I sat down at Rezzed earlier this year and played Proteus, one of the best Indie titles making its way to gamers everywhere. I had to hold down the W key to move and after a few minutes, my finger joint was starting to dislocate and it hurt, a lot. At home I have an old chess piece that I use to put on keys as none of the assistive devices I use will allow me to program a ‘toggle on/off’ for a keyboard key and a heavy weight was the quickest and easiest solution. Developer Ed Key walked over and we had a short discussion about Proteus that drifted to game accessibility and needless to say, shortly after, Proteus no longer required my trusty weight on the key.
I can think of dozens of instances similar to this one where one small change removed a barrier, like the Legend of Grimlock developer Almost Human who added on-screen arrow keys after a gamer who uses a mouth stick to play inquired whether they would have old school movement on-screen arrow buttons as it would make playing the game easier for him. Three hours later, Indie developer Almost Human had added the buttons as an option.
A new website “Game Accessibility Guidelines” launched today and it is “[a] collaborative effort between a group of studios, specialists and academics, to produce a straightforward developer friendly reference for ways to avoid unnecessarily excluding players, and ensure that games are just as fun for as wide a range of people as possible.”
The guidelines are divided into three categories: basic, intermediate and advanced to differentiate between guidelines that are “easy to implement, wide reaching and apply to almost all game mechanics” (basic), guidelines that “require some planning and effort but still just good general game design” (intermediate”, and guidelines that are “complex adaptations for profound impairments and specific niche mechanics” (advanced). There is also a full list for developers aiming to cover all three categories. All categories include general guidelines, as well as those specific to motor, cognitive, visual, hearing and speech.
“The guidelines started really a few years ago as a personal project triggered by work I did whilst at the BBC, which included creating games and products for disabled children. That expanded into advising internal teams and 3rd party game studios on game accessibility, which made me realise firstly to what degree gamers were unnecessarily being shut out by the games industry through lack of awareness, and secondly the huge value that games have: it’s not just about delivering access, it’s about entertainment, culture, socializing, the very things that are the difference between existing and living. Gaming really does have a huge impact on people’s lives,” said Ian Hamilton, accessibility and usability specialist. After requests from working with the wider industry he gathered a group of studios, accessibility experts and academics to develop them further, including Blitz games studios, Headstrong Games, Aardman Digital, OneSwitch and Stockholm University.”