Everyone is (or should be) concerned by the fact that some of us have disabilities. Sometimes they can’t walk, or stretch their arms. Sometimes they can’t see or hear. Sometimes their disabilities are not even visible. But having a disability always mean some things we consider normal and accessible can’t be done.
As it can be hard to see the world from another perspective, most of game developers tend to forget disabled people exist and want to play. Sometimes they imagine they can’t even play.
Guess what? Disabled people love to play as much as you do. Yet, it’s true, they often can’t play but not because of their disability. It’s because of us. This is our fault. We, game developers, should make our games more accessible to gamers.
100% accessible is not possible
“But making my game playable to people who can’t [insert-a-verb-here] will cost me time, and thus money. Sorry but I can’t do that for so few people.” I heard that a lot. This is a false assumption (aka bullshit) created by fear. Fear of a handicap we don’t know, and thus can’t understand. Fear of adding new things not planed in our todo lists.
Making a game more accessible is often a matter of hours. Sometimes a matter of days. But it’s always rewarding.
Let me be clear here: it’s not possible to make games playable by everyone. But it’s possible to make games playable by more people than they were designed for at first.
Even if 100% accessible games is not possible, focusing on only 3 senses can make your game playable by most of players.
Imagine a match-3 game where the only difference between every jewel/candy/stone/potatoe would be the color. See where I’m going? If you make a search for puzzle games on your phone app store you will find tons of games like that.
Did you know that 10% of the male population can’t distinguish tones in colors? 10%! It means that if you develop a game where players have to differenciate elements based on their colors, 10% of male players won’t be able to play. Who can afford to let so much people being frustrated by his game?
Adding a different shape or visual sign, not based on colors, to game elements will make your game accessible to color blind people. Will it cost you hours of work? I don’t think so.
Feedbacks are essential when it comes to understand what is happening in a game. When Mario jumps, you can see him jumping, but you can also hear the specific sound he makes.
Some game developers imagine sounds as a sufficient way to explain actions, or give feedback. What about people who can’t hear? If a feedback is essential to the gameplay, or the game experience, then it should not rely on one output only.
You can’t find a way to give a feedback to your player? Mix sounds and controler vibration, or camera shakes! If it’s important, players have to know what is happening! Whatever the way!
The game controler is essential. It’s the way players interact / communicate with the game. It’s often very easy to forget that some of us can’t actually have a specific device.
When you work on a PC game, you know there are great chances that players will have a keyboard. What you don’t know is if they can actually use it.
There is a very interesting story about Legend of Grimrock. During the development, the team has decided to not include mouse controls because it was ok in old games, but they didn’t know someone who played using mouse these days. It seemed appropriate. But a player came on the forums to ask for these mouse buttons to come back. He is paralyzed and plays using a stick in his mouth to act on the mouse pad. These two buttons were crucial to him.
The team answered very quickly, and, of course, the missing mouse buttons were here few days later. Can you imagine how this player felt? Almost Human surely won a lifetime fan just because of a mouse pad.
Don’t rely on one peripheral if your game is on PC/Mac. You need to deal with keyboard, game pad, and mouse inputs if your game design allows it. Offering several ways to interact with your game will naturally make it more accessible.
In the end
When you make a game, it’s important to put yourself in a different posture. You have to see the world with the eyes of people who would love to play your game but can’t because of a small difference.
Remember, it’s clearly not possible to make games giving an answer to every disabilities. But with few efforts (and even fewer if you think about it early in the game production) you can let awesome people play your awesome game.
Be sure to visit GameAccessibilityGuidelines.com to learn more about accessibilities in games. There you’ll find very interesting documents on specific disabilities. A must read!