Accommodating for Disabilities in Gaming

In the world of gaming, accommodating those with disabilities is becoming a much bigger concern for both developers and consumers. And when 22% of the population in the UK has a disability, limitation or restriction, it’s easy to see why this has come to the forefront. 

When people talk about disabilities, it’s easy to imagine someone in a wheelchair or with more severe limitations, but these aren’t the only alternative needs. And they most certainly aren’t the only things you need to consider when developing your game.

Below, we list some of the things you should consider to when developing your games and look at examples you can take inspiration from.

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It’s highly likely you were already considering putting subtitles into your game, especially if you’re planning to include cut-scenes, but this is such a great and easy place to start with inclusivity.

60% of gamers use the subtitle feature, even if they’re not hard of hearing – they’re often used by those on their commute.

Make sure that if you are planning on using subtitles in your game, that they’re big enough to read, and that people who may have issues reading certain texts are accounted for (this is covered below).

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This is probably a disability that you hadn’t thought about or realised would have an impact on gaming. However, 4.5% of the UK population is colour blind and so it should be a consideration. Some people have issues with the colours of red and green (deuteranopia and protanopia) and some have issues with blue and yellow (tritanopia). You should consider how issues with these colours may impact on your gameplay. 

For example, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 considered those who are colour blind when developing their online multiplayer mode.  They initially had the team colours as red and green but changed them to red and blue when this was highlighted.

Nintendo also considered those who are colour blind with their Switch console, and with the 3.0 update, allowed users to invert the colours of their console or make it grey scale. Colours being inverted or greyed out helps people who may have reading related disorders as some may find it easier to read light characters on a dark background.

Just remember that these small considerations were not difficult to implement but will have been a huge help to those affected.

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This one is a little bit harder to address. Motion sickness is thought to be caused by conflicting signals from the inner ear, eyes and sensory receptors.

Quite a few games use motion blur when turning to make it look smoother and companies strive to have a high frame rate for those running high-end PCs. Unfortunately, both of these things contribute to motion sickness.  And with VR on the rise, people experiencing the symptoms of motion sickness are likely to rise.

Some companies are trying to find ways to alleviate the symptoms. In Sea of Thieves, the developers added a red dot in the centre of the screen which some people reported helping the sickness. In Resident Evil 7 they added multiple VR related options to help. They have default settings which they recommend, but you can change the walking speed, the camera rotation, acceleration and also smooth crouching.

These are minor adjustments, but there’s a whole lot more research that needs to be done on motion sickness before developers are able to accommodate them completely, but it’s something you should bear in mind if you’re developing a VR-based game.

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An absolutely vital thing to remember is that not everyone has the ability to play games two-handed. There are various ways you can accommodate for this and we’ve included some of the best examples below.

First up is Celeste’s Assist Mode. Celeste is an unforgiving platformer and its challenging nature is what gave it its notoriety. But in an effort to help those who may struggle with the speed of the game, Celeste offers various functions. You can become invincible; you can extend the air-dash ability; and perhaps most impressively, slow down the game entirely at intervals of 10%.

Next, we have Way of the Passive Fist. The developers for this game, Household Games, worked with the charity Able Gamers and asked them how they could help make their game accessible. The solution they came up with together was to ensure that all of the controls can be remapped, allowing for one-handed gameplay.

And lastly (we mentioned this game before) Uncharted 4 also considered those who may suffer from Parkinson’s or arthritis. Uncharted 4 has quite a few sections of the game that require ‘button mashing’ to pass successfully, and to resolve those who may have issues with this, they put in a mode where you can simply hold down a button instead of tapping. 

Again, not many of these accommodations take large amounts of work, but it does require planning. You should plan your alternative needs support when you first start making your game and don’t try to add it retrospectively.

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Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions in the world, and in the UK, 1 in every 100 people will suffer from it. And as the consequences of a seizure can be dire, you need to consider how you plan for this.

Some developers merely put epilepsy warnings on the games descriptions whilst others will notify players during loading screens/before cut scenes.

Ubisoft’s Rayman Raving Rabbids caused a young boy to have a serious seizure, and after the issue was raised by an MP, TIGA produced a booklet on how to prevent seizure episodes within games, which you should definitely check out.

Whilst working on DJ Hero, Shark Infested’s very own Steven Huckle ran the game through a special engine to highlight where the visuals might cause seizures.

If you’re interested in checking your game for this, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to afford a Harding FPA for your game as it’s mostly for commercial use. However, there is the Harding Test which has varying prices, depending on the length of the clip you’re testing (starting at £25 for 2 minutes up to £190 for 240 minutes).

Below you can see what two publishers are doing to help and also read through guidelines which should help with any decisions you need to make.

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Some responsibility in helping developers accommodate those with additional needs falls to publishers, and they’ve been rising to this. Microsoft has launched the Gaming for Everyone movement, and also developed the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which allows you to map controls to it however you want – and to have multiple controller profiles.

EA has created the EA Accessibility Portal. Through this portal, gamers can access a variety of resources, including text-based manuals, guides for playing without vision and other features. We would recommend reading through some examples to see how best to help players access your game.

Finally, there is also the Game Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines offer basic, intermediate, advanced and a full list of the ways you can support inclusive game design. We highly recommend reading through these and at least meeting the basic requirements. They even have a checklist you can download to work out what is relevant to your game and what support you should include.

Unfortunately, as much as developers and gaming are making quick strides towards inclusivity, there’s still a lot more work to be done. As touched on in our article, motion sickness still isn’t truly understood, and there are those with significant impairments who need support beyond in-game adaptions.

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If you want to learn more, you can visit either Special Effect or Able Gamers – both are fantastic charities who are doing work in supporting alternative needs.

Do you think we missed anything? Are there any other ways developers can help support those with disabilities? Let us know!