Accessibility in gaming is a hot topic right now, and rightly so. But what kinds of options are there, and what’s still missing? Today we’re going to break down exactly what can be found to help players who need more accessible ways of playing, whether that be due to disabilities. gaming prowess, or even mental health.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller is a massive step forward in mobility access for games. It allows for a lot of customization, with lots of extra parts you can add, such as joysticks. You can even tweak your controller to suit your own needs, and it works on PCs as well as the Xbox One.
Some games also provide easier access for users with mobility issues, although they are few and far between, particularly if you need to play one-handed.
There is still a lot to be done in this field, especially for Playstation and Switch. I hope they take Microsoft’s cue and develop its own accessible controllers.
Gaming is well-known for its colorblind options, and most games have some kind of options for you. Although this isn’t yet universal, sadly, with major games like the revamped Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy not offering any colourblind options at all. I feel that gaming runs the risk of getting complacent with their offerings for colorblind users, and there is still work to be done. Games with any kind of colour-based gameplay must have colourblind options, and sadly this still isn’t the case.
To think it used to be a regular thing, and that most TV’s allow for different colour modes. Why shouldn’t games with strong visuals (think beat sabre) always accommodate those who might struggle, or be impaired.
With most games having subtitles, and some even offering you the option as you boot up a new game, the audio side of gaming is well-covered for anyone with hearing-related disabilities. However, this is another field where some kind of universal, mandatory guidelines need to be implemented. Some games, like the remastered Spyro trilogy, don’t launch with subtitles and patch them in after (very insulting if you’re deaf!), and there are still games that have none at all.
There are other impacts on auditory disabilities while gaming – where is that noise coming from? Or if you’re profoundly deaf – how I am supposed to know that was there? A minority of games have visual cues where they would typically expect you to rely on sound alone, but most don’t offer this yet.
Really games need to step up in terms of audio offerings from the very beginning. They need to ensure that if any of their games rely in any capacity on visuals, they offer visual alternatives.
Games now offer a range of difficulty options so anyone can play. Whether it’s kids, someone with a cognitive disability, or even your grandma – gaming is for everyone and should be designed as such.
Changing the difficulty level is also an excellent option for people with any disabilities – need to jump a little bit slower to make that platform? Maybe the more relaxed setting will give you more time.
This is of course a much more nuanced topic than the rest, as games like Dark Souls don’t offer difficulty choices on purpose. They want the player to quickly adapt to what they’re presenting. Of course this does means though that many players simply won’t be able to experience it. So the answer here might not be as simple as it appears.
Mental health is as essential in gaming as anywhere else. I am a massive advocate for all forms of media, having trigger or content warnings. No one wants to stumble on something that throws them for a loop during their gaming sesh. Some games are particularly bleak and can be depressing or cause anxiety, as these should be labeled appropriately. I found Life is Strange Season 1 incredibly depressing and had to stop. Is that just me, or is there a way to make games accessible for anyone, no matter the content? Gaming is meant to be relaxing and an escape.
Games do come with warnings towards violence and drug use, but any and all physiological effects seem to be shoved under the rug. Would it be so hard for games that enter very difficult mental territory to let players know?
Charities like Safe in Our World deal with mental health in the industry, and Check Point offer resources to gamers and developers alike to help normalise and even find the good in some mental conditions. Son’t hesitate to check them out.
I felt I had to include this point. If none of your friends game and you don’t really have any online gaming friends, you’ll find yourself locked out of specific missions or even whole games. This has to change. With today’s technology, there should be options to play with bots instead of friends, rather than cut a solo gamer out of the action. Why should players be punished for not playing with people close to them? it’s just out of order.
There’s a raft of features, options, and tech out there to improve accessibility in gaming, but there are just as many gaps and overlooked groups. Accessibility in gaming has moved so far forward – but we aren’t finished yet.
Interested in accessibility in gaming or have any questions? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter and we’ll point you in the right direction. We aren’t qualified professionals, but we can help you and tell you who are. As always, thanks for reading COG!