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Resetting Accessibility in Games


December 23, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

What it doesn't have are speed throttles for these drills. This is not to suggest that all games should be broken down at the granular level into composite tasks with adjustable-speed drills, but for titles in competitive genres this sort of skill-attainment methodology could be immensely useful.

First person shooter players often live or die by the headshot, which boils down to muscle memory, or knowing how far to adjust weapon angles based on experience taking the shot from varied distances and heights. Imagine the potential utility of a headshot drill with a speed throttle for the FPS gamer trying to work his or her way back into the genre after a few years' absence.

The planning methodology that goes into producing an accessible game holds potentially valuable lessons for traditional game designers.

"We sit down with the parents, therapists, or teachers," Bergen said. "It's much more personal and we get much more detail [than traditional game designers get]... We design it, we build it, but in reality they design everything we do. It's all done up front even before we start."

There are assuredly extra costs associated with this sort of focused market research before any programming takes place, but would they be greater than the costs of crunch time, or calling an audible during the late stages of game development when unforeseen problems pop up?

"We have to hit our mark from the beginning of the design," Bergen said. "You can't design level 1 a certain way and by the time you get to level 3 and you design that, find out that level 1 doesn't help you get to level 3. All of them have to be done at the same time."

Halimat Alabi is an instructor of game design at The Art Institute of California-Sunnyvale, and focuses on teaching accessible game design methodology. "It does take more planning [to create an accessible game]," Alabi said, "but what you put in on the front end, an extra 10%, can pay off hugely at the back end."

Where Bergen discusses these issues in terms of the economics of successful sales, Alabi comes at them from the academics of design, illuminating what may be a fundamental misunderstanding of accessible game design concerns.

"I think a lot of game designers are putting in functionality that helps the disabled community, but they're not calling it that, and they might not be aware that that's even what it is," Alabi said. "They're trying to give the user a wider range of experience, they're trying to up emotional engagement, they're trying to raise the stickiness of whatever the experience is. There aren't as many companies making decisions based on disability, but they are giving various demographics what they need.

For example, game designers with the DS designing for the older demographic, and for kids. That's made it much more accessible for those of us who are in the middle." If the market for video games is naturally widening, then the perceived gulf between accessible game design, and design which may not specifically take these issues into account, may be a misconception.

"It's a very simple visual effect, but [FarmVille] put an arrow over your options in the game," Alabi said. "You have a little arrow over the trees for you to harvest, a little arrow over the animals for you to feed, areas get red when there's a snake in the grass. There's also a built-in redundancy with sound effects. That absolutely helps the disabled gamer, helps the child gamer, helps the gamer who is not literate enough to read the goal." Given, Farmville is a social game and thus a far simpler design than complex hardcore titles, but it neatly reinforces the idea that accessibility and profitability are not always set in opposition to one another.


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