In the last few years, accessibility in video games has become a much bigger topic than ever before. From videos like Mark Brown’s Designing for Disability to articles on accessible game design, there’s now a huge focus on making sure games are playable by a much larger audience, including those with issues regarding their vision, hearing or motor functions.
It’s an interesting change in the gaming landscape, and one that’s been appreciated by many people affected by said disabilities themselves, as well as advocates and people in various UX and design fields.
However, it’s also one that’s recently stirred up a bit of controversy too. That’s because in addition to the traditional adjustments added to let players customise their experience, there have also been a growing number of people arguing that core aspects of a game’s design should be changed to be as inclusive as possible too, with some going as far as to say easy modes should be a standard thing across the board or that games should let players skip everything in order to ‘experience anything in any order’.
This has in turn stirred up arguments about artistic intent, video game design and whether a game letting players disable certain elements is a good or bad thing across the board.
However, here’s the thing. Despite all the controversy and accusations of ableism and personal attacks being thrown around, I believe adding features for accessibility isn’t contrary to a game’s artistic intent, and that accessibility and game design can co-exist just fine.
And that’s because at the end of the day, accessibility isn’t about easy modes. It isn’t about being able to skip a whole game, or trivialise some piece of interactive entertainment.
It’s about providing everyone the opportunity to enjoy the same games. To give them an equal chance of playing the games they enjoy, and to let skilled players win regardless of any physical differences they may have.
It’s not adding Mellow Mode to Dark Souls or Cuphead, it’s about providing a way for those with disabilities to play the same games as others, with the same opportunities to complete them if they are skilled enough to do so.
And I think the best way to explain that would be to look at how a game may be made to work for blind players. What would the best solution be to let visually impaired users enjoy more games?