One of the things that a great many games have in common is that they are visually rich and actually require a keen visual sense in order to play them. In this post, I’ll briefly review the idea of accessible gaming in the sense of accessible video games, hopefully as a springboard for a series of posts that explore some of the design principles around accessible games, and maybe even a short accessible game tutorial.
So what do I mean by an accessible game? A quick survey of web sites that claim to cover accessible gaming focus on the notion of visual accessibility, or the extent to which an unsighted person or person with a poor vision will be able to engage with a game. However, creating accessible games also extends to games that are appropriate for gamers who are hard of hearing (audio cues are okay, but they should not be the sole way of communicating something important to the player); gamers who have a physical disability that makes it hard for the player to use a particular input device (whether that’s a keyboard and mouse, gamepad, Wiimote controller, or whatever.); and gamers who have a learning disability or, age or trauma related cognitive impairment.
The Game Accessibility website provides the following breakdown of accessible games and the broad strategies for making them accessible:
- Gaming with a visual disability: “In the early days of video gaming visually disabled gamers hardly encountered any accessibility problems. Games consisted primarily of text and therefore very accessible for assistive technologies. When the graphical capabilities in games grew, the use of text was reduced and ‘computer games’ transformed into ‘video games’, eventually making the majority of mainstream computer games completely inaccessible. The games played nowadays by gamers with a visual disability can be categorized by 1) games not specifically designed to be accessible (text-based games and video games) and 2) games specifically designed to be accessible (audio games, video games that are accessible by original design and video games made accessible by modification).” Accessible games in this category include text based games and audio games, “that consists of sound and have only auditory (so no visual) output. Audio games are not specifically “games for the blind”. But since one does not need vision to be able to play audio games, most audio games are developed by and for the blind community.”.
- Gaming with a hearing disability: “In the early days of video gaming, auditory disabled gamers hardly encountered any accessibility problems. Games consisted primarily of text and graphics and had very limited audio capabilities. While the audio capabilities in games grew, the use of text was reduced. … The easiest way to provide accessibility is to add so-called “closed-captions” for all auditory information. This allows deaf gamers to obtain the information and meaning of, for instance, dialog and sound effects.”
- Gaming with a physical disability: “There are several games that can be played by people with a physical disability. … For gamers with a severe physical disability the number of controls might be limited to just one or two buttons. There are games specifically designed to be played with just one button. These games are often referred to as “one-switch”-games or “single-switch”-games.”
- Gaming with a learning disability: “In order to get a good understanding of the needs of gamers with a learning disability, it is important to identify the many different types of learning disabilities [and] know that learning disabilities come in many degrees of severeness. … Learning disabilities include (but are not limited to): literacy difficulty (Dyslexia), Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) or Dyspraxia, handwriting difficulty (sometimes known as Dysgraphia), specific difficulty with mathematics (sometimes known as Dyscalculia), speech language and communication difficulty (Specific Language Impairment), Central Auditory Processing Disorder(CAPD), Autism or Aspergers syndrome, Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADD or ADHD) and memory difficulties. … The majority of mainstream video games are playable by gamers with learning disabilities. … Due to the limited controls one switch games are not only very accessible for gamers with limited physical abilities, but often very easy to understand and play for gamers with a learning disability.”
Generally then, accessible games may either rely on modifications or extensions to a particular game that offers players alternative ways of engaging with the game (for example, closed captions to provide an alternative to spoken word instructions), or they may have been designed with a particular constituency or modality in mind (for example, an audio game or game that responds well to a one-click control). It might also be that accessible games can be designed to suit a range of accessibility requirements (for example, an audio, text-based game with a simple or one-click control).
In the next post, I’ll focus on one class of games in particular – audio games.