People’s perspective has changed much over time towards disabled people, making us more understanding and accepting of people with disabilities, whether in general or in workplaces. However, there is a long way ahead if we specifically talk about the accessibility and representation of specially-abled people in the gaming world. We need to be more sensitive regarding the representation of people with disabilities in various sectors including the video gaming industry.
The number of gamers has increased drastically over the pandemic as everybody wanted to have fun and make new friends during such unprecedented times. Reports show that more than half of the US population plays games, making the gaming industry one of the fastest-growing markets over there. Also, around one-fourth of the US population suffers from some kind of disability so it is critically important to consider their participation. Let’s look at what kind of challenges they face and what can be done to improve their gaming experience.
Difficulties Faced by Disabled Gamers
Players with disabilities face several kinds of challenges while playing fast-paced games that require instant responses. For instance, some might feel uncomfortable playing games with multiple controls due to hand disabilities, their hands might not move accordingly hence preventing them from winning. This would be very frustrating for them to keep playing. They might need foot controllers to play efficiently. And for those with both hand and foot disabilities, developers should focus on designing controllers that can be accessed via eye motions or mouth-controlled devices.
People who have prosthetic arms or legs find it difficult to react on time in fast-paced games; it is essential to design custom controllers that are prosthetic-friendly to acknowledge the needs of individuals with different physical abilities. Another problem that arises for specially-abled people is that they are more likely to have lower incomes and suffer poverty. Above that, special devices cost them a fortune and make it harder for them to buy.
Developing accessible gaming tables and controllers will require the establishment of certain standard controls for different inputs in a more convenient way for the gamer.
How can we Improve Accessibility?
Xbox Adaptive Controller(XAC) is one of the advancements toward achieving the goal of accessibility of games for all. It allows you to connect to a hub through external devices such as buttons and joysticks to provide a traditional way of playing. The XAC can be customized according to a player’s needs and it comes with an option to manage three controller profiles to assist players based on their needs and the games they’re playing. The idea behind accessibility is to develop games and gaming devices that will allow more people to experience the joy of gaming. It showed the industry that there is much more to gaming, and making it accessible for all through innovative and creative ideas is absolutely possible.
There is a need to develop more products like this one so that disabled people who could not play earlier also have a chance to participate. However, some game developers have always put accessibility at the forefront while developing games. One such example of a game that has been appreciated for its accessibility features is The Last Of Us Part II (Playstation game). This game provides more than 60 customizations according to the gamer, hence making it accessible to a wider range of populations and people with disabilities. Moreover, it also has a text-to-speech option for gamers with low vision.
Microsoft has also released a text-to-speech feature to increase accessibility to disabled gamers. Microsoft even provides a ‘best practice’ manual called the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines 2.1. This manual contains all its accessibility requirements for playing Xbox. The developers are provided with a certain checklist to keep accessibility in mind while developing a game. It helps them in understanding the difficulties gamers might feel during a game and how to eliminate those barriers. For instance, the ‘text display’ chapter in the manual consists of difficulties people with low vision might feel during a game, and the developers would try to eliminate those difficulties through some special features such as text-to-speech. Furthermore, taking the opinions of people with disabilities while developing a game would be a really good strategy to make games more accessible.
Microsoft has a platform, “Xbox Accessibility Insider League (XAIL)”, that is involved in taking into account the advice of players with disabilities. Their main motive is to empower gamers to play the games of their choice and on whatever device they want. This helps in developing communities of gamers to make them feel welcome and acceptable in the gaming world, by creating safe spaces for their representation. Microsoft also enables a feedback system for gaming communities to report accessibility features they didn’t like.
There are third-party input devices available that can be plugged separately into the XAC to design an ideal device that suits your needs. Logitech is a company that manufactures an Adaptive Gaming Kit that includes large buttons, light-touch buttons, small buttons, and pressure-sensitive controls that will help you in customizing your own XAC setup that suits your requirements.
What about Representation?
Although the accessibility of games has clearly improved over time, has representation been given equal time and effort in the gaming industry? Can you recall any character with a disability in any of the games? However, PBS KIDS has taken a step forward to represent children with disabilities in their online games and TV shows. Their games and shows represent people with different genders, ethnicities, and disabilities to teach children about the accessibility and representation of people from all over the world. However, there is still a lot to be done in terms of games for adults to increase representation as there is hardly a game that has a disabled character in it.
There are not enough examples of representation of disabled people in the gaming world, but there are some games that have given acknowledgement to them in some manner– Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a deaf character who speaks ASL, it is then shown and translated via subtitles. Another example is Marvel’s Avengers– in which a wheelchair user is shown and wheelchair movement is precisely depicted using motion capture of an actual person using a wheelchair. It is crucial to increase the participation of all kinds of people belonging to different communities to give them enough respect and representation, and they deserve more gaming platforms that take care of their needs.
We have started considering the participation of disabled people but still, a lot needs to be done. Developers are taking into account accessibility but representation matters too. Gaming is all about friendship and compassion, while some might regard their participation as an insignificant issue but we should be sensitive enough towards other people’s feelings. No matter what is the gender, ability, race, or ethnicity of an individual, they deserve accessibility, representation, and sophisticated gaming setups.