As an industry, I think we’d all like to consider gaming something that’s accessible for people of all ages and abilities. And for the most part, I suppose we’d be right. We’re playing with a medium that offers pretty much something for everyone. However, I think we’ve been more than a bit blinkered in our acceptance of what gaming is and how accessible it is to the wider community.
This occurred to me late last night, when I chanced across a feature by Brenna Hillier, for VG247. It was about her review for The Witness (I was trying to find out if it’s worth buying, bit late to the party on this one) and how she felt there were things she should have mentioned in it, but didn’t. And while I read those things, it struck me that I’m guilty of the same misdemeanours – I’ve never reviewed a game and thought ‘would this be the same for someone with this disability, or with that physical difficulty?’ and therein lies the problem.
I find myself wondering if games in general are as accessible as we think they are. Sure, they bring people together and allow people who might otherwise not be so social to enjoy that element of life; but when a game is released with segments that make it unable to be completed by someone with colour – blindness or hearing problems, and nothing is said to that effect before its released – you must wonder if it’s something most devs even consider at all when they make games.
The Witness seems as good an example as any, being the one that’s brought the issue to my attention – a rather splendid game involving puzzles of varying descriptions. Some of those puzzles involve listening to ambient sounds in the environment around you – something most of us can do, and probably take for granted, which is why it never occurs to us that not everyone can do that. Puzzles involving colour – rendered unsolvable because a person can’t distinguish certain colours from others. None of this had been mentioned prior to release or before people paid money for it. It makes me wonder, does anyone consider these things when they create games? And if not… isn’t it about time they did?
Overall, society has come on leaps and bounds in terms of using technology to help people at a physical disadvantage to join in with gaming. There are numerous wonderful people like those at special effect – who I rode the London to Brighton for last year – who do amazing work adapting peripherals and developing new tech to allow children and adults alike to carry on doing what they love. It’s brilliant, and heart-warming to witness. But it just makes the whole business more difficult to swallow – if these brilliant people can makes accessible for those with serious physical handicaps, what are we still producing video games that aren’t able to be played in their entirety by people with conditions like colour blindness or hearing difficulties? These are things that could be so easily adapted or changed that it’s difficult to fathom why we aren’t doing it as standard.
Of course, there’s the argument that there are so many games available that are accessible for everyone that this needn’t be an issue worth fighting; but I disagree entirely. That sort of general apathy towards issues that seem minor to some leads to division between groups of people and completely negates the need for inclusion altogether. At the very least, this is the sort of thing that should be made clear when people are buying a product. We go out of our way to label violence, swearing, sex and nudity on game cases; yet something as simple as issues for people with their sight or hearing we still omit.
There’s something to be said for developing any medium for public consumption with an amount of empathy for other people. I think, if we can take small steps, little by little we can create an industry that is all – inclusive without even thinking about it any more. Games that are accessible to everyone should be the norm, not an exception to the rule because the majority aren’t having problems. It would be such a small thing to simply make people aware of potential issues with sight and hearing before they purchase a game. Let’s make it so.