If you’ve been keeping your attention on Twitter in the last 24-hours, you’ve probably seen what I like to call, Hell. For those unaware, Double Fine, the developer behind the upcoming Psychonauts 2, has recently caught the attention of people that do not have an inkling about what accessibility is about.
Earlier this year, during Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the studio shared a wealth of Psychonauts 2 accessibility features (one being invincibility) that went fairly unnoticed. A few days ago, Xbox and Double Fine tweeted about these features again, and this of course got picked up by other outlets, notably IGN which is where the discourse has erupted.
So what’s the problem? Well, from what I can make out from the comments, users that don’t understand what accessibility is are “concerned” that Psychonauts 2 having an entirely optional invincibility mode will ruin any and all challenges present in the game. The Twitter thread has it all, uneducated users misunderstanding, users joking about “game journalist mode”, and users being outright ableists either directly or indirectly toward disabled players. It’s not all bad though, there’s a good deal of users praising the feature and advocating.
In my experience, there’s a small chance that one of these negative Nelly’s will become educated and understand exactly what accessibility is, and their view changes. Of course, this isn’t the case for a lot because these types of users are vehemently against accessibility, complaining that it’s cheating and ruining the game despite the fact that they likely either use cheats in other games anyway or that the optional feature being used by someone thousands of miles away does not affect them in the slightest.
But hey, the topic of cheating always seems to come about when it’s tied exclusively to accessibility.
Why is accessibility important? It’s quite simple really. Inclusion. Video games without accessibility, while they may still be playable by some disabled and abled people, there may be barriers of different types that affect their enjoyment and how they play. Some may find puzzles to be too mentally challenging, others may find combat too physically exhausting, some may not understand the story due to lack of subtitles. There are so many barriers that come in different forms, and no one person’s experience with a game is the same as another person’s. And that’s what we need to remember.
It’s also important, with barriers, that we keep in mind that if Player A finds combat to be an enjoyable experience, utilizing dodges and attacks and barely scraping through, Player B may find that to include too many barriers. So, Player B has the option to weaken or remove those barriers so that they can experience a similar experience to Player A at a level they feel comfortable with. Maybe these features Player B uses are aim assist and auto block, allowing them to focus on other aspects of combat that feel challenging to them.
But what about Player C? Well, Player C maybe finds that the combat is far too overwhelming for themselves personally, so they use an invincibility mode, allowing them to still engage in combat without the frustration of having to keep starting the fight again due to failing where they can’t surpass barriers. The outcome of all of this? Player A, B, and C have all completed that experience at levels they felt comfortable with, and they can all discuss how it was to play. How the enemies used certain attacks, the background scenes taking place, the way the combat music changes pace.
Having accessibility features allows a wider audience to enjoy a game alongside many others. Some features are toggleable options, such as the Psychonauts 2 invincibility feature, others may be built directly into the design of the game, such as Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and its Game Speed function. And again, these are all usually optional features that do not affect anyone other than the person who chooses to enable them.
While it’s clear a lot of comments in that thread from earlier reek with clear ableism and desire to exclude disabled players there seem to be many people who just haven’t considered disabled people in their replies. Additionally, there’s the assumption that someone being disabled means they’re on the higher end of the spectrum of their disability in a similar way to how most media seem to portray disabled people.
Regardless of whether someone that uses accessibility features is disabled or not, people benefit from them. So it’s really no big deal who plays a game how they play it, especially single-player games. Just bloody be a part of the gaming community, welcome all, and share your experiences together.