Manager for Accessibility at Ubisoft, advised developers to have subtitles automatically turned on in their games. As so, user data showed that for the titles where subtitles are the default option, 97% of players kept them on for Far Cry New Dawn and 95% of players kept them on for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, showing just how sought after subtitles are for the general audience.
In fact, as a deaf game developer, I have had many gamers, developers, friends, and even strangers tell me how they prefer watching Netflix with subtitles on because it helps with comprehension.
The next common accessibility feature that is crucial for players of all abilities is remappable controls. This essentially gives the players the freedom to reassign inputs.
According to the Game Accessibility Guidelines, ”remappable controls are one of the best value accessibility features” and I’m inclined to agree. To anyone with a motor or mobility condition, whether it be for permanent, temporary, or situational reasons, all highly benefit from remappable controls. For instance if you break your arm, you might be gaming with one hand for a little while.
Here we see an example from assassin’s creed Valhalla, where players are able to customize the keyboard and mouse controls to be whatever is easiest for them. You may also notice that players can adjust things like aiming sensitivity, mouse sensitivity, mouse acceleration, as well as mouse X and Y axis. Players will also recount how it’s helpful for them to be able to change inputs from a hold to a tap to a toggle.
A lovely quote from a gamer named Luis is “I have now just the right arm, I have not been able to enjoy many games for this reason. I was going to uninstall the game, like all other games when I see that I can not play them, then I found the control options. I was overjoyed.”
Remappable controls are the difference between being able to play the game and not being able to play the game. So it’s important for us as game creators to make sure that players have the option to change the controls in our games, as needed.
Keep in mind that even if there is a system wide remap, it is still recommended to offer this in your game, as the system wide option is a safety net and not a solution.
Our next common accessibility feature is high contrast. Meaning, make sure text and objects are easily distinguishable. But you can also include other pertinent parts of your game such as the HUD and UI.
Color contrast refers to the difference in light between font (or anything in the foreground) and its background. Two colors that are next to each other on the color wheel do not have very good contrast whereas two colors on the opposite side of the color wheel contrast very nicely and are in fact the highest possible contrast.
A contrast ratio is the difference in luminance values between the foreground and background of an element. The highest possible contrast is 21:1 (which would be like black on white or white on black) and the lowest is 1:1 (which would be the color on top of itself). The Xbox Accessibility Guidelines recommend a minimum of 7:1 contrast.
And is you want to check the contrast of your elements, You can look up webaim or just google contrast checker to find the page.
Take the game Hyperdot, which features both a dark and a light high contrast mode. When this mode is enabled, all visual elements presented have a 7:1 contrast ratio against their background.
Similar to other accessory features, you can either bake this straight into your game or provide it as an option. It just depends on the game you’re making.
This leads us perfectly into the next common accessibility feature which is just colorblind friendly options. I mentioned earlier that is important for information to not be conveyed by just color alone and I’ve already given a number of examples of this being done. In the event that you need additional assistance due to elements of your core design, you can also let players turn on color blind filters to assist them.
Take the game Sea of Thieves again. The designers offer the ability to turn on color blindness filter mode. This allows players of varying colorblind backgrounds to adjust to select the best option for them.
You can use a software called “Color Oracle” where Color Oracle is a free color blindness simulator for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It takes the guesswork out of designing for color blindness by showing you exactly what people are seeing.
And though we avoid relying on color alone to communicate information, sometimes that might not always be possible. Alternatively, we can provide players the option to choose the color of key game elements. Take Call of Duty Black Ops.
Players can change the color of themselves, their allies, their enemies, and their party to any color that they want. True… that players are given the option to pick presets, but in the case that that might not work, the designers went out of the way to let players choose the exact color instead.
Shifting over to our next common accessibility feature, it is very common to see games include tutorials or some type of training ground. This is designed to give players the time to learn the mechanics or in other instances, go back and review information if they do not recall the exact gameplay and controls. It’s often considered good design just in general, as well as a perhaps quality of life feature. But it can also make or break a game for many individuals.
Take the game Immortals Fenyx Rising as an example. It is an open world RPG with a massive storyline and many dungeons and puzzles. To ease players into the game, players are first placed on an island with a limited amount of content for them to explore at their own leisure. This area is exemplary of a training ground. Without it, many players may get overwhelmed by the mechanics and content. But the designers cleverly gave them a safe place to explore and feel out the game’s core elements before heading into the action.
However, in a way, the game doesn’t really end there in terms of tutorials. Players constantly learn new skills and gain new items. As so, at any point in the game, players can access the tutorial in the game’s menu. This information is on the basics and advanced skills, as well as things like inventory, potions, map, and so on. This is universally beneficial to permanent, temporary, or situational conditions. For example, if you have issues with memory, you can always go back to the tutorial. Or let’s say you put the game down for an extended period of time, the tutorial is always there to refresh your memory.
Our last common accessibility feature is difficulty and assist modes. In essence, this means challenges can be adjusted it to aid progression of the game at potentially any given point. We often see a difficulty mode pop up at the beginning of the game, prompting players to select which difficulty would be best for them.
Take Horizon Zero Dawn as an example. Here, players can choose between six different difficult modes, ranging from easier modes like “story” or “easy” all the way to more difficult modes like “very hard” and “ultra hard.” Notice that for each mode, the designers include an explanation of what this mode is intended to do for the player. For example, the story mode is intended as a difficulty setting that eases combat, allowing you to focus on exploration and narrative. Any given point, players can change the difficulty.
