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02-12-2011, 10:59 PM #1
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[Manifesto] Accessibility: Should it be important?
I've been tempted to get a blog for this sort of thing, but what's the point in this? I want to get thoughts like these out to a large body of people, and I can't imagine that I'd do that with a blog.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility is providing ways for a game to be played by people whom otherwise would not be able to. Limited control mapping, or visual configuration, or lack of prompts can lead to great difficulty for people playing games. Here are the ideal elements which would result in a perfect game:
- A configurable UI, where elements can be scaled up as is necessary. Having a UI with a built in zoom feature is a good start, so that if an element contains a tiny font, it can be expanded when a game is still in full screen mode, without needing to use a resource-hungry magnification tool. (Which would also require the game to be run windowed.) Either that or simply having UI size options for separate UI elements would work.
- To expand on the above, a UI should have a colourblind mode. This would have indicators via icons which would replace colours. Do you have a red bar next to a green bar, where the colours are meant to indicate something? A colourblind UI would make the bars one colour and put icons next to them to signify their purpose at a glance.
- Audio and visual prompts is a good thing to have, too. If you're low on health then having the screen occasionally pulse red with a sound affect accompanying it can aid those with accessibility needs. This can be toggled off for typical people with no health issues, but it's good to have it there for those that it actually helps. Whilst this may be a bane for some people, it's an enabler for others.
- Closed captions for everything - including all sound effects in the game. Valve are great at this, wonderful in fact. If you look at a game like Portal 2, you actually have closed captions subtitles in the options. This is very helpful to people who have hearing difficulties as they are then able to see what's happening even if they can't hear it. Often, sight acuity increases to cope with a lack of hearing, so closed captions are more important and helpful than you may realise.
- Prompts for difficult to see things. Okay, we've seen this in Portal 2 and many of you have hated it. You don't get why it's there, and that's okay. I'll explain it. See, in some games certain things may be incredibly difficult to see, because they're small and they blend in, so having a prompt that points a visually disabled person toward their target objective can help. It can be an enabler. It doesn't solve the game for them, as it didn't in Portal 2, but it helps them find stuff that they might otherwise overlook. Another example of this is holding space or a similar key in adventure games to highlight all points of interaction.
- Keybind for everything. If you have everything setup so that it can be keybound, then people can do incredible things, even if they're partially paralysed, they can still set things up so that they can play a game even with their chin alone. We've seen this. But this becomes less possible with the more restricted games are. Sometimes people play games on the PC because they're disabled. Developers need to keep this in mind, especially when porting from consoles.
Those are the basic tenets of accessibility.
Some of you may have found accessibility elements in games and complained about them, but that's because people generally have a hard time seeing outside the box that is their own life. That's fine. I'm not going to chastise anyone for that because I don't expect them to be omniscient. I can't expect that of anyone. This is why raising awareness is important.
When you complain about a UI and font sizes being too big? Well, there are people who're quietly seeing that as a blessing in disguise. When you 'win a battle' against a developer to get them to redesign a UI to be filled with tiny fonts, tiny icons, and no way to return it to its original UI? Well, that's as good as telling disabled people that you hate them, and that's very easy to resent.
This is why raising awareness about accessibility is important. If gamers were to demand an option for a better UI, whilst keeping the larger one in place for accessibility purposes, then everyone would win. But often with the elitist sentiment surrounding the PC community, developers tend to fall into a 'just for PC gamers' version. Games like these are then retrofitted to have tiny fonts, a tiny UI, and really you'd need a magnifying glass to discern a tenth of it. Not everyone has eagle vision.
But, if we can get people being empathic about accessibility needs, this can change. If everyone could champion accessibility then we could do even more to spread the word of the PC as an open platform, because it makes the lives of people with accessibility needs all the more easy. By removing accessibility from games, you're essentially driving gamers to consoles, and they may never come back.
People have accessibility needs. It's as simple as that.
But do consider that every time you complain about prompts and large UIs, you're saying in the same breath that people with accessibility needs just "aren't good enough" to play the games that you do, that your games are only meant for perfect people. This does nothing but build upon the view of the world of PC gamers being elitist jerks, far more so than hipsters could ever want to be. You don't want that. None of us should.
So where do we go from here?
The next time you see a game which has something that may annoy you, stop and ask yourself if it's there for accessibility reasons and keep that in mind. Praise the developer for thinking of things like this, but ask them for the option to turn these things off, don't demand that they remove them completely because they're somehow an affront to us, because that only hurts the people who need them. Just stop and think about it, and realise that it might be helpful to someone.
The next time you attack a console port for having a giant UI, think that that might actually be helpful to someone, and instead ask for a smaller UI as an option, making a case for accessibility as to why they should keep the bigger UI around too, or ask for UI modding to be in as a thing. Generally, just help to make developers aware that there are people out there with special needs. People who would give them money if not for this.
