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Gaming For Everyone: Game Accessibility Guidelines

The Paralympic Videogames

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I’m pretty amazing at taking things for granted. I can easily hold the remote in one hand, and a fork in the other, as I kick the cat out of the way to watch Paralympic athletes with significantly fewer limbs than I being far better at activities than I’ll ever be. And so it is that I have given very little thought to how gaming might be needlessly impeded for disabled gamers. Which means I’m grateful to have received information about a new research project called Game Accessibility Guidelines.

The project is focused on the accessibility of gaming for gamers with disabilities, and hopes to communicate to developers what slight and simple changes or additions can be made for their products to be far more available to a significant proportion of their audience. Referencing research from PopCap, they say that around 20% of casual gamers are disabled – a very sizeable section of the audience – along with pointing out that 15% of adults have reading ages of below 11, and almost 10% of male gamers are red/green colourblind. People who might not have comfortable access to games because of easily changed settings.

The project has been driven by games designer and “accessibility specialist” Ian Hamilton, who wants to create a central resource that helps developers avoid simple, unwitting mistakes, that make all the difference. It can be as simple as ensuring controls are properly reconfigurable, or changing text settings so they disappear from the screen after a click, rather than on a timer.

A promising sign about the guide is it’s pragmatic as well as idealogical. It doesn’t pretend that developers aren’t going to worry about cost, and it factors that into its suggestions. And obviously it points out that being accessible to more people means more people to buy games, alongside just the general basic decency of taking as many people as possible into consideration. It’s broken into three sections, Basic, Intermediate and Advanced, giving what look like clear instructions and suggestions for improving games. The Basics are mostly as simple as (and let’s be clear – in the world of PC gaming, you cannot be too basic when pointing out the blatantly obvious for sensible menus and UIs) offering difficulty levels and saving settings. But others are slightly less intuitively known. For example, under “Use simple clear language”, it says,

Aim for as straightforward language as your copy style allows, for example “Click below to save your character” rather than “If you click below your chosen character preferences will be saved”

Intermediate suggestions rather entertainingly trample all over various debates, such as suggesting there be both manual and autosaves in any game. Amen! At least have it be an option, even if you believe it’s breaking your holy game (I’d go further here, as I’ve raged about before). And maybe best of all, they suggest avoiding quicktime events! Good heavens, forget this being for disabled gamers – this is for everyone! They even endorse always including a windowed mode. This is basically a manifesto for all of us.

Advanced takes things to a different, more expensive level, with suggestions like having “every relevant category of impairment” be represented during play-testing. It includes ideas for how to make games playable by those with Parkinsons, for example:

“Conditions such as Parkinsons, essential tremor and cerebral palsy can reduce likelyhood of defined single presses, with slippage or shakiness common. This can result in unintended multiple presses, which can be a significant issue if interacting is already a drawn out process. If aiming for elderly or motor impaired players, including a simple cooldown period where no further input is recognised for a short period afterwards can avoid this.”

Many of these are impractical for various genres, including the suggestion of avoiding unexpected movement or events, which can cause issues for autistic gamers. But the point they make is, if it’s not actually a necessary mechanic for your game, why not avoid it?

It seems a really helpful, realistic and clear resource, and one it would be fantastic to see developers taking into consideration with their plans. It’s far too easy to dismiss disabled gamers as a minority when developing, but you know what? Dismissing minorities – that’s generally considered a not very good thing.

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John Walker

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