Accessibility In Video Games

In this post will take look at the current state of accessibility in video games and games for disabled people…

20 years ago, no one would have predicted how far along the video game industry would come. Today, video games have become more than tools to pass the time. They are also used for training, research, education, and even rehabilitation. The only limits are those imposed by the imagination of the programmer. One key factor in determining how far the video game industry can go, and the amount of impact it can have is accessibility and games for disabled people.

Some of the main issues some users face with video game accessibility are:

  • Not being able to receive the desired feedback from an interaction in the game, as a result of a sensory impairment. For example, being unable to decipher spoken instructions mid-game due to impaired hearing. Or being unable to read visual cues due to visual impairment.
  • Not being able to provide the required input, due to some sort of motor impairment. For example, users who make use of eye trackers will not get the same level of immersion in video games which need a large amount of input as regular users. Think button bashing on fighting games.
  • Not being able to fully comprehend the intricacies of game play, or an inability to provide the right kind of input. Normally stemming from some level of cognitive impairment. For example, a user with learning difficulties may experience poor comprehension when playing.

How can developers help overcome some of the above issues? All video games should include Tier 1 accessibility.

As the name implies, this is the lowest level of accessibility that video game developers should hope to achieve. It includes the use of:

Remappable buttons – This allows users to change the configuration of the video game controls in a manner that makes the most ergonomic sense to them.

Colour-blind options – Research has shown the most common form of colour-blindness is the red-green variety. As many as 8 percent of all men have some variation of colour-blindness. So, video game developers should include an alternative way to provide in game information, other than colour.

Closed captioning – Most games these days include subtitles as an option and this is a very useful feature. However, closed captioning takes this one step further and encompasses the entire range of verbal communication; including voice tones and other auditory cues. This is vital in some video games where picking up on these cues may be the difference between success and failure.

Tutorials – Many people in the world are kinaesthetic or tactile learners. Meaning they learn by actually carrying out the activities themselves. For these people tutorials are invaluable. Tutorials give users the ability to learn how to play the game without fear of loss or defeat. This allows users with cognitive disabilities to learn the mechanics of the game without fear of failure.


Accessible Controllers

Some developers are dedicated to eliminating the exclusionary elements in hardware controllers. Developing new ways of inputting commands that a more universally applicable. For example, controllers that allow more complex controller inputs with a single motion can help individuals with conditions that affect motor movement.

In 2015, the PlayStation 4 redefined the landscape of accessibility in gaming by introducing a system-level re-mapping of controller buttons. This gave users with motor impairments the chance to enjoy games that they would otherwise be unable to play. In 2018, the Microsoft released it’s Xbox Adaptive Controller. This gave gamers the opportunity to make use of a range of assistive devices such as switches and bite pedals.  Microsoft have also released diagrams for their patented braille controller. As significant as these achievements are, there are still giant strides to be made in the field of inclusive gaming.

Making Progress

Many of the recent innovations in inclusive gaming have stemmed from the willingness of major developers to incorporate accessibility into their big-budget gaming designs. Ubisoft, for example, had begun to enforce stricter requirements for sub-titling and the use of trigger warnings in 2008, and the rest of the industry had slowly started to adapt (learn more). In 2015, World of Warcraft, one of the biggest online games, added a colour-blind mode. This feature was met with universal acclaim by gamers and gaming enthusiasts.

Many current-gen titles have embraced inclusivity in gaming. Naughty Dog’ Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and The Last of Us titles are hailed as some of the most inclusive games of all time (BBC Article). Josh Straub, an avid gamer couldn’t get past a section on Uncharted 2 due to his disability. He complained to Naughty Dog and they brought him in and worked with him to ensure the same issues didn’t occur in future games (further details).

All game developers and designers can benefit from making their games more inclusive. Hopefully, other developers will follow in Naughty Dog’s footsteps. The new wave of inclusive gaming is still in its infancy, but it has already shown signs of blossoming into a full movement. Things can only get better.

Thanks for reading,


Further Resources:

This is a great article from Lad Bible on the history of accessibility in gaming.

Josh Straub, mentioned above was the gamer that helped Naughty Dog improve their accessibility.  He has his own website Dager System where he reviews the accessibility of new games.

Steve Saylor is a visually impaired gamer who has a popular YouTube channel showcasing the challenged he faces while gaming. This is a popular video of his and check out his channel for more…

Book a DSA assessment.

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