Accessibility

Accessibility in Gaming: Best Practices for Creating Games for Disabled Users


Accessibility in Gaming: Best Practices for Creating Games for Disabled Users

Alongside advancements in things like graphics and haptics, video game designers have set their sights on accessibility features that make video games viable for players with disabilities. And with nearly 70% of all Americans playing video games, it makes plenty of sense for games to be optimized for those who might not see, hear, or interact with the world in the same way as standard video game users.

Of course, accessibility in gaming is about more than just entertainment. Video games are increasingly used in the classroom and in research and health environments as a way to facilitate learning and keep students motivated in their progress. Ensuring that individuals with visual, auditory, or other disabilities have the same access to these tools is tantamount to digital progress, and a major driver of increased gaming accessibility.

Visual Accessibility Features

Because gaming is primarily a visual experience, it’s important for designers to offer adjustments and contrast enhancements that allow those with visual impairments to tweak the game for better usage, as well as features that can also function non-visually. 

Adjustability

  •       Allow user to change font size.
  •       Allow user to adjust contrast.
  •       Allow user to turn background animation on or off.
  •       Allow user to resize interfaces.
  •       Allow user to change field of view.
  •       Allow user to turn off asynchronous camera movements.

Contrast

  •       High contrast between text/UI and background animation.
  •       Provide user with choice of contrast and text color.
  •       Colorblind friendly contrast design.

Other visual accessibility features

  •       Screenreader compatibility and support.
  •       Pre-recorded voiceovers for all text (including menu text).
  •       Easily readable font formats and sizes.
  •       Clear auditory distinctions between different sounds, especially when those sounds are necessary for guiding game play.
  •       Separate volume controls for different auditory effects, including game play text and menu text.
  •       Simple digital control counterparts for all key actions.
  •       All temporary text and other essential information provided within user’s eyeline.

Motor Accessibility Features

Controls that are accessible by all users are vital to building inclusive games. Even video games with seemingly simple controls may present difficulties to individuals with mobile disabilities, and may even render the game unusable. Pay close attention to the way the game is played, and make adjustments where necessary for more inclusive controls. 

Basic game navigation

  •       Ensure all controls are simple, and/or provide users with the ability to simplify control schemes further.
  •       Make control schemes compatible with assistive technology devices and software, such as eye trackers.
  •       Allow user to rearrange and resize interfaces.

Game play

  •       Simplify digital control counterparts for all key actions.
  •       Allow user to modify controls for certain actions when they require a combination of motor behaviors (i.e. toggle up + press A to jump).
  •       Allow user to adjust game speed.
  •       Avoid repeated inputs.

Other motor accessibility features

  •       Allow user to remap or reconfigure all controls to fit their needs.
  •       Allow user to adjust the sensitivity of controls.
  •       Allow user to choose between portrait mode or landscape mode.
  •       Allow for use of alternative controllers.
  •       Post-acceptance delays between inputs.

Auditory Accessibility Features

Auditory improvements for disabled users generally fall into two camps: optimizing game usage for those with hearing loss or deafness and making video games less aurally stimulating for users with hearing sensitivities. 

  •       Include subtitles for all essential and supplementary speech, with subtitles presented in a user’s eyeline and in easy-to-read font.
  •       Ability to adjust subtitles, including placement, color, and font.
  •       Ability to easily turn subtitles on and off.
  •       Subtitles optimized for user’s age range and/or reading level.
  •       Minimized background noise.
  •       Separate volume controls for different auditory effects, including game play text and menu text.
  •       Visual indications that make it obvious which game character is speaking.
  •       Multiplayer text chat and voiceover capabilities.
  •       Multiplayer visual communication capabilities.
  •       Sign language capabilities.
  •       Ensure that any essential information (speech and otherwise) is conveyed in more ways that just by sound.

Best Practices for Accessible Gaming

The lists above are far from exhaustive and offer only a starting point for building inclusive games. These lists provide a snapshot of the overarching practices that guide accessibility in video games. 

Following these practices helps ensure that video games are adequately designed for all abilities, and that users have a wider range of control when it comes to key features that affect how they view, hear, and play a game.

Allow for adjustments wherever possible. Any feature that could be prohibitive to a disabled user should be adjustable. This includes visual components like text size and color contrast, as well as sound volume, control mechanisms, and even how difficult a certain task or level is. 

Equally important is that users can save their preferences so that they do not have to set them every time they return to the game.

Make games compatible with a range of devices. Users should have their choice of controllers, as well as the ability to connect the game to various accessibility devices — including screenreaders, eye trackers, and other assistive technologies.

Provide a range of difficulties. Sometimes making a video game more accessible simply comes down to providing an option for easier game play. Creators should make sure this option is available to users, and that levels vary not just in difficulty of tasks but in simplicity of design and control requirements.

Clearly state all accessibility features. It’s always better to let players know ahead of time what accessibility features are included in a game. All games should come with a list of relevant accessibility information, either on the packaging itself or on an associated website (and with the latter route, URLs should be included on the packaging with a clear notation that users can look there for accessibility information).

Thoughtfully addressing the needs of all gamers means looking at features big and small and coming up with ways to make them as accessible as possible without sacrificing the quality of game play. We recommend that game designers have their products manually tested for accessibility so that they don’t overlook any areas where they could better optimize for all potential users.

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