Keep in mind, difficulty adjustments can come in many shapes, sizes, and forms. For instance, the roguelite game Hades, players can turn on a feature named God Mode. God Mode essentially gives gamers a subtle, but impactful boost every time they die.
Recently, when I was chatting with some designer friends over virtual drinks, we discovered that all 4 of us played Hades using God Mode. Each reason varied. One designer joked that she works too many hours, and God Mode ensured that she would be able to beat the game in a timely manner. Another said that God Mode made his experience genuinely more enjoyable, as he typically does not reach for the rogue-like genre and found God Mode as a nice middle ground. The last one used it for physical reasons, noting that she struggles with fine motor control and found God Mode made the game more accessible to her. No matter the reason or abilities, all of us used God Mode and found the option beneficial as well as genuinely revolutionary.
Remember how I mentioned that accessibility can elevate our potential as designers? God Mode is the essence of this virtue. SuperGiant Games pushed the boundaries of their own beloved genre, and as so expanded their audience and brought genuinely impressive design to the games industry, influencing current as well as the developers to come.
For more helpful resources that are great for any developer, I suggest you check out the IGDA Games Accessibility Sig, where leaders have taken the time to collect articles, resources, papers, and guidelines.
Now that we’ve discussed common accessibility features, what are some common accessibility challenges? And don’t worry and before you fret, there are solutions for us.
The first challenge is ambiguous design. Ambiguous design refers to when the design itself is not inherently clear or immediately intuitive to the user.
A player is dropped into a world and is not given any directions, objectives or apparent tools. This can work for some titles, sure, but can be detrimental for others.
We particularly see this in the “earlier” ages of at-home gaming. In 1992, Ecco the Dolphin was published. This is a series of action-adventure video games and ported to many systems. This game, though beloved, is in retrospect a good example of ambiguous design. For one, players are dropped into this underwater world and stuck in an enclosed area. Little does the player know, in order to trigger the main story, they must perform a series of unlisted tasks. For many players, they will not get past this area…at least without some kind of online assistance, as the tasks at hand are inherently unclear. And even if we do progress through this enclosed area, the player is never given any type of direction on what they need to do or who they need to help… well, beyond the occasional 4 word riddle by random NPCs.
To a player with cognitive conditions, whether they be permanent, temporary, or situational, this game is unbeatable.
What’s clear to us game creators, may not always be clear to the players
So what should we do when we have ambiguous design? Well for one perform user research early and often. This includes play tests, surveys, interviews, usability tests and more.
From there don’t be afraid to add to your design including color coding, player maps, quest tracking, and more.
And worst case scenario, don’t be afraid to revisit your core design and head back to the drawing board, as needed.
Because one of the hardest things when it comes to are games accessibility is combating any type of ambiguity within our design. We cannot move forward with games accessibility unless the design is already inherently clear and clean.
And the last common accessibility challenge is conflicting elements. Meaning, making one game component accessible makes another inaccessible.
This is particularly relevant for people who may have more than one condition existing at the same time.
For instance, someone with a cognitive related condition may need frequent hints, subtitles, and other additional HUD adjustments. However, we sometimes see that cognitive conditions can coincide with visual processing disorder. But by adding all these other things to the screen, we are suddenly making the screen busy and extraordinarily complex. So what do we do?
For one, we can add customization to our game to allow players to adjust the game to meet their individual needs.
For example, in Assassin’s Creed, the HUD and UI can be extremely fine tuned. Players can adjust the menu font size, icon size, HUD configuration, HUD background, compass icon distance, objective beam, colorblind options, and the list goes on and on. Not only is this helpful for accessibility and combating conflicting elements, but it’s also an extremely powerful quality of life tool. And don’t forget that Assassin’s Creed is indeed a very complex game, hence you see so many options. So don’t be intimidated or think that this is some sort of benchmark for you.
Our last common accessibility challenge is something called fundamental alterations, or the idea that accessibility seemingly alters core design. Turns out, these instances are quite rare and I have a GDC talk on this topic, so for advanced learners, I suggest you check it out.
So to wrap things up, at the end of the day accessibility is a team effort and every single person needs to be involved. Whether you are a user researcher, gameplay programmer, UI/UX designer, producer, creative director, or game designer… everyone needs to be on board for accessibility.
The lead game designers from naughty dog, a studio that has been celebrated for their robust accessibility, say that accessibility at that level was only possible because everyone was involved. And as so, every single person partook in accessibility efforts. Whether they were a quality assurance lead, engineer, sound designer… every single person contributed to accessibility. And accessibility on the highest level has every single person involved.
So next time you are in a meeting, don’t be afraid to bring accessibility up. Educate your coworkers, give them resources, and be a positive source of change. Because at the end of the day, every single person deserves to game. Because when we all game, we all win.
So key takeaways for this talk. Consider accessibility early and often, bake accessibility into your game, provide customization options as needed, hold each other accountable, and keep everyone involved. Because what could be as accessibility should better be seen as an opportunity to involve more gamers and create better design.
Thank you so much for coming out to my talk. Feel free to connect with me on Linkedin, @leahybaker, Twitter @momoxmia, or my website leahybaker.com.
Other great resources for you: gameaccessibilityguidelines.com, gamesforchange.org, ablegamers.org, igda-gasig.org, gameaccess.info, Microsoft XAG, caniplaythat.com, gameaccessibilitynexus.com, and dagersystem.com.
Thanks again, and enjoy the rest of the conference.