The Future of Games Needs to Include Accessiblity / by Benjamin Sawyer

Video games have changed so much since its creation a little less than 70 years ago. Mobile games are becoming more popular than other gaming platforms in 2015. According to Big Fish Games, "The mobile gaming industry was projected to reach a staggering $29 billion in 2015, and then rise to almost double that amount ($45 billion) by 2018."

With mobile devices and groups like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, there is a growth of small market video game developers, and while it is great to have more games on a variety of platforms for gamers, there can also be a downside. 

Big developers seem to have protocols and rules to follow to allow more access in their games, but I want to make this information accessible to gamers, developers, or even game admirers.

What makes a good game? One that is easy to play, right? You would hate if the jump button and shoot button were the same, so do not do that in the programming. But there are other things to keep in mind, too. 

I think it might be best to give an example. Let’s look at The Witness which was released January of 2016 by Thekla, Inc. Johnathan Blow, the creator of Braid (2008), created The Witness with the funds he earned after Braid’s success. The Witness is a puzzle game that takes place on an island. For this game Blow wanted to create something that focused on non-verbal communication. 

However, some of the puzzles left some players out of the game. A few of Blow's puzzles were nearly impossible for color blind people (especially those with Protanopia) to complete. The game also lacked subtitles of ambient noise required to complete puzzles leaving out hearing impaired players from full gameplay.

Blow said that it was not required to complete all puzzles to beat the game, only to see the more final ending. He said that players could read the walkthroughs to the puzzles in order to get the complete ending if they were color blind. While it is nice that players can go to a walkthrough, that should not be the only way that people can enjoy the game.

So what happens to those who were super excited to buy the game they waited eight years for and they have difficulties like this completing it? They can’t return it, being that is a digital download. TheWitness was not advertised with color/audio warnings for players, causing a backlash from the gaming community that feels misled. 

Blow told Kotaku writer Stephen Totilo, "We definitely thought about colorblindness but ultimately there was not much we could do in terms of the individual puzzles. So the approach instead was to ensure the game did not require you to complete any particular area to get to the end. Colorblindness is only an issue with a fraction of the puzzles in the game, and our design focuses these puzzles in a small number of areas, so the workaround is just to skip those areas.”

So if you thought about colorblind gamers you can come up with a solution, right? My thought would be for Downloadable Content (DLC) or a patch to be available to replace those puzzles for people to fully enjoy the game, but no such work has been released to confirm that effort. 

But that was not his main concern when addressing accessibility for his game. Blow told Kotaku writer Totilo that he even considered restricting access to all other gamers by having a puzzle that only colorblind people could solve. Blow said, “We actually tried to put a puzzle in the game that only colorblind people could solve! But we were not able to engineer it because colorblindness is a very individual thing.”

But exclusion is not the answer. Nor should it be. While I may be privileged to have no visual impairments, my brother is color blind. I remember having to help on some of the games he was playing and I could see it frustrated him. I know I would be frustrated if I could not continue where I was in a game because I could not see or hear what the it was telling me to do. I would continue to be upset if I did not know that it was a color puzzle and I had to move on to another section, rely on another person, or look up the answer in a walkthrough because there was no advertisement before the game was released to warn me of those problems. 

So, future developers, indie or not, please do not follow Blow's example. Don’t feel that you have to come up with the solution all by yourself either. There are plenty or resources to help  developers keep their games accessible to all. 

Now, I am not asking for perfection, but awareness can go a long way. A simple thing like a remappable control pad can do wonders for gamers with disabilities. While games are supposed to have barriers for the players to overcome, accessibility barriers can be problematic to the gameplay and overall enjoyment of the product. According to gameaccessibilityguidelines.com, "Accessibility means avoiding unnecessary barriers that prevent people with a range of impairments from accessing or enjoying your output. 15% of the population is disabled, rising to 20% amongst casual gamers."

The website provides helpful tricks for game developers thinking of accessibility in their games by breaking up the material into basic, intermediate, and advanced information. They even provide a breakdown to help those who are audio-, vision-, motor-impaired and more. 

Includification.com is another great resource to help developers think of the different types of players today. The site's content is created by developers and gamers who have disabilities and stresses improving games for everyone. This is a great way to look at accessibility. Everyone plays a game a different way, why not include more ways for them to enjoy the game?

Groups like AbleGamers are present at big gaming conventions like Pax and continue to advocate for accessibility in games. Game Accessibility Guidelines was created by Ian Hamilton and he travels around the world on behalf of accessibility and consults with game developers on the matter. 

There were 374 games funded through Kickstarter in 2015, double the amount of games in 2014 according to Big Fish Games blog, let’s try to make them as accessible as possible for all to enjoy from here on. 

To read more about accessibility and games check out http://www.polygon.com/features/2014/8/6/5886035/disabled-gamers-accessibility