Accessibility in videogames

Videogames are unique among other mediums in that they require active participation from the individual. Therefore without the player the piece of media cannot proceed with its intended purpose. Because of this there is a requirement from the player that they are able to physically interact with the videogame via the designated series of inputs. The problem with this is that if the player has a problem and/or weakness with their senses and/or appendages they will be at a disadvantage.

To a certain extent this has ramifications with other mediums, those with vision problems will have difficulty with film and books and will depend on audio assistance (be it audio description of the use of audio books) or braille. Those with difficulty hearing will depend on subtitles to varying degrees.

Videogames, like TV and home media, come with subtitles as a minimum. However the shift to HD seems to have deteriorated the quality of subtitles. The text themselves are fine (something that can’t be said of TV, especially live TV) but the problem is that they are far too small and sometimes are not clear against the background of the game. These are difficult for people with “normal” sight to read, but for those who also have problems with their sight can make the experience even more difficult.

I am writing this as someone who, not necessarily depends but, benefits from subtitles as with all of the varying sounds that are present can be difficult to make out the speech from the background sounds. As the information that is presented via dialogue can be very important for just playing the game, it is not something that I can miss.

At the moment I am playing Wolfenstein: The New Order which is an enjoyable old school style FPS, but the problem is the subtitles are tiny. Which has the added problem that the subtitles are necessary for all non-German speakers as it is needed to understand whatever isn’t said in English. Furthermore, the menu screens also suffer from using text that is too small. If the game was played at a desk on a monitor it would not be a problem, but sitting on a sofa about a metre away makes this a difficult task.

This is a shame as the visual design in The New Order is both simplistic and captures the essence of what 1960s Nazism might be like. The solution would be to include some kind of scale to allow the player to increase the size of the text, or at least the option to have small or large, in order maintain the spatial order in the design.

Accessibility is a problem with videogames, as those outside the norm are often forgotten. For example  there are many games that default to using red as important colour, which makes it exceedingly difficult for players who are colourblind (which is not exactly rare) to distinguish colours. There are many developers who do include a colourblind setting to reverse this, which is greatly appreciated by those affected, but it is a shame that people still need to vocalise the need for the inclusion of this setting.

Then there are those who have difficulty in operating with the control inputs necessary to play the videogames. PC games have often included the ability to change the control inputs to whatever the player wants. The same is not the norm with console games. Whilst the Wii did not always allow for customisable controls, the very nature of its control inputs were beneficial to many who had previously struggled to play videogames. But the main desire by many players with difficulties in physically operating games was the ability to change the button placements on the controllers. The majority of console games have a set control scheme or multiple set control schemes. There is a reason for this, as the developers will have put a lot of thought into the placement of in game actions to the location on the controller. But for those who have difficulty with operating controllers, the ability to map out the whole controller is especially important, as then they can set out the control inputs to not what they prefer, but what they need.

Videogames are criticised for a range of issues regarding how exclusionary it can be. Whilst the issues mentioned might afflict those who are in the minority, this still results in a lost sale that could have been made, and continues to negatively impact many people based on issues outside of their control. Yet there are solutions and that can be implemented, and have been mentioned here. Some developers have and continue to include these solutions, now it is up to the rest to begin implementing them as well.

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