So, here's my dirty little secret: I gave up on the Witcher 2 because it was so inaccessible. It hated me ofr not being a perfect person, so I stopped bothering. I just couldn't cope with its lack of accessibility concerns. Instead, I just went and watched a video of the rest of the game, and read about the choices within. I love what the Witcher 2 did, and I loved what the Witcher did. But both of these games are notorious for playing up to the elite PC idea of making everything so tiny that you need perfect vision or amazing spectacles to see it.
And with the 'PCification' (I didn't just write that, let's pretend I didn't and you just know what I mean, here, okay?) of ongoing titles, it only makes things harder for accessibility needs, and it plays up to this... idea that there's some kind of undercurrent of horrible elitism, that PC gamers just don't want people who aren't "good enough" for them. That only console audiences are welcoming enough to people with special needs. We don't need that noise.
This is important because I'm not a typical person, I have accessibility needs. I'm not perfect, and yet I like playing games. I don't want to feel punished because I'm not a perfect person.
Here, let me give you another example.
Champions Online was originally a console title, and because of that it was very accessible to me. Console titles seem to be built with accessibility in mind, for some reason. And more than that, it had a global UI scale that made everything easier for me to read and perceive. But the UI was 'too big' for the people who played it, there were people who felt it was 'un-PC,' so it's been changing.
The problem there is that things have been getting tinier and tinier, and not obeying the UI scale. So a game I once enjoyed playing I've had to stop due to that. I've poked the developers about it, and they might listen, but then they might not because they might feel that people with accessibility needs are in the minority.
But contrary to that, I feel that people with accessibility needs are a silent majority. I think that there are a lot of people out there who have problems but are afraid to speak up about it, and they just find other things to do when they can't cope with something that's inaccessible. But games developers would suddenly have many more customers if they all valued accessibility in the way that Valve does. And yes, Valve I put up on a pedestal because they obey pretty much every single point I noted at the beginning of this manifesto. They accounted for every possible accessibility need.
I don't want to sound like a Valve fanboy, here (even though I am). But I want to point mainstream developers, for the PC and other platforms, and say... well, look at what Valve is doing. There are disabled people who appreciate this. Be more like that.
Wrapping this all up.
At the end of this, hopefully I've broadened your perspectives, and perhaps some of you will think twice before badgering a developer to force a change toward a tiny UI upon all the players of a game they've made. Perhaps you'll think twice about all the things in games that may have seemed annoying to you, but were so helpful to other people. That's what this is about. It's getting you to see things from a different angle.
If I've even managed that with a few of you, and at least got the notions here to percolate in the heads of tens more, then I've succeeded. I've hopefully planted a seed of wisdom.
There are customers out there who want to buy games, but often developers will tell those customers that they don't want their money or their custom because they're not fit enough to play their games.
With a few simple adjustments and a month's extra development, they could increase their sales by thousands.
Right, I'm done.
Maybe RPS could run an article on this? That'd be wonderful. I really want to get this message out there to both players and developers, mainstream and indie. It doesn't matter who you are. But realise that if I can't actually read the text in your game, or if I can't make out the UI, or if I feel I'm being punished for not being as well equipped as the next person, then I'm not going to buy your game. It's a niche, and that's fine, but would it hurt for more developers to account for accessibility?
I'll say once again though that this doesn't apply to all developers. Some are beginning to think about this and I appreciate that. Just keep it in mind.
03-12-2011, 12:33 AM #2
A lot of those things are pretty handy even for people without specific accessibility concerns. Colorblind modes, for example, often help fast recognition of objects even for non colorblind people, which can be good in twitchy arcade games. One thing I'd like to add is that customizable field of view should be a part of this - the 'sprinting with binoculars' effect 60 fov gives on a big, close screen can make a lot of people sick.
03-12-2011, 12:36 AM #3
Funnily enough colour blindness cropped up in a discussion I was having the other day and I pointed out during it that it's just not somehting that's easy for someone without said condition to appreciate. I didn't even remotely understand it till someone showed me a colour blindness simulator (http://www.etre.com/tools/colourblindsimulator/).
Anyway I agree with you. Accessibility options should be there, though ones which may have detrimental effects for those wihtout issues should be optional if it all possible. Obviously some will be trickier to implement that others. I'd imagine closed captioning of sound effects must be a fairly awkward thing to do in action games which aren't particularly linear or heavily scripted, for example.
As for hard to read fonts, to be honest I found console games in general to be worse, though that's probably because I didn't have a gigantic TV (plus I can't actually remember if I'd realised I needed glasses at the stage I was regularly playing them!).
