Making Accessible Games – Games for All, All for Games
Get to know how to make games accessible to people with disabilities.
When Developing a game for everyone it’s incredibly important to make the game accessible to people with disabilities too. This December 3rd, while the world celebrates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we as game developers have a mission to produce games that can be enjoyed even by people with disabilities without any hardships. Because no one should miss out on Fun. But how can you, as a developer, make your games accessible to all? Let’s start by Understanding “What is Accessibility?” and it’s importance.
According to Wikipedia “Accessibility can be viewed as the "ability to access" and benefit from some system or entity.” Even though you might think your game is easy enough to pick up and play there are people with special needs who need to go through a lot of hassle to play your game. To create solutions for people with disabilities we need to list out the types of Accessibility you’d need to provide in your games to cater to all the different special needs.
TYPES OF ACCESSIBILITY
There are 4 Primary Types of Disabilities-
Motor – This category comprises people who have limited or total loss of motor abilities. This could be a cause of accidents, birth defects, degenerative neurological conditions, etc, which could lead to inadequate control over body movements. As a gamer, the player could face difficulty in controlling the game the way it was meant to be controlled. This could also result in the game becoming unusable for people with motor disabilities.
Visual – This comprises of people with either partial or complete loss of vision, color blindness, and other vision-related disabilities. People with such disabilities require special methods to receive visual cues in a game. Since most of the games are graphics driven it is one of the most common accessibility features to be implemented in a game.
Auditory – Lack of hearing, Partial or complete, and inability or difficulty in speech is the disability that falls in the auditory category. This poses a difficulty for a gamer with an auditory disability by refraining the player from getting any proper auditory cues or prevent the user from understanding the spoken lines in the game.
Cognitive – It refers to the neurological problems and disabilities affecting any mental processes. This can pose problems like the player missing out on key information, improper inputs due to lack of muscle and neurological coordination, etc.
MEASURES TO TAKE FOR MAKING ACCESSIBLE GAMES
Remapped controls and Macros One of the major concerns for people with Motor Disabilities is inaccessible controls. Remapping of controls solves the issue by giving people access to alternative controls which is suitable for them. For example, a person with a disability, lacking the right arm, can remap the mouse inputs to a keyboard eliminating the use of mouse buttons. Extra specialized hardware is also available as input devices which the user can use to control the mouse cursor. This way the user can eliminate the use of a mouse altogether.
Controls sensitivity adjustment For some users, sensitive controls can prove a hindrance and they might need to lessen the control’s sensitivity. For example, people suffering from conditions that cause their muscles to twitch or spasm need to lower the sensitivity of the controls to avoid unwanted inputs.
Multiple Input device support As stated earlier in the remapping of controls, having multiple device support is essential so that the player can use any input device that suits their need. Also, having multiple input device support expands the avenue for using the specialized input devices catering to the needs of the player having disabilities.
Avoiding fast repeating inputs Players with limited motor abilities can miss out on some functions of games which have the user press a button repeatedly or swipe in a particular direction in quick succession. As an alternative accessibility mode, the developer can remap the specific input to a single button click to provide effortless gameplay to the player.
Font and Formatting Players with limited vision or low vision can find it hard to read smaller font sizes and bad formatting. Having adjustable font sizes and proper formatting can help the player avoid such shortcomings.
Contrast adjustment Games low on contrast can also result in lower visibility. Having high contrast modes and contrast adjustments can help the player dial in the perfect contrast values for effortless gameplay.
Color Blindness Accessibility One of the most common Visual accessibility settings is a color blindness mode. This helps people with color blindness differentiate and recognize important game elements properly without being unfair to them.
Surround sound support Surround sound support could help the player to be aware of the environment with proper auditory cues which helps the player to make certain important decisions quicker without a proper visual representation of the game scene. For example, a player with a limited visual disability can recognize the direction of an approaching enemy without having to see the enemy’s visuals on the screen.
Text-to-Speech Accessibility People with total or partial visual disabilities can turn to Text-to-Speech for having the words on the screen read out to them. This is especially important for primarily word-based games.
Closed Captions and Subtitle Customization Closed Captions is a common yet effective way of portraying the sounds in a certain visual to people with auditory disabilities. Closed captions don’t simply mean subtitles as it also includes the descriptive text of all the sounds audible during a visual. Subtitle customization is also essential to provide extensive control over the visual of the Closed Captioning. Language support is also an essential part of Closed Captions by providing the player with the language he/she is comfortable with.
