You’ll often hear developers and publishers discussing how “accessible” a game is. Typically, this is framed in a somewhat generic marketing sense as how easy it is for potential players to get into the game, and primarily concerns issues like learning curve. In recent years, though, a much more specific kind of accessibility is starting to get serious consideration from game creators: accessibility to players with disabilities.
As a designer, it’s important to keep in mind how the player experience will be altered if the player has motor, sensory, or cognitive impairments which change the way they interact with your game. Something as mundane as a QTE, intended to provide a bit of variety in gameplay for most, might be a source of extreme frustration for those who lack the motor skills to button mash. Audio cues designed to create a compelling, immersive sensory experience can be completely gamebreaking if the critical information they communicate is unavailable to players with hearing impairments.
At first, this can all seem a bit overwhelming. There are simply so many kinds of impairments, and so many interactions possible in games, it might seem impossible given all the possible combinations to consider. Fortunately, there are some excellent resources out there that make game accessibility less daunting, and can even help jumpstart you in addressing any potential barriers in your games.
The two primary sources aspiring designers should look to for guidance are Game Accessibility Guidelines and Includification. Created specifically for game creators, these sites simplify the process of figuring out how to make your game accessible by systematically breaking the problem space down into best practices. Rather than having to think through all of your game’s interactions, predict the problems that might occur for individuals with different disabilities, and then figure out how to mitigate them, you can rely on these resources as checklists of sorts. If an item seems irrelevant to the kinds of interactions in your game, then that means you probably don’t need to worry about those sorts of accessibility barriers to players. On the other hand, if it does seem to pertain to a kind of interaction your game uses, then following the concrete recommendation can give you peace of mind that you’re going about the design in the right way.
Additionally, these sites also break the recommendations down categorically by the type of disability they are relevant to, as well as the complexity of the required approach. Working on a quick, rough game and want to make sure you hit all of the easy low-hanging fruit of accessibility? Focus on Includification’s ‘Level One’ suggestions, or Game Accessibility Guidelines’ ‘Basic’ set. Committed to making a game that is fully enjoyable to all players regardless of ability? Look at the more complex guidelines to make sure you’ve got your bases covered.
Another fantastic resource is Game Accessibility Code, a sibling site of Game Accessibility Guidelines. Where the latter focuses on teaching you the what, Game Accessibility Code exists to give concrete illustrations of the how. It is an open collection of public code repositories, written for various development languages, that provide ready-built solutions for common accessibility requirements such as allowing remappable user input or including closed captioning.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the single most valuable resource of all is players themselves. Guidelines and suggestions are excellent starting points, and will often take you most of the way to ensuring universal access in your game. But ultimately, no one knows more about game accessibility than the players it directly affects. Whether you’ve adopted an approach in your game and want some user validation, or find yourself completely stumped with how to make a given part of your game accessible, reaching out to the community of disabled gamers can be a great way to open a beneficial dialogue between you and your potential players. Unstoppable Gamer, the community forum of the AbleGamers Foundation, is full of gamers passionate about play and often eager to help guide you through any deep waters of accessibility you encounter.
Above all, the biggest thing to remember is that accessibility is a very manageable design consideration. Sometimes, making a minor alteration to your design, or including a single additional user option can make a world of difference to your players. And with these resources as a jumping off point, you’ve got the tools you need to make it happen!