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Improving Game Accessibility

July 6, 2005 Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next


For most gamers, the process of setting up a game and starting to play is pretty straight forward: install the game, skim over the instructions, and start playing. Unfortunately, people with disabilities find this process considerably harder.

The difficulty starts at the store. A disabled purchaser has no idea if a game is accessible to them or not. There are no ratings on the box that will indicate if the game is closed captioned or supports alternative input devices. In many cases, game ratings in the popular media do not address the accessibility issue, so for many purchasers, buying a game is very much a gamble.

After the game is installed, the player needs to often customize the settings to support their system and adaptive hardware. This is often not addressed in the documentation and most help desks have little experience dealing with these problems.

Once in the game, further problems can occur. The difficulty level may not be controllable, making it impossible for a person with mobility problems to play. Vital information may be given in cut scenes without closed captioning, making it impossible for the deaf to succeed in the game.

Doom3 [CC] for the hearing impaired.

Unfortunately, many games fail to address the needs of a disabled gamer, and as a result prevent them from playing. The solution to this problem is to make games more accessible.

What is Accessibility?

The Wikipedia defines accessibility as "a general term used to describe how easy it is for people to get to, use, and understand things."

Let's look at why some gamers are not able to use or enjoy some computer and console games and why they are encountering problems playing these games.

Who Needs Accessible Games?

Depending on whose statistics you use, most countries view between 10% and 20% of their total population as disabled. (Unfortunately, there are no universally accepted definitions of when a person should be considered disabled, nor is it easy to define since disabilities may range from mild to severe. For example, hearing loss can range from a slight problem hearing conversation in a noisy room to complete deafness.)

The major forms of disability that could affect game use are shown in the following table:



Effect on Games

Auditory - Deaf or Hard of Hearing

"Partial or total lack of hearing".

Depending on the severity, could be referred to as "deafness" or "hard of hearing".

•  Prevents gamer from following cut scenes that may contain plot information.

•  Could prevent gamer from receiving game cues such as footsteps or other sounds.

Visual - Blindness, Low Vision, or Color Blindness

"Partial or total loss of sight".

The term "low vision" is often used for the ability to see using magnification. Color blindness refers to the inability to see certain colors.

•  Color schemes may make it difficult for the color blind to see the game.

•  Small objects on the screen may not be visible to those with low vision.

•  Visually based games will not be accessible to the blind.


Accidents, birth defects, or degenerative neurological diseases could lead to problems moving a mouse or other input device. We are also beginning to see older gamers having problems with games that have high coordination requirements.

•  Games that do not support alterative input devices may be inaccessible.

•  A lack of configurable difficulty levels could prevent gamers from being able to set a usable level.


A variety of different problems could be seen in this category:

•  Lack of a tutorial mode could be a problem for dyslexics.

•  A large printed manual may be useless for gamers with ADD or ADHD.

•  Games that require a lot of micro-management will be difficult for those with memory loss.

Why is Accessibility Needed for Games?

There are three main reasons for providing accessible games. The first one is economic. By not providing accessibility in games, the game industry is losing out on a potentially larger audience for their games. With anywhere from 10 - 20% of the population considered disabled in one form or another, this could be a fairly significant increase in the market for a given game.

More importantly, there is a moral issue involved. A person who has a disability should have equal access to same services and entertainment as others in the population. This is why we have closed captioning on TV shows and movie theaters will have closed captioned showings of movies. In the same vein, why can't we have games that are accessible to those with disabilities? This becomes a quality of life issue.

Finally, there could be legal issues involved. Some countries already have legislation in place mandating equal access to all. In the United States, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires the use of accessible technology within the government. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides for equal access in many areas. Other countries have similar types of legislation. Note that many of these laws are covering access to services. How long do you think it will be until someone decides a multiplayer online game is a service? With the scrutiny games have been receiving from various quarters, sooner or later someone will start looking into the accessibility issue from a legal point of view.

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