Haptics support Ensuring that no essential information is conveyed through sounds alone is also important for the player having auditory disabilities as it might obstruct essential information from them. Having Haptic feedback is a good method of conveying essential information as an alternative to the use of sound.
Low Background noise during a speech People with limited hearing abilities can find it difficult to distinguish between spoken words when there is too much background noise during sequences including speech. Trying to keep the cut scenes or in-game audio free of any noise can be helpful in these situations.
Stereo and Mono Toggle Some people have hearing disabilities with one ear and can miss out on essential information if the headphones are set to stereo. Setting it to mono can help them listen to all the auditory information with both ears equally and hence stop them from missing out on anything. To show spatial awareness in such situations the developer can add haptic feedback to show the spatial information instead.
Text Chat support Since multiplayer support brings together people from many demographics together it’s essential to avoid any unfair advantage to a specific group. So adding text chat support can help people with disabilities communicate properly and effortlessly with other players, hence creating a fair play environment.
Avoiding Speech as the primary input Auditory disabilities are not only about hearing disabilities but speaking too. So keeping speech as the primary input can stop players with speech disabilities from playing your games. Refraining from using speech as the primary input for any of your functions is a good choice. If your game is primarily a speech-based game then having an alternative control is a good measure to ensure everyone has access to the game.
Low Volume threshold for speech inputs If you must have speech inputs it’s a good measure to keep low volume thresholds for your speech inputs so that the player can trigger the response without any hassle. Also include settings to control the threshold so that the player can adjust the input threshold to his/her specialized needs.
Usage of Simple Language Specific conditions like dyslexia can hinder a player’s ability to read long and complex sentences. So refraining from using unnecessary complexity and length can help players with these disabilities to play the game without any discomfort.
Text Prompts accessibility Allowing players to progress through text prompts at their own pace gives them time to fully read and understand the written texts. This would help them to not miss out on any important information. Also providing text prompts and markers to show mission and key points can help the player pinpoint the exact task at hand at the current instant in the game.
Avoiding Flickering imagery and Patterns Some players may be susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy which can cause severe discomfort to the player. Avoiding flickering imagery and repetitive patterns can help eliminate these issues. However, if it is a must for the game to have a specific sequence that could trigger photosensitive epilepsy it’s a good measure to give a warning and an option to turn off the display during that period to avoid any unwanted discomfort.
Access to Sandbox levels Some players with Cognitive disabilities may find the pacing of the tutorials ineffective and it may result in them not being able to play the game efficiently due to lack of context and practice. Sandbox levels can help the player polish up the skills and practice to the full extent without failure to get up and running with the game. This would in turn provide a more satisfying experience for them.
Access to the replay of narrative and instructions A replay of narrative and instructions help a great deal for players with cognitive disabilities, especially people with short term memory impairments, to understand the game properly. Players with disabilities like ADHD can also benefit from replaying instructions. This along with the Sandbox levels can help the players get familiar with the game.
Clear Indication of interactive elements Both Visual and Auditory cues can help a person with cognitive disabilities to ascertain interactive elements more effectively. Having distinct audiovisual cues associated with certain interactions and actions helps the player provide better response events to be triggered via the interaction. For example, a proper association with a sound can help a blind player trigger the interactions at the perfect time without any visuals, hence providing satisfying gameplay. However, having too many auditory and visual cues can be distracting for some players who might not need such accessibility features, so having a toggle in the settings for these accessibility features would provide fair gameplay to players with or without disabilities.
Access to Game Speed Customization Although providing Game Speed Customization isn’t something every game can have it surely is extremely helpful for players with cognitive disabilities. This is especially helpful for players who have slower reaction times either due to some disability or old age. Reaction time reduces with age so having game speed customization caters to your audience of all age groups.
Even though the life of people with disabilities is unfathomably difficult they have all the rights to all the little happiness like the rest of us. We as game developers should make it a mission to make the games we make as accessible as possible so that no one misses out on any happiness. This covers some of the measures you can take as a developer to implement accessibility in your games. For more information you can visit the website of Game Accessibility Guidelines. For more such tips and tricks you can watch GMTK’s series on Designing for Disabilities.