Could Console Exclusivity Be Detrimental to the Greater Accessibility Movement?

Grant Stoner6 minute read

PlayStation Studios is no stranger to implementing incredible accessibility options at a software level. Sony Santa Monica recently unveiled that God of War Ragnarök will feature dozens of options. Meanwhile, Naughty Dog announced that The Last of Us Remake will feature audio descriptive cut scenes, the first in any AAA game. Unfortunately, PlayStation’s commitment to the DualSense controller and its varying functionalities prevent some physically disabled players from enjoying these award-winning titles despite the plethora of accessibility tools that are found in each game. The release of Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered on the PC begs the question as to whether console exclusivity is ultimately a detriment to the greater accessibility movement.

I’ve been a fan of PlayStation franchises for roughly two decades. I vividly remember begging my mother to take me to GameStop to purchase a copy of Kingdom Hearts after a fifth-grade classmate recommended the game. From Ratchet & Clank to Infamous, I’ve consumed most of the popular PlayStation titles. Unfortunately, as my neuromuscular disability progressed, and as PlayStation adopted new advancements with its controllers and accessibility, I was ironically forced to abandon one of my favorite systems – not for a lack of options and features, but rather an inability to use a controller. Since PlayStation’s DualSense technology prevents adaptive controllers from fully integrating with games, my PS5 has done nothing but gather dust.

Spider-Man was originally released in 2018 and Insomniac Games’ foray into the Marvel universe included accessibility features such as QTE Auto Complete, Enhanced Auto Aim, and the capability to skip puzzles. The forced console gameplay, however, prohibited me from enjoying the experience, lest I spend hundreds of dollars to attempt to find an adaptive solution. Nearly four years later, PlayStation Studios is slowly beginning to release a fraction of previously console-exclusive games onto PC.

Aloy, soaked in an orange, peachy hue, holding her bow low and looking to the distance

Unlike Xbox’s expansion into the PC market, PlayStation continues to remain a primarily console-based studio. While its competitor has released multiple iterations of Halo, Gears of War, and Fable onto PC, PlayStation’s first cross-platform game was in 2020 with Horizon Zero Dawn — originally released on PS4 in 2017. Even though PlayStation unveiled a PC-centric commitment to publishing in 2021, Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered is only the fourth game to transition to a different system. While this is ultimately beneficial for physically disabled players, it also creates new barriers that need addressing.

Spider-Man is incredibly entertaining. I’ve had an absolute blast swinging through New York City while fighting various goons and iconic Spidey villains. Yet, my experience was consistently marred with seemingly inconsequential accessibility barriers, that when compounded, create a consistent feeling of exhaustion and frustration.

Spider-Man offers fully customizable keyboard and mouse controls, a standard in most modern titles. Despite this capability to toggle inputs and even leave some actions unbounded, the gameplay almost demands that each mouse button and keyboard key serve a purpose. And for people like me with limited mobility and limited reach, needing to continuously switch functions for specific scenarios was less than ideal.

Combat is by far the biggest offender for Spider-Man’s accessibility. While generally easy to perform, as all attacks are completed through the left mouse button, the nuance behind each encounter extends far beyond a single button. Dodging, using gadgets, suit powers, zipping to your enemies with a web, webbing environmental objects, and even sliding under enemies with shields all require a multitude of keys to effectively perform. Even though most fights can be completed through mashing the attack button, the beauty of playing a Spider-Man game is gracefully using your supernatural powers within the chaotic concrete jungle of New York City to stop evildoers. Yes, I’m still flipping between thugs with my fists and feet, but because I can’t execute every function, each fight feels sluggish and like a chore.

Spider-Man, in the dark, lit by a lone light, pulls a web that is wrapped around a struggling enemy.

This is the biggest problem with PlayStation on PC. Older PlayStation games were originally inherently designed to be played on a controller, and more importantly, on a PlayStation system. For Spider-Man, the compact design of a controller allows for near seamless movement without needing to rest your hands in potentially uncomfortable positions. However, PlayStation on PC offers a unique feature that their consoles sorely lack – choice.

Nintendo offers multiple controllers to play each game. Xbox has an adaptive controller designed for physically disabled players, as well as featuring most of their library on PC. Until the release of Horizon Zero Dawn in 2020, PlayStation offered relatively few if no hardware alternatives to control their games, forcing physically disabled players to solely rely on software settings, and if those failed to suit their needs, occasionally abandon new games. While Spider-Man’s jump to PC poses new issues, it grants disabled players the choice to use different input methods to play effectively and comfortably.

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man looking left. A city reflected in his eyes.

Despite creating a host of accessibility barriers that require more tinkering from both the disabled community and developers, it’s entirely feasible to beat the entire game with an Xbox controller. More importantly, physically disabled players do not need to spend additional money searching for varying adapters that properly work with a PlayStation system This is thanks to Steam, which as a client, has incredible controller support. It’s even possible to play a PlayStation-exclusive game with the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

For years, disabled players have rightfully asked for options and features to increase a game’s playability. Yet, as the industry continues to evolve and provide incredible solutions to software accessibility, hardware continues to be left behind. As a professional writer within the games industry, it’s become increasingly difficult to judge PlayStation on its accessibility since the limited hardware and forced DualSense functionality prevents me from playing the company’s games. But with PlayStation on PC, I can once again call myself a PlayStation fan.

Spider-Man is sticking to a large LED screen, hanging looking backwards at the city to the right. He's lit by the screen only, mostly shrouded in darkness.

Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered on PC is by no means perfect. Multiple necessary inputs, the inability to combine keys, and a complex combat system can be rather exhausting to play, especially with a mouse and keyboard. However, I would still recommend this to physically disabled players because of the controller choice offered by Steam. Even though I needed to rest after playing for more than 45 minutes, I couldn’t help but smile the entire time. Swinging through New York City was a blast, but I was finally able to play a game that I’ve been interested in since its release in 2018. Hopefully, PlayStation’s commitment to PC continues. Furthermore, I hope that the industry starts examining whether console exclusivity is ultimately a detriment to accessibility, a movement that shows no signs of slowing down.

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Grant Stoner enjoys running in video game worlds because his legs won't let him do so in real life. You can follow his accessible thoughts and ramblings on Twitter @Super_Crip1994

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