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Accessibility in Video Game Design – Leveling the Playing Field

Several months back a Super bowl commercial featured a boy named Owen playing on Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller (Xbox). Microsoft has been committed to improving accessibility across their products which includes their gaming product, Xbox. The Adaptive Controller by Xbox was created through partnerships with The AbleGamers Charity, The Cerebral Palsy Foundation, SpecialEffect, Warfighter Engaged, and community members.

A little creativity goes a long way with accessibility. Game features such as voice chat is a barrier than can be solved with speech-to-text AI transcriptions. VR has the potential to create opportunities in accessibility as well. On Black Mirror’s Striking Vipers episode, (which has nothing to do with the plot of the episode but is a nice addition) the main character has a leg problem which doesn’t affect him once he enters the VR game environment.

People who aren’t dealing with certain physical or mental disabilities can have a hard time conceptualizing how certain game features affect others. Splatoon is a game by Nintendo where the main gameplay involves coloring your arena in as much of your colored ink as possible. To compete, you have to differentiate your team’s ink color from your opponent’s ink color. Splatoon has a color-blind mode for those who have a hard time differentiating which allows users to “Colour lock”, restricting ink colours to specific combinations.

Fortnite by Epic Games helps people hard of hearing with an option to translate the sounds of footsteps and gunshots into visual signals.

Video games can also do better with representation, though some forms do exist. In the Sly Cooper series, a turtle character named Bentley is the “brains” of the team. At the end of the second game, Sly 2, Bentley loses the use of his legs. Sly 3 features him as a playable character in a highly modified wheelchair. In Overwatch, the character Symmetra is autistic.

Despite the strides in recent years for widespread representation of disabilities and greater product accessibility, this is still far from the industry norm. Technology is meant to empower all of us, and big companies such as Nintendo or Epic Games should continue to become more socially conscious towards their designs.

For those wanting to know more, here is a general resource on gaming accessibility: https://www.loc.gov/nls/resources/general-resources-on-disabilities/video-gaming-accessibility/

 

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