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Accessible Gaming Wish List

 

There are 20 wishes spread evenly across four different categories of accessibility. That's a lot, we admit, but no-one expects all of these to make it into any one game, and many overlap. For a game designer to include even just one item from each list would be a wonderful start.

Cognitive Related Accessibility

  1. Openly describe accessibility features: Supply easy access to help file that can be read out loud by a PC screenreader. This file should open with: A brief synopsis of your game; an indication of the degree of comprehension and reaction speed needed to play; a breakdown of the cognitive related accessibility features that have been included, as you best understand. Make this information publicly and clearly available in advance of purchasing or downloading your game, either online or by request. People who often face barriers in gaming need to know how likely they are to be able to play your game. Let them know.
  2. Game menu accessibility: Can menus be easily navigated with a simple control scheme? Is there a quick-start method? Is there consideration for those who cannot read English?
  3. Broad difficulty level adjustment: Offer a way to meaningfully adjust the difficulty level of a game to suit the player. Consider extending time, increasing powers, reducing obstacles and so on as appropriate. Consider making what might be considered 'cheats' to some, available as accessibility options. Consider gamer assist modes, such as autotargeting in a first person shooter and steering correction in a driving game to help recover from a spin.
  4. Speed control: Give consideration to people with slower reactions. Could extra or unlimited time be offered in the likes of quiz game Buzz!? For a game with QuickTime Events such as Shenmue, could these be slowed, automated or removed if required? Could the entire gameplay environment be slowed, as is possible with The Pyramid and Shoot 1UP? Offering speed control options not only benefits those with slower reaction times due to physical and/or cognitive reasons, but many visually impaired players too who may need more time to scan the screen in front of them.
  5. Training, playground/sandbox and experimental modes: Trainer levels can help people become more proficient at areas they are struggling in, as well as giving easier access to favourite areas of a game. Sandbox, freeplay and 'doodle-city' areas can free players from the constraints of game missions and rule sets, giving them a much less pressured way to get used to the game controls and/or environment. And they’re normally a lot of fun at whatever ability level.

Hearing Related Accessibility

  1. Openly describe accessibility features: Supply easy access to a help file that can be read out loud by a PC screenreader. This file should open with: A brief synopsis of your game; an explanation of what degree of hearing is needed to play it; a breakdown of what hearing related accessibility features have been included as you best understand. Make this information publicly and clearly available in advance of purchasing or downloading your game, either online or by request.
  2. Include individual volume controls if beneficial: If your game plays music and sound effects simultaneously, offer a way to adjust the volume of each separately, down to silence. Give thought to making essential sounds and spoken dialogue as clear as you can, otherwise parts of a story, rules or events may be lost on hearing impaired players. This option can also be considered a cognitive related accessibility feature as it can help improve players to comprehend what is going on. 
  3. Include subtitles/closed-captions for all spoken dialogue: Use coloured text to help denote different speakers, and ideally include captions for essential and mood setting sounds and music. 
  4. Synesthesia (sound alternatives): Use alternative sensory feedback such as visual effects, text or force feedback linked to your sound. Think about what is lost in the game experience with the sound muted or turned off, then try to put it back via alternative output. 
  5. Make your game playable with no sound and no microphone: Ensure your game can be played through with the sound off, via good design choices. Make use of visual or tactile alternatives to sounds that are essential to the game, and impossible or unfair to do without. Include all of the above to a high standard. If appropriate, offer an alternative method of communication for players unable to make use of a headphones and microphone setup as detailed in Controller/Physical Related Accessibility, Step 4, 'Alternative Controller Access'. 

