There are well over 3 billion active gamers around the world, making the industry worth more than $380 billion. One-third of these gamers have a disability. As a result, video game creators are focusing much more on making accessibility a priority. Mainstream gaming platforms and individual games are boasting newer and better accessibility features as a result. However, there are still gaps and even setbacks when it comes to making gaming as inclusive as possible.
From oversights to unintended consequences, accessible gaming is an interesting area to consider as more companies aim to make their experiences more inclusive. Here are some of the challenges and recent wins in the gaming community that all can learn from.
Why Accessible Gaming Matters
Not only do statistics make it clear that many gamers have disabilities, but there are some reasons why gaming is particularly important to people with disabilities. For those with disabilities that make leaving the house a challenge, video games offer a “lifeline” that allows them to connect and interact with others. Also, the ability to spend time engaging with loved ones while playing video games provides an alternative for those who can’t participate in some other activities.
There are also misconceptions about gamers who have certain disabilities. Gamers who are blind, for instance, often have people ask them how they’re even able to play. Influencers like Sightless Kombat, or SK, who regularly stream on Twitch, get these questions so frequently that he set up a chatbot to answer the most common queries. In reality, there are many gamers like SK who play video games a little differently but often successfully and who also help to improve access to games by working to identify barriers.
Making games accessible is better for players, but it’s proving beneficial to the gaming companies and creators as well. Some are even winning awards for their efforts.
The Growing Focus on Accessible Gaming
The recent Gaming Awards included a category titled “Innovation in Accessibility,” which recognizes “software and/or hardware that is pushing the medium forward by adding features, technology and content to help games be played and enjoyed by an even wider audience.” In 2023, Forza Motorsport took home that prize. The creators of that game pride themselves on their accessibility efforts. In fact, the series took home this award twice since the category was introduced just four years ago.
Forza Motorsport includes features like subtitles, American and British sign language, color blindness filters and audio description. Now, it has added “Blind Driving Assist,” which makes the game accessible to players with total vision loss.
Accessible gaming extends beyond software, though. Just one day before the Game Awards, Sony released a new Access Controller. Players using the new Play Station 5 Controller don’t need to hold the device. Instead, it can lay flat on a surface. The larger, further-spaced buttons make it easier to use for people who can’t use precision with their fingers. Additionally, the controller is highly customizable so that players can find the best way to use it – whether that means selecting a certain layout or even blocking access to a button to avoid accidental presses.
While these updates show progress, some efforts to boost accessibility haven’t had the desired effect, and there are other accessible gaming areas that need more attention.
The Need for Ongoing Accessibility Efforts
Tekken 8, a game set to come out this month, includes a mode that aims to support players with color blindness. Unfortunately, even before the release, the setting is facing criticism. According to some who viewed the game in this mode, which uses horizontal and vertical lines on characters, the setting caused migraines and vertigo. The fear for some is that the effect may even lead to seizures in players who have conditions like epilepsy.
While the effort to create more inclusive gaming for color blindness is commendable, this time, the company is getting feedback online that their approach isn’t the right way to achieve this goal.
The issue that Tekken 8 highlights is that accessibility for video games is an ongoing challenge. Currently, the requirements and standards aren’t fully set, and the developers finding ways to make their games more accessible must pioneer new approaches.
However, here are some common features that make video games more accessible.
Games should include adjustable captions with speaker names for all dialog to provide better access to players who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
Allow Screen Magnification
Include a screen magnification option to support players who have low vision.
Have a High Contrast Mode
Enhance color contrast throughout the game to accommodate players who are colorblind.
Offer Audio Description
Providing audio descriptions of visuals allows people who are blind or have low vision more context.
Customize Game Speeds and Difficulty Levels
With customizable game speeds and difficulty levels, game designers accommodate players with various disabilities and address differences in processing speeds.
Even with these standard features, games might have barriers that designers don’t immediately recognize.
Checking Video Games for Accessibility
Recently, Keywords Studios, a global gaming services provider, created the Accessibility Quality Assurance (AQA) initiative to advance video game accessibility. By conducting comprehensive evaluative testing, the AQA aims to enhance the gaming experience for players with disabilities. The effort involves consultants, game designers and players with disabilities who collaborate to test for accessibility issues and find solutions.
While large companies in the video space, like Sony or Xbox, are able to create more accessible hardware and software and have internal teams to work on such projects, not every video game studio has those resources. The AQA is looking to provide quality assurance and accessibility testing for every game manufacturer. The more standard solutions and fixed expectations for accessible video games, the better. Organizations that employ gamers with disabilities are the best suited for finding flaws and ultimately making gaming more inclusive.
If you’re interested in finding ways to offer captioning and audio description within your experiences, consider getting in touch with Verbit. Our solutions which are trusted by leading companies and content creators across the world. Verbit’s captioning, transcription, translation and audio description are designed to provide the accuracy levels needed to help make experiences accessible to the many users who rely on them. You can also visit our dedicated hub to learn more about best practices for accessibility.