Accessibility Beyond the Trend

Daniel Gilbert6 minute read

The Trend is Set

Trendsetting can be important to the future of the gaming industry; you can look at the evolution of game accessibility and see this progression. The disabled community has continuously advocated, and with enough social pressure, the industry has started listening. I do not like to give the trend of improving accessibility credit to one person, or even one group.

Naughty Dog contributed to the current trend of game accessibility when they developed Uncharted 4 with unprecedented accessibility options. It’s hard to argue that other developers didn’t see the hype and decide to follow suit.

Accessibility an Industry Standard

Say what you will about the Accessibility Menu, but this implementation by Naughty Dog pushed accessibility discussions in the industry to a whole new level. One of the many features, I think that got the ball moving was “Hold to Tap,” as it has almost become industry standard at this point. (Though the term “industry standard” gives me nightmares thanks to Activision.) Many major releases launched this year with this accessibility option. This is a feature that has personally made it easier for me to game.

God of War and Spider-man both implemented Hold to Tap this year, Spider-man even gave you the option to skip quick time events, these options have greatly improved my ability to play video games. Elizabeth L. Garcia Contributor for the website But Why Tho wrote:

“Luckily, more and more games, including Shadow of the Tomb, are allowing players to change button taps to holds, turn off QTEs all together, and skip puzzles.”

Social Model of Game Design

Thankfully many developers are applying the social model of disability to game design, “The model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference.” Me not being able to play some video games is not because of my wheelchair it’s because disabled gamers often aren’t thought of during development.

We shouldn’t force disabled people to adjust to an inaccessible society, society should be trying to adjust to us, therefore it is essential for accessibility to be thought about during the initial stages of development. Games advocate Vivek Gohil recently said in Eurogamer:

“A shift is occurring in the games industry. It’s called the Accessibility Revolution. The awareness and application of accessibility in games has grown exponentially. Developers around the world are making long overdue ventures into this hidden field to create an inclusive sanctuary in which everybody is able to play the games they want to play.”

Motion Controls, VR, and Marginalization

We need to come up with solutions to motion controls, This is one of the most important accessibility challenges of the next decade, especially now that virtual reality is becoming an important part of the industry. According to Kyle David Ramono,

“Through stagnant button configurations and a lack of alternative, controller-­‐based alternatives to motion-­‐based technology, the disabled gamer becomes marginalized.”

The feeling of marginalization in relation to motion controls is something that has impacted me. The recent release of Pokemon Let’s Go reaffirms this feeling. I couldn’t play the game simply because my ability to move my arms is lower than a non-disabled gamer. Romano notes “I have begun to have an increasingly difficult time interacting with the games because video game controllers largely cater to able-­‐ bodied gamers.”

In the four years since Romano, wrote his thesis on inaccessible gaming. The industry is starting to adapt to counter the notion that controllers are built exclusively for non-disabled gamers. With the launch of the Xbox Adaptive controller, we have seen attempts at developing controllers designed to work better with gamers that have diverse accessibility needs. According to Microsoft, the controller is

“Designed primarily to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is a unified hub for devices that helps make gaming more accessible.”

I recently had a chat with Bryce Johnson the Inclusive lead at Microsoft about inclusive controller design. He said, “if we are gating interactions on the console exclusively through a traditional controller, then that is very unfair to a certain segment of the population, it is not a level playing field.”  

This is a really important point, we need to think beyond the traditional controller to include more gamers.  

Changing the Way We Discuss Disability

We are in the midst of a culture shift in the way the game industry discusses the disabled community, norms are shifting at an unprecedented rate. It’s essential we applaud this progress. an example of this comes from Ubisoft’s Associate Presentation Director Jonathan Bédard,

“We are including intentions for accessibility earlier and earlier in our creative processes, making it easier to accommodate and plan the future of inclusivity at Ubisoft.”

Another example of this cultural shift is when Square Enix published accessibility options prior to the launch of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Advocates have been asking for this for years, and to see it happen is a watershed moment for disabled gamers.

This shift is even occurring in video game advertising, Microsoft released an ad that featured a disabled gamer named Owen. This is the first time I have ever seen a wheelchair user in a video game advertisement. I gave deeper thoughts on this advertisement on my personal blog.

Moving Beyond The Trend

We are currently in the whirlwind of an accessible gaming trend, Trends are essential to creating a long-lasting movement. Unfortunately, trends can also create complacency. Game Accessibility is an ever-evolving topic, what is accessible for me may not be accessible for you.

Games journalism has a role to play, Can I Play That? is an example of what an inclusive future can look like. If we want accessibility to be discussed properly, Disabled voices must be at the center of it. We must move beyond accessibility menus and forge accessible futures.

Daniel Gilbert is an Accessibility & Inclusion Advocate, and a contributor to Can I Play That? If you want to stay updated follow Daniel on twitter @AccessibleDan


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