03-12-2011, 12:38 AM #4
I don't mind large fonts in modern AAA games so much as the consolified interface they almost always imply. You can do a good, information-dense interface with large fonts; it just so happens that most such games fail miserably at doing so. 99% of the time, that's the real complaint.
Last edited by TillEulenspiegel; 03-12-2011 at 12:40 AM.
03-12-2011, 11:33 AM #5
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I mean surely it would be more logical to suggest to the devs to please add options such as subtitles, transcribed audio etc. etc. without referencing PC gamers at all? I understand that you (probably) have a personal interest and you are fairly pissed off. But I really don't see what role PC gamers have to play. Transfer your transference elsewhere, i guess.
03-12-2011, 11:55 AM #6
One pitfall is that it's all too easy for additional customisation options to reduce accessibility by overwhelming with complexity.
03-12-2011, 07:09 PM #7
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Totally agreed. I tried to remember everything but I forgot the motion sickness angle that narrow FoVs can cause. I knew I'd forget something, despite my best efforts. I'll get that in there as soon as I'm done writing this up.
I think you misunderstand the feeling behind the words. See, I was trying to make it clear (and I really did give it my best, here) to make the point that this isn't how it is, but it is how it feels. Sometimes it does feel like games (and even gamers) don't want less than perfect people to play their games.
Look at the 'n00b' attitude for someone who isn't completely healthy. They may have poor vision, which glasses can't help with, they may be hard of hearing, and they may be neurotypical, they may even be all of these things. And there's a distinct lack of empathy on the Internet for concerns such as these. And due to that I feel that developers can lack empathy to the same degree, going for that same target audience.
The reason I tend to give RPS a earful, very often, and the reason I tend to level my most serious words here is that at least here I might be able to get through to people.
You have to understand that it wasn't my intent to be harsh, it was my intent to convey how I feel as a disabled person. There is a difference. If I failed to convey that well enough, then I'm sorry.
But yeah, I think it was just taken the wrong way because of the way I worded it.
I don't blame you, I'm just explaining my point of view.
Likewise, I empathise with your position. I know how expensive it is for constant glasses changes. Not because of me, but due to my gran. As for my position, my sight issues come from a degenerative condition with the optic nerves behind my eyes. So I can't use glasses. I think though that less eyestrain in general would help us both. This is why I think that a configurable UI is important.
You're mixing up objectivity with the subjective position of someone who is disabled. This is a point I was trying to get over in my post, and you're showing a distinct lack of empathy by not even trying to think from this position.
Just put yourself in the shoes of someone with serious accessibility concerns. After hearing so many gamers clamour for things which would go against accessibility, it can begin to feel that way. Even if you don't realise it. When you shout for standards, you're in the same breath damning people who don't fit those standards, whether you realise it or not. You do this out of ignorance, yes, but it's still harsh for those who need the things you don't want. (And don't tell me that this doesn't happen. There was a lot of screaming around the Internet, including on RPS, about the 'cumbersome prompts' in Left 4 Dead and Valve games proceeding that. Whereas Valve didn't put those in for you, but rather for people like me.)
Anyway, I think you just had a bone to pick with me after I picked you up on a xenophobic point in another thread, and you're just projecting my anger at you being closed-minded there, here. But here you're being closed-minded, too. Yes, ignorance can lead people to feel like they're being discriminated against, whether you realise that or not.
That's the point I was trying to make. And you just turned yourself into a prime example of what I was talking about.
Hence why I made the point for customisation. If you let the user customise the UI to their liking, then it can be exactly as they want it. I mean, a customisable UI where you can scale (bigger/smaller) and move all UI elements actually impacting 'standard people' negatively in some way is... silly. I'm sorry.
I mean, there have been mods for games in the past that have done precisely that without affecting the base UI at all. All you have to do is add some defaults for standard, everyday people and then allow others to customise it for their needs from there.
I guess what I'm trying to say in some of those posts is that I did write that from a very personal position, to an end where I'd hope that it would stop and make a person think twice, rather than insult them. I wanted someone to think "Hey, yeah, I did complain about those prompts in Left 4 Dead, and... maybe someone needed them. Maybe someone must have been thinking that I'm a real dick for wanting to take something away from them that helps them play a game." and that would have been a success.
The reason I singled PC gamers out is because this does happen, and the accessibility options Left 4 Dead and how people reacted to them is pretty much what I mean. Do you remember how much screaming there was about them? I do. People screamed about the 'consolisation' of Left 4 Dead. They didn't stop to think "Hey, these might be for accessibility concerns." and really... to me it was just a train wreck, I didn't have the courage to step in and say "Uh, those are accessibility options."
And that's what I mean. I'm trying to create a paradigm shift here by getting people to think outside of their own boxes. And if you people can't do that, then I don't know who could.
