Most of the time, playing something is simple: turn on the console or PC, choose the game, take the controller (or keyboard and mouse) and get started. However, for players with disabilities some adaptations are necessary, in accessories and / or within the game, to also allow these people to have fun. And that is where the importance of accessibility in games comes in.
But what is accessibility? According to the Michaelis dictionary, accessibility means “ease of access; quality of what is accessible ”. Or also “ease of approach, procedure or obtaining”. In other words, accessibility is also about developing means that allow the inclusion of an individual in various activities, regardless of their disability.
This is a very broad discussion, but focusing specifically on games, currently a lot has been said about accessibility features in gameplay, and there are even teams dedicated to perfecting these systems – depending on the budget dedicated to the design of this game.
Ten years ago, the most visible accessibility in some games was subtitles and the game’s own audio in dialogues (when they existed), to guide visually impaired players, for example. It was still very exclusive, since other deficiencies were not considered or, at times, they were not even “official” accessibility resources; they were only adapted for this purpose.
As stated before, today there is a remarkable increase in the effort to include more people, different people, in the world of games. Several titles already have friendlier interfaces, more intuitive controls, easier modes, in addition to the casual game boom – popular, especially on mobile devices.
But before we start to celebrate this growing wave of inclusion in games, we must keep in mind that there is still a long way to go to make games truly accessible to people with different types of disabilities.
To the website The Next Web, “The video game industry needs to improve in this area [de acessibilidade]. And that depends on the change in the assumptions made, at the design level, about who plays video games ”.
Games are for everyone, right? Not yet, but that can really change.
Foundation acts as a voice for disabled players
Seeking to awaken the industry’s awareness that accessibility features in games should be an integral part of game design, and not just seen as “extras” or exclusivity for large productions, AbleGamers (created in 2004) acts globally in the cause of inclusion of disabled players.
According to more recent information (from 2020) raised by the AbleGamers Foundation itself, which is a North American charity organization, there are approximately 46 million people with disabilities playing video games in the world today.
One of the foundation’s various actions is to work together with the developers to make the studios more and more inclusive.
In addition, the organization also develops and provides adapted controls around the world (including Brazil), being Microsoft’s partner in the creation of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, held by the magazine TEAM as one of the best inventions of 2018.
The organization arrived in Brazil in 2017, where it started to organize an annual fundraising event, in addition to publicizing the accessibility movement in games. After four events, called AbleGamersBR, more than R $ 18 thousand were collected, of which R $ 7 thousand was only in the last edition.
With the success and repercussion of these events, the AbleGamers headquarter decided, in 2020, to officially act in Brazil and reinvested all the amounts collected, in the Brazilian events, right here.
Born and raised in São Paulo, Christian Bernauer is a representative of AbleGamers in Brazil and organizer of the foundation’s events in the country. He went to college in computing, thinking about working with games, but ended up changing areas and now works with administration. Christian tells the Tecnoblog who was always an avid video game player and had his first contact with AbleGamers when he was a blog writer We Nerds.
“I had the opportunity, in 2017, to interview one of AbleGamers directors, Steve Spohn. I was enchanted by the project and asked how we could do it to help. He said that AbleGamers lived on donations, that people held marathons for games, events and etc. to raise funds. About 1 month later, we were holding the first charity event, which we call AbleGamersBR ”, he comments.
Christian, who has participated in nine lives, podcasts and recorded programs talking about accessibility, also explains that the event in Brazil started with a focus on fundraising, but changed to awareness. “We started to realize that many people with disabilities stopped playing, because they were unaware of the alternatives, controls and techniques that would allow them to play”, he points out.
“As we are new here, we have not been able to implement all the actions we would like to take yet. In addition to the Twitter account in Portuguese, we are setting up an official store to have a constant collection channel, with income reverted to the cause. We will also have a schedule in the lives calendar of AbleGamers’ Twitch channel, with lives in Portuguese and Brazilian streamers, always focusing on making room for PCD streamers. [pessoas com deficiência]. ”, Explains Christian.
No limits to being a game streamer
And one of the players with disabilities who has already started streaming is Fabricio Ferreira, 24, known on the Internet as Fabricio SDW. Born in Nova Friburgo (RJ), today he lives in Bom Jesus do Itabapoana, also in Rio de Janeiro. The young man is graduating in Administration, but says he is focused on investing in streaming and video production.
“Today I am part of the Xbox Creator Academy program, in which I have learned a lot to improve my content even more”, comments Fabrício, who, in addition to video games, is also passionate about cars and motorcycles and whenever he can he goes to car meetings.
Fabrício has a rare deficiency called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. “It is a degenerative disease that causes the loss of motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain stem, resulting in progressive muscle weakness and atrophy,” explains the streamer. Tecnoblog. “It is a disease that has no cure and the only treatment that exists in the world is extremely expensive”.
Despite his irreversible condition, Fabrício does not stop doing what he likes, even with limitations.
“I can feel, with the passage of time, the disability progressing in me and limiting myself more and more. For this reason, I follow a philosophy of life of living today, enjoying the most that I can now, because I know that in the future I will not be able to ”.
With channels on Twitch and YouTube, Fabricio SDW began to venture into video production in 2016, in an attempt to fulfill the dream of having a large channel. “I started by learning everything myself, watching tutorials on the Internet. I learned to record, edit, create my scripts and improved the quality of the channel ”, he comments.
Fabrício emphasizes the importance of the community he built, with his streamings, and how it helps him in his daily life. “I attach great importance to the contact I have with each of my followers. They helped me out of depression and whenever I am sad I know that if I open a live, I can count on them to make me happy ”.
