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Accessible gaming grows with all-inclusive experiences

Gaming is not yet truly inclusive but there is a rise in the number of computer games blind and partially sighted gamers can play and enjoy.

The UK's gaming industry is big business. Coming in fifth across the world it is estimated to be worth £3.86bn - more than video and music combined.  However, for an industry of this size there is still some way to go in making games accessible to a wider audience. 

For visually impaired users, many mainstream games are unworkable while with others it requires detailed instructions at the outset, familiarity with the keyboard and controller, and how to use voice commands effectively. These challenges can make it impossible for gamers with sight loss to navigate games in the most effective way.

Recently, there have been welcome developments to improve the accessibility of games such as building sound cues into the design and including audio description. But for now, this is an exception than a norm. Most of the time it is still the case that blind gamers cannot play without the support from their peers in the gaming community, or from an organisation such as RNIB.

Inclusive options

As the rise of the gaming industry continues to flourish, there has been some growth in the market for games being developed specifically to include players with various impairments.

With the US government CVAA requirements coming into effect at the end of 2019, game designers are required to make the communication functionality including text, voice or video chat as accessible as reasonably possible to people with disabilities. Even though these requirements are restricted to the games being designed for the US market, as it often is the case, this has had an impact on the gaming industry at large.  

In addition to gaming experiences being designed to specifically include people with impairments, including solely visual impairments, others are being developed by companies aiming for an all-inclusive experience; because even if the market overall is not paying much attention to inclusion there is in fact a drive to get this recognised.

New horizons

Ways to achieve inclusion, better accessibility in games and exploring advancements in the field continues to be important. At the GA Conf held in Sept 2020, speakers and gamers were brought together to address the issues and discover the latest developments.

Also, if you know where to look, it is clear that there are games for blind and partially sighted players, far beyond the one or two that have had a fair amount of publicity. But it is a question of knowing the right people, and/or getting onto sites to find recommendations and advice.

Even so, serious gamers don’t feel that the bar has been set high enough for visually impaired players. Earlier video games were unable to provide the player with realistic and descriptive sound effects, nor could they give narrated guides through in-game menus. Without these, blind players would have a difficult time.

“Until fairly recently, audio has been sort of an afterthought, not given as much attention as the graphics of a game. Because of this, audio especially in older games was lacking in detail that would help the blind determine what was happening and when,” said Brandon Cole, a VI gamer who told RNIB how video games can be made more accessible.

Though videogames rely heavily on visual elements to present information to the player, Brandon told RNIB, he found he could play some games through audio alone.

This, however, relied on the game’s good audio design. 

Still, Brandon notes that despite this, many blind players persisted and found ways to play many games despite their audio shortcomings.

Brandon’s continued campaigning for improvements in accessibility has led him to consult on several videogames. Of these, the most significant in terms of its contribution is The Last of Us Part 2, a PlayStation 4 exclusive game, with a ground-breaking level of accessibility features and customisation. 

It is an especially important game as high-budget, mass market videogames are rarely entirely playable by blind people without assistance or additional equipment.

The game demonstrates the many ways that barriers to play faced by disabled people can be reduced or removed, and this is due in large part to the contributions of Brandon and the wider disabled gaming community. When it comes to the future of videogames, Brandon is positive about what’s in store:

“My hope for the future is that developers see what we have done with the Last of Us Part 2 and finally realize just how possible total blind accessibility is. We achieved it, they can too. I am optimistic enough to believe this will happen, because the game, and its accessibility features, are making huge splashes. I truly believe it's only a matter of time before the totally blind are playing all sorts of games.”

For more information or to share your experience of accessible gaming, please email [email protected].