Should Accessibility Impact Overall Review Scores?

When Cyberpunk 2077 released in December 2020 with an array of game-breaking bugs and glitches rendering it unplayable for many, the general community of gamers experienced what disabled gamers do with countless games, both AAA and indie. We spend $60—$70 now if we’re playing on a PS5—without ever knowing if the game will be playable and if so, for how long. Call it a gamble, call it disability tax, but let’s be sure to call it what it most certainly is: unfair.

Cyberpunk press art with menu overlays.

Within a couple of days of Cyberpunk’s disastrous release, all sellers were offering refunds with no questions asked and Sony went so far as to remove it from sale on PSN, where it’s still not been relisted for sale. An unplayable game for those that have spent money on it results in refunds. Makes perfect sense, right? Why, then, are disabled players who are consistently buying games only to find them unplayable not allowed this same courtesy? From where I sit, this seems like a glaring double standard. Sure, we’ll give you a refund because your unplayability is valid, but you? Nope, sorry, just part of the price you pay for being disabled.

This issue is the very reason Can I Play That launched. So disabled people could stop wasting our money on games we can’t play. And guess what? Developers listen to us. Sometimes. In 2020 we saw massive strides being made in game accessibility and this trend continues into 2021, largely thanks to the hard work of the disabled community’s advocacy and effort. Unfortunately, we’re still not getting review copies of games often, so the reviews we can provide can’t compare to those mainstream sites like IGN, Polygon, and GameSpot. And much to my dismay, we’re not nearly as well-known as these sites, despite the impact our work has had on accessibility in games.

TLOU2's high contrast mode.

Time and time again, we’ll see the major gaming outlets cover accessibility only when it’s trending. Wildly popular games will come out, they’ll get great scores and be loved by the masses, meanwhile here at CIPT, our reviews may find them barely playable (just compare Grant Stoner’s findings on TLOU2 compared to every other piece written about it). Disabled gamers read reviews from their go-to gaming outlets and find fantastic scores without ever getting the info they need on whether they can play the game that earned a 9/10.

I can’t help but find it odd that 15% of the world’s population is disabled (likely far more than that, really) yet the info 15% of the population needs to determine if they will be able to enjoy a video game is nowhere to be found in these perfect mainstream reviews.

Illustrating RE8's illegible subtitles.

Most recently we saw this with the release of Resident Evil Village. It earned a 9/10 from GameSpot, 8/10 from IGN, 85/100 from PC Gamer. And yet ask any disabled person how they found it and between the non-remappable controls, complete lack of proper captions, and no accommodations available for vision, we’re all wondering how on earth it’s such a perfect game.

It’s well past time for equity in the gaming industry and games journalism for disabled people, so I’d like to propose a solution for both of the problems I’ve outlined here.

  1. Allow inaccessibility to be a no-questions-asked valid reason for a refund on ALL storefronts.
  2. Start factoring accessibility into general review scores. If as many as 15% of the population can’t play a game, that’s deserving of consideration, no?

Now, solution number two will take a bit of work to implement because I also strongly believe that just as white people shouldn’t be writing about the experiences and needs of BIPOC and men can’t really speak to the experiences of women, non-disabled people don’t have nearly enough context to properly write about accessibility. So further propositions to address point number 2: hire disabled writers to contribute the accessibility info for your review or partner with sites like Can I Play That to provide a massive audience with a full picture.

Something strange happens when abled people cover accessibility in games. They never seem to receive the hate and harassment that a disabled person does when they dare call out an inaccessible game. When disabled people criticize a game’s accessibility, the abuse and toxicity we have to endure is unrelenting. I’m willing to bet that if IGN or Polygon published a review criticizing Resident Evil Village’s accessibility, the writer wouldn’t be on their second straight day of DMs and emails telling them all the colorful ways in which they should die or how their mother should have aborted them.

In fact, I think including accessibility info in mainstream reviews would have a normalizing effect on the touchy subject of accessibility in games and the harassment would lessen for all of us.

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Courtney
CravenDirector of Operations and Workshop FacilitatorThey/Them

Founder of CIPT and Director of Operations and Business Development. They/Them courtney@caniplaythat.com

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