Recent discussion around the difficulty of games like Dark Souls and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice led to a greater discussion about accessibility in video games. It seems like we’re at a pretty good place now, with companies like Microsoft making special controllers to accommodate players with disabilities, but it also seems like we should all be asking for more in this regard. For starters, why is Microsoft the only one who has a controller like this at the moment?
The Xbox Adaptive Controller is made to assist gamers who have limited mobility. It features two large pads and is highly customizable to meet a player’s needs. This range of customization options is important, too, because everybody’s needs are different. It makes me wonder why Sony, whose games are largely similar to Microsoft’s, is not providing the same level of access?
There are simple enough options companies can take in order to accommodate more gamers. While new accessories are nice, easily implemented options within the games can go a long way. Looking at the Xbox Adaptive Controller as an example, wouldn’t it be nice if all the buttons on the controller could be remapped? On the Xbox One, this is possible. It is not true of all platforms.
Another thing that can be done, that is somehow not consistently applied to games, is to allow for subtitles throughout the course of a game. This would include chatter that happens outside of cutscenes. If possible, it would be nice if sound effects and music were conveyed through text in the way that they traditionally are in television and film. Beyond that, a range of options regarding color and font would be helpful for the visually impaired.
On that note, some gamers would benefit from more options regarding color than simply a meter to adjust contrast and brightness. This would help gamers who are colorblind. Color blindness is a condition that occurs when people are unable to perceive a certain color of light, which results in a difficulty differentiating between different colors. Colorblind filters can consider the more common types of colorblindness and make adjustments, so the visual information important to playing a game is more easily accessed. Games like Overwatch already contain options like this, but it would be nice to see colorblind filters become ubiquitous.
Then, perhaps the simplest way to accommodate players is to change the difficulty options. This can come in a myriad of forms. Developers can change how much damage enemies do. They can change the traits of player characters, so they can be placed on a variety of places on the spectrum between fragile and invincible. They can reduce enemy encounters or make the game adapt to the player’s skill, as was the case in the recent remake of Resident Evil 2. Obviously, this wouldn’t work well with online games that are competitive in nature, but I am of the belief that single player or non-competitive games should be flexible and open their experiences to everyone.
When you get down to it, video games are enjoyed by many and for a lot of different reasons. Not everybody views them as a concrete, definite challenge to be overcome. Some might have different goals or set their challenges differently. People can derive a sense of reward or pride from different things. Others, still, just want to view the game’s world or absorb the story. There is even a blind man named Terry Garret who takes advantage of wonderful sound design to beat the Oddworld games. If we love his hobby, we should want to share it with as many people as possible rather than gatekeeping; otherwise, we’re just jerks, right? If we’re not jerks, then we should insist on inclusivity and accessibility. This is especially true in cases where accommodations are easily applied.