Video games are a very important part of popular culture and have created a strong community with a shared interest. By nature, video games are interactive, and as such require input from the user; it is in these interactions that accessibility issues may arise. However, the diversity of game types, game characteristics, and input modes make the problem of accessibility more complex.
Some of the difficulties gamers may encounter while playing are problems with receiving visual or auditory feedback (such as being unable to see images or hear dialogues), problems giving input to the game due to motor disabilities, or other complex needs that include learning or cognitive impairments.
Depending on the experience the game developers want to give to players, there may be different barriers. Some video games are inherently unable to attain AAA level of the Web Content Accessibility 2.1 Guidelines (for example, if they require pointer input), but this has not stopped progress.
The diversity of video games and the challenges they present is what makes any “universal answer” impossible: adaptations that may work very well for a deaf or hard of hearing person may leave a visually impaired gamer out. For a long time, it was the user’s responsibility to try to overcome barriers, such as with custom or adapted hardware and controllers; this has changed greatly in recent years.
One of the most important initiatives is the Game Accessibility Guidelines, a collaborative effort of studios, specialists, and academics aimed at game developers. They have Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced accessibility criteria in six different categories: general, motor, cognitive, vision, hearing, and speech. If accessibility is considered from the beginning, it is less likely to cause problems later, when the game is already partially developed.
Recently, there have been big initiatives that seek to encourage accessibility features in video games. The “Innovation in Accessibility” category was introduced in The Game Awards 2020 edition; the creation of special groups on the topic, like the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Special Interest Group on Game Accessibility, has led to the inauguration of the GAConf Awards, with 18 categories focused solely on video game accessibility. Other important initiatives are websites like “Can I play that?”, a platform that keeps disabled gamers in mind when reviewing and covering industry news.
Although the road to full accessibility is long, recent developments include feedback from gamers with disabilities in the conversation, resulting in features that not only them, but all gamers can benefit from. Contact IA Labs today for more information on how to start prioritising accessibility when developing video games.