Input Related Accessibility

  1. Openly describe accessibility features: Supply easy access to a help file that can be read out loud by a PC screenreader. This file should open with: A brief synopsis of your game; an explanation of what degree of physical ability is needed to play it; a breakdown of what input related accessibility features have been included such as what type of controllers can be used and what degree of mobility/movement is needed as you best understand. Make this information publicly and clearly available in advance of purchasing or downloading your game, either online or by request. Even one accessibility feature from this list is a good thing to be sharing.
  2. Allow players to reconfigure their controls: This takes into account players who are uncomfortable with the standard preset control scheme/s, such as people finding it impossible to reach shoulder buttons, etc. For those using custom built and alternative controllers, reconfigurable controls can make play possible and comfortable. Seek to make control remapping options as versatile as you can.
  3. Simplify controls. Seek to offer a control scheme for both menus and game play that does not over-complicate things, and ideally uses as few controls as necessary. Consider assist modes to further simplify things. Contact us for a listing of what we consider a simple control method.
  4. Provide alternative controller access: Give gamers a way to play using something completely different from the default controls. A real world example can be found in Wii Mario Kart, which allows users to race using the Wii Remote or via the Wii classic joypad controller. Many people are disabled by the constraints of standard controls, but offering an alternative way in can make the unplayable playable. Consider the following: Some people cannot cope with motion sensor games, but could given access to the same game with a joypad; Some cannot make themselves understood when forced to use a microphone, but could if offered a text, icon and/or emoticon based system of communication; Some might be unable to use a touchscreen but could manage a physical joystick; Some may struggle with a keyboard but could get on well with a pure mouse-based system. Seek to offer at least one alternative method of access. (Technical info for PC game design: Avoid shutting out potential gaming utilties such as Microsoft's Onscreen Keyboard and JoyToKey. Allow compatibility with 'Scan Codes and Virtual Keycodes. Avoid pure 'DirectInput RAW input').
  5. Speed control: Give consideration to people with slower reactions, as detailed in Cognitive Related Accessibility, Step 4.

Sight Related Accessibility

  1. Openly describe accessibility features: Supply easy access to a help file that can be read out loud by a PC screen-reader. This file should open with: A brief synopsis of your game; an explanation of what degree of sight is needed to play it; a breakdown of what sight related accessibility features have been included as you best understand; any further essential information that may assist play. Make this information publicly and clearly available in advance of purchasing or downloading your game, either online or by request. Be proud of your game’s accessibility, and let people know about it!
  2. Offer broad difficulty level adjustment: Offer ways to adjust the difficulty level of your game. A visually impaired player may need more time to track and take in what is going on, so offering a way to slow the game down can make things more usable. Likewise, visually impaired players might reasonably be expected to make more mistakes in some games, so offering a way to increase lives, time, energy, or whatever is most appropriate, will again even things out and make playing a more enjoyable experience.
  3. Improve menu access for visually impaired players: Many visually impaired and blind players do not get along with the likes of analogue pointer-based user interfaces, finding them unintuitive. Offering stepped navigation of menus via digital controls can make things much easier. Imagine how typical SEGA Megadrive game menus work (if you’re old enough), i.e. accessed via the likes of a d-pad and push button/s or a keyboard. Ideally, supplement this with an explanatory help guide on how to navigate the menus, for example: 'From the startup screen, press down twice then press X to enter the options screen.' This provision takes into account people struggling to make out your menu system, such as those able to read Braille but not written English, dyslexics and so on. Bolstering the digital control method with linked-in sounds, vibration and/or bold visual indicators will help further still. Control method-wise, it’s also all useful for the majority of gamers.
  4. Offer high contrast and high visibility graphics: Ideally offer these as optional features, or integrate them into your game design by default. Take into account colour-blindness and the barriers it can pose. Consider how difficult it would be to play many sports games if both teams look the same. Would accessibility be improved by dimming non-essential graphics or switching them off completely? Is there a way of magnifying/highlighting elements of the game? Is it possible to avoid small or hard to read fonts?
  5. Use speech and audio to aid comprehension: Provide text-to-speech and clear sound effects for menu navigation. Attach unique identifying speech or sounds to essential game objects, elements and occurrences. Imagine a first person shooter where a gateway to the next level opens in the distance. Without an indication that this has happened via a sense other than sight, a visually impaired player may never be aware of it. Consider going as far as adding audio description for scene and context setting. Ultimately, seek to make your game playable without the need for a screen.

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