“Honey, dinner is ready,” Mom shouts.
“In a minute mom!” He yells back. “I’m in the middle of a hard level.”
As he repeatedly smashes the buttons on the controller, he’s losing the battle and his mother’s patience. Picture this, quarantine just started a week ago and you’re working from home during this pandemic. Some of us are finally able to catch up on our favorite shows, movies, books, or puzzles. But, that’s not the part some of us are looking forward to. Some of us are looking forward to locking ourselves up for hours and sneaking in some extra time playing video games. Before you know it, you're obsessed with getting as much gaming as you can before anything else or after completing work. For me, that was short-lived as my Playstation 3 crashed due to a memory server being affected a week into quarantine. Great. But this post isn’t about how others were able to continue playing video games at the beginning of the pandemic when I couldn't because of a broken Playstation. It’s about gaming in the disability community.
The Worldwide Community of Gamers
According to Xbox, there are over 400 million gamers with disabilities. Four hundred million people with disabilities across the planet enjoy video games just as much as I do. These are people who have a passion for getting online and connecting with others across the world and being able to showcase their skills.
Tara Voelker is Senior Xbox Game Studio Accessibility Lead & GAConf Co-Director for Xbox. In her 2020 keynote talk at John Slatin AccessU, Tara shared her insights about the benefits of gaming for people with disabilities. “Seventy-four percent of gamers with disabilities, as part of the survey, said that they were playing games for social interactions,” Tara said. “Real-world accessibility challenges can provide in-person social connections. But those barriers can completely disappear for video games.”
Gaming has allowed people with disabilities to do things in a virtual space that they might struggle with within a physical environment. It allows them to connect and create friendships, overcoming social anxiety. You might think that all of the challenges faced by people with disabilities disappear once you are connected online. Well, if you don’t have any kind of background in this industry or haven’t been following along, stay online, get your controller ready, and make sure you've had your snack because it’s about to get real.
Adaptive Controllers and Backwards Compatibility
Let’s start with controllers. Adaptive controllers improve the gaming experience for people with disabilities, but there are still hurdles. According to Vivek Gohil, an accessibility consultant who specializes in controllers, “Accessibility settings need to be accessible. Controller backward compatibility should be a fundamental aspect of new consoles and controllers.” Disabled gamers with hand mobility issues struggle with finding the right controller or, once they have found one, the game console’s software updates, and the controller no longer works. On top of that, if a company comes out with a new console, they probably want you to purchase a new controller to go with it. That’s just one consideration.
Audio Description and Why it Matters
There is a challenge for our friends who are visually impaired or completely blind. Blind gamers want to be actively included. Does this mean they have to go through hurdles to enjoy gaming? If Mr. Rogers can announce every time on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood that he is feeding his fish because a 5 year old girl who is blind was concerned about the fish, then the gaming industry can step up to include people who are visually impaired or blind. There have been improvements along the way, but because it's good doesn't mean it can’t get better. The video game company Ubisoft is working on changing the narrative in the industry. Ubisoft provides a good example of audio description in their video game, Valhalla. “Another detail that Ubisoft wanted to ensure was described was the brief appearance of a cat in one Valhalla trailer, There's a one-second scene where the hero pets a cat, and they're [Ubisoft] like, ‘Make sure you've mentioned that he's holding the cat because there's a whole online thing.’ With so much happening on-screen, highlighting such details means the user can be included in the excitement.”
How Captions Benefit the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
A 162 billion dollar industry, according to the Global Video Game Market, can most definitely include closed captioning for those who are hard of hearing and deaf. Ubisoft disclosed, “95% of Assassin's Creed Odyssey players kept subtitles on…and 50% of The Division 2 players are currently playing with them on too.” Many gamers who are deaf or hard of hearing benefit from subtitles even if they are not d/Deaf or hard of hearing. Closed captioning will lead us to our victory!
Learn More About Accessible Gaming at AccessU
All the hours we’ve put into this game, the endless snacks we’ve given ourselves, and the constant temper tantrums we’ve thrown have led to this moment. Now we can have dinner — sorry to keep you waiting, Mom! By dinner, I mean come enjoy the feast in Austin, Texas at the John Slatin AccessU 2022 Conference happening May 9-12 to learn more about gaming accessibility. AccessU will feature sessions on gaming accessibility and other fundamentals of accessible digital design. AccessU is a great way you can get involved in the gaming industry and help make it accessible for all our friends in the gaming community!Get Your AccessU Ticket