An Accessibility Guide For Game Designers

Have you ever felt the punch in the gut when someone tells you they would love to play your game, it’s their favorite genre after all, but they are color blind and couldn’t get past the first level?  Maybe you  saw a tweet from a fan who wanted to try your game, but feared the bright flashing might trigger an epileptic seizure.  And in that moment, you knew a simple code change could make the game playable for them but it never occurred to you before now.

Sound has always been an issue for me.  I’m deaf in one ear, and using sound to locate an object in game, or even react to a sudden event is hard.  My deaf ear has tinnitus so I don’t hear all frequencies the same.  Yea, deaf with tinnitus – I’m like some hearing impaired lottery winner.  I once had my PC sitting on my desk next to my deaf ear, with a fan squealing for the sweet release death.  I never noticed it until someone asked how I could stand it.  I’m really bad at knowing when my truck’s brakes need replacing too.

I’ve never met a game designer who, upon learning of the impact a disability had on their game didn’t want to fix it.  I’m sure there is one, I’ve just never met them.  Even the highest “games are art” designers want to include everyone in their design.  And pro tip – inclusive game design is always better than exclusive.  Saying “well, the game isn’t for them” is just being lazy when “them” means a group of players based on gender, race, or disabilities.  Just because someone is deaf doesn’t mean they don’t want to play rhythm games.

The problem is knowing these things in advance.  It’s no easy task to understand a wide array of disabilities let alone how you can handle them in your design.  Some are obvious, such as a toggle to disable flashing graphics for light sensitive gamers.  Others less so, like re-mappable joystick and keyboard control to support specialized input devices for gamers with limited hand movement.

With the launch of the Game accessibility guidelines website however, things just got a lot simpler.  This site not only describes several areas of disability, but also offers suggestions for solutions.  The site is broken down into levels as well, from basic to advanced.  This gives the game designer a way of ranking in priority which issues should be handled first.  Ideally everything would be covered, but this this may not be possible for all games and sometimes deadlines force features to be cut.

I encourage everyone reading this to go and read over the full site at least once.  Just having the info in your subconscious will help during the design process.  I also want to say thanks to Cathy of IndieGamerChick.  Talking publicly about her disabilities cannot be easy, but her courage in doing so has directly lead to sites like the accessibility guidelines and educating game designers who have added support to their games for gamers with epilepsy.

Now go forth and make better games.  They still may not be fun, but they can not be fun to a wider audience of gamers!


Leave a comment