Last edited by Wulf; 03-12-2011 at 07:15 PM.
03-12-2011, 07:38 PM #8
You can also add control schemes to accessibility. What keeps many away from current games is the lack of accessible controls. Many people playing Mario on the NES are now playing Angry Birds because they find grabbing an xbox controller daunting. I know that's not something many current games can solve, but still something to be considered."So dark le con of man"
03-12-2011, 07:40 PM #9
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Either way I don't understand how i lack empathy or i'm being close minded. Consider your point that PC gamers are in some way to blame: it's just a completely counter-intuitive position. I don't feel strongly opposed to what you say - i feel baffled. When gamers ask development studios to stop releasing console ports with crappy GUIs, there is no hidden agenda and they do not in any way, intentionally or not, conflict with people who have disabilities! Game devs do not make hideous, space-consuming GUIs to help disabled people either - they do it because they're lazy and it costs nothing to port assets over! The correct position to take is to request devs to include the option for impaired-friendly features. If it means console GUIs, then there's no reason why they wouldn't include it as a selectable alternate - it doesn't cost them anything.
My point about transference is that you seem pretty impassioned to the point that I suspect this GUI thing has specifically annoyed you personally because of whatever impairment you have and that it makes sense to vent your frustration but you're directing it to the wrong target: aim for the devs, not gamers; it wasn't a slight against you.
Last edited by hamster; 03-12-2011 at 08:20 PM.
03-12-2011, 08:53 PM #10
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It is a bit odd how little awareness there is about accessibility issues among many game designers. I saw a thread on one of the Paradox forums regarding the difficulty red/green colour blind people have with the fact that Paradox use the colours to indicate positive and negative modifiers. Something that is easily fixable by simply using some other indicator as well as the colour, but had apparently never occurred to them in the years they've been using the system - judging by the post made by a developer thanking them for raising the issue.
I imagine a majority of their players are men, around 7-10% of whom are red/green colour blind and will have been struggling with this. But it just never occurred to them.
While some accessibility issues would require a significant investment of developer time to address, many of them are simply the result of arbitrary choices made by people who are simply unaware of the possible problems. A bit of awareness raising could really help a lot of people. So I think this is a very good thread, and I agree it would be nice to see RPS looking at the issue.
03-12-2011, 10:37 PM #11
It's sad but not altogether surprising that this type of lack of awareness exists - in the "real" world it's only relatively recently that buildings and other public places have started to deliberately cater for people with accessibility problems. Even then it had to be coded in to the law to make it happen in any sort of consistent way and those with disabilities still suffer from prejudice and social exclusion in various walks of life, a lot of which is not deliberate but rather arises from thoughtlessness or lack of education.
It strikes me that to some extent complaining about game interfaces is a bit of an internet bandwagon issue at the moment, tied in with the whole thing about "consolisation" and I think Wulf's point about L4D is a good one - I wouldn't complain about it any more than I would complain about the ATM in an office I used to work in being placed quite low down to cater for a number of wheelchair users based in the building.
I wonder if one way around the issue might be that as well as making interfaces scalable and re-colourable, providing for control remapping, FOV adjustment and so on (none of which I suspect would be hugely complicated or expensive in most if not all games) that interfaces should be moddable (in World of Warcraft for example, using a few mods can drastically change the size, shape, layout, look and feel of the UI with no impact at all on any other aspect of the game, so this would be workable in a MP environment). I guess a disadvantage of this is that devs would then feel that they could rely on the community to fill in the gaps and might continue to be careless.
Gaming, especially on the PC is something that can ignore geography and bring people together in all kinds of fun ways, and I hate the thought that anyone is being needlessly excluded, especially in this day and age. I therefore have no problem in supporting what Wulf is saying - yes we need to be telling it to the devs, but there's nothing at all wrong with drumming up some support from the home crowd too!There is nothing more powerful than a bad idea who's time has come...
03-12-2011, 10:48 PM #12
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Accessibility is very important, even if you're not disabled as such. I'm left-handed and when controls systems are designed for only right handers (i.e. without decent control remapping) then I find it very difficult to play some games.
We've had some major issues with control binding in some big releases recently - Skyrim and Battlefield 3 for instance, where if you try to bind away from the standard right handed control mappings the control system breaks completely. That's not acceptable.
If it's bad for me, what must it be like for someone who needs a custom control system because of disabilities?
03-12-2011, 10:57 PM #13
What I'm trying to say is, adding options doesn't hurt at all, but forcing everything to cater to the lowest-common-denominator is a bit silly. The reason we don't like huge fonts and console UIs is because they're not as efficient as the UIs we're used to, and we're not given the option to change them. If they help the disabled - or can be modified to help the disabled - great. But such should be added as an option, not rendered the only possible method.