We Can Advocate For Accessibility Without Being Assholes

Ben Bayliss6 minute read

The video game landscape is evolving, there’s no disputing that. Better graphics, cinematic spatial sounds, huge open worlds, next-generation hardware and technology — and yes, more opportunities for accessibility. With all of this, the costs of games and development times increase, but having more accessible games means more players being involved as part of a game’s audience.

We also live in a time where social media is used as a way to vent frustrations that can garner attention in a number of ways. Negatively or positively depending on how that frustration is framed. I’ve seen, as I’m sure you will have, players rudely demanding changes from a studio, players sending death threats to developers over a cosmetic, and branding small bugs as reason enough to demand a refund.

In the accessibility lane, I’ve even seen players, influencers, and even consultants making the assumption that a studio doesn’t care about disabled players at all. Totally disregarding the fact that some studios simply lack understanding of accessibility or perhaps even cultural differences. That sometimes these studios don’t have consultancy so readily available, not even knowing where, or how to start.

Studios with this lack of understanding often find their games releasing in an inaccessible state and have many barriers present. And sure, it’s frustrating. We live in a post-The Last of Us Part 2 era now. We’ve seen that a remarkably accessible game is possible. But many seem to be living on the assumption that any game launching after The Last of Us Part 2 is now meant to magically reach those same standards. Standards that spanned years in making by numerous teams, with a number of consultants, and taking previous learnings and improving them.

But still, people will scowl at implemented features and often describe them as “simple” to achieve. “It’s not hard to just make the text a bit bigger!” they’ll cry. People will assume that developers are lazy and don’t want to spend time making their product accessible, especially when remasters don’t come with accessibility improvements that remakes are capable of. These attitudes online seem to only be growing, and as they grow, so does my concern about the progression of accessibility.

Just check out the below video with Victor Brodin and Arran Langmead where they show the process of making simple accessibility features to make a game more user friendly. Take the time to look at how much time and effort goes into the process.

Watch Making Accessible Experiences | Inside Unreal on YouTube

It’s all well and good having a moan about a game. I do it. I exclaim and utter profanities when barely legible subtitles appear in a game. I had a 7am rant about The Falconeer having a tiny HUD and being inaccessible to me. But I’m not saying the developer doesn’t give a shit. I’m not declaring that it was intentional and spawned from a lack of caring. I’m not bashing other players who may be fine with what’s available, nor am I belittling those communities who aren’t focused on accessibility — instead they want a game for other reasons; The story, the graphics, the studios and names behind them. Gaming is for everyone, not just for the individual.

Even when I had Activision in my sights regarding its stance on Spyro Reignited Trilogy’s lack of subtitles in 2018, I voiced my frustrations while using my platform to highlight the issue, to educate those reading, and had hope that Activision would see this and be able to take something away that wasn’t “This person is pissed off.” They did listen.

Other examples of highlighting issues and still providing feedback can be found below. Morgan Baker highlighted the problematic language used in Call of the Sea that described captions as hearing impaired subtitles by bringing attention to it, then offering resources for the developers to use.

Stacey Jenkins created a thread for Cozy Grove highlighting accessibility issues that are present throughout. Additionally, they highlighted the points they enjoyed as well putting a focus on what barriers were ruining the experience.

Ian Hamilton also brought attention to Resident Evil Village’s subtitles that aren’t presented wonderfully and provided some examples and key facts for designing subtitles in games. This way, if the developers do see the tweets, they’re able to use these resources.

This toxic attitude from those that perceive developers at a studio to be just machines that churn out games and should instantly know how to make a game accessible makes me sick. I’ll be honest, accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought, it should be basic access, absolutely. But its implementation in video games is still young. There’s so much for developers to learn and while I don’t believe we should be cheering for the bare minimum, I do think we need to cut them some slack when the ball is dropped.

Ubisoft, EA, Rare, The Coalition, Naughty Dog, SMG Studio, Team17, Tribe Games, Special Magic Games, King, and so many more studios are growing. They’re trying new methods, some stick, some fail. Some include accessibility pre-release, some patch it post-launch.

Control press art.

And my concerns are this. We’ve seen some developers step back from engaging so much with their audience. We’ve seen studios issue statements calling for people to stop sending death threats. We’ve seen people outright leave social media because of the toxicity. We witness it and condemn it.

When it comes to accessibility, this is the industry wanting to include more players. They want to create games that can be enjoyed by many. But if we’re going to have people, both disabled and non-disabled, accusing studios of not giving a shit about disabled players, or calling for near-instant patches to cater specifically to their barriers, then that connection with developers weakens.

We’re continually sharing our struggles and we feel glad, maybe even euphoric to find games we can comfortably play. And there are many disabled people who just want to play games, but there are also those who want to branch into consultancy. But if we’re outright jabbing at inaccessibility and providing no context or education and just demanding and shouting, we’re not only damaging the accessibility movement, but we’re burning a bridge with those studios that want to learn and work with us.

And I don’t want us, as a disabled community, to become unapproachable.

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Ben is the one in charge of keeping the content cogs at Can I Play That? turning. Deafness means that he has a focus on discussing captions, but with experience in consultancy and advocacy, he covers what bases he can. Having written about accessibility in video games at DualShockers, GamesRadar+, GamesIndustry.biz, Wireframe, and more he continues his advocacy at CIPT. He was actually awarded a Good Games Writing award for an article he wrote here! He enjoys a range of games, but anything that’s open-world and with a photo mode will probably be his cup of tea. You can get in touch with him at: ben@caniplaythat.com

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