The streamer claims that he does not use any specific adaptation to play. In fact, he makes his lives sitting in his own wheelchair and with a very improvised setup. “I use a wooden table with some pillows and a cardboard box to place the notebook and also a Styrofoam box, supported on the chair with the microphone”, he says. “There are a lot of wires scattered around the living room of my house, but the important thing is that it does not appear on the cameras and I can make the lives of good”.
Regarding controls, Fabrício says he uses the Xbox One standard and even finds it comfortable, despite the problem he feels in tightening the analog ones. He also says that he is collecting donations in lives to buy the Xbox One Elite Series controller, which has four extra remapable buttons, to facilitate its gameplay.
About accessibility in games, the streamer says that today you can see many games, which are coming to the market, with several accessibility options and this makes a huge difference for players with disabilities.
“An example of this are games that allow you to remap the controls however you want. It may not seem like much to a ‘normal’ person, but for me, for example, I have a hard time pressing the analog keys R and L, this option of placing these commands on other buttons helps a lot.
Making games accessible with the players themselves
At the beginning of this article, we talked about the importance of accessibility being incorporated into the game design itself. That thought, however, only recently started to take hold. Several game developers, from indies to AAA, are taking a more serious look at the features that allow the inclusion of PCD players in their titles.
An example of this was the work done by the studio Naughty Dog, in The Last of Us Part II. Emilia Schatz and Matthew Gallant, responsible for developing the game’s accessibility features, told in an interview with Tecnoblog that the very important starting point for making a game accessible to people with disabilities is to go to these players, ask where they are experiencing difficulties and, as a developer, solve this problem.
Naughty Dog’s developers recognize the importance of making a game as accessible as possible. Especially since there are several factors that can prevent people from enjoying the experiences of a game.
“We display a lot of sound and visual information on the screen. Players need to know this to make decisions. But after they make a decision on what to do, they have this control in their hands, which is a very complicated little device with 17 buttons. Some of them you need to hold while pressing other buttons. There is a lot going on, ”explains Emilia.
She also points out that all the visual and sound information, which are arranged in the game, requires a certain level of skill acquired over time to be discovered with the controller and that this experience just does not work for everyone.
“For The Last of Us Part II, with respect to the features we wanted to include [de acessibilidade], the suggestions came from the fans. We talked a lot with them and, eventually, we decided to invite them to the studio so that they could share their experiences with the team and, thus, help us in the process of making our game meet their needs ”.
Emilia Schatz, Naughty Dog
According to Naughty Dog, accessibility features in The Last of Us Part II started to be built based on the work started in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. TLoU2 has more than 60 accessibility settings, with expanded options focused on fine motor skills and hearing, as well as completely new features that benefit visually impaired and blind players.
Matthew also says that for developers to make their games more accessible there needs to be a combination of best practices, guidelines, sites that talk about accessibility features and barriers that exist in games, and how to overcome them.
Complementing Emilia, Matthew comments that “this interactive process of involving players with disabilities and ensuring that they are part of our testing schedule, providing us with feedback on what we are creating, is really how accessibility features are developed in a game,” he explains.
Matthew also points out that it is very important to start implementing inclusive resources early in the project. “As a general rule in software and game development, the later in production you try to add something, the more expensive and limited it will be.”
And he adds:
“For any developer who wants to work with accessibility, the tip is to do it as soon as possible, plan ahead, put people to test the game soon, and then you will have time to react to comments, make adjustments and add features that are good ; maybe even eliminating resources that are bad. You will really have time to get a sense of what players need and what barriers still exist in your game and how you can help players overcome them ”.
Matthew Gallant, Naughty Dog
An inclusive post-apocalypse experience
Quality analyst Marina Yonashiro tested some of the accessibility features of The Last of Us Part II and believes that much remains to be done to make games more inclusive for people with disabilities.
Born and raised in São Paulo, she has a degree in journalism and started her professional life in the area of marketing and internal communication. Marina says she lost her sight when she was 11 years old. “Nowadays I say that I am blind, because I use all the resources of a blind person (cane, braille, screen reader), but theoretically I am low vision because the exams show that I have up to 5% of the vision”, he explains.
The analyst comments that since she was a child she has a lot of emotional attachment to playing video games. “Just talking about it, I’m taken back to my grandparents’ times, on weekends, and my sister and I played Nintendo 64 and, years later, GameCube (we were always nintendistas)”.
Marina says that when she lost her sight, her sister did not give up on including her in the games she played. “When she won the Wii, she explained to me what I needed to do and it worked, especially in sports games. I was particularly good at boxing, ”he says proudly. “Video games for me have always been something together. Even when the game was Zelda, that is, a single player, my sister and I tried to solve the puzzles together ”.
About your experience with The Last of Us Part II she says she basically used the features that help with sound navigation and, even so, she found it difficult to get past certain parts of the game. “I was stuck in half-open doors, objects in the middle of the road, I couldn’t tell when I had finished climbing a wall with the rope, etc.”, he explains.
Marina makes it clear that, even with some problems, it does not take the merit of Naughty Dog’s investment in making a game like The Last of Us Part II accessible. “As much as this initiative is very admirable and was highly praised, as it was one of the first games (not to mention the first) with great circulation thinking about accessibility, it was to be expected that there were some problems”, he comments.
On the positives of the game, in relation to accessibility, Marina highlights the innovation in gameplay. “Instead of doing something obvious like a synthetic voice saying ‘press square’, the developers created a sound for each button. They also created a type of sonar to locate enemies and items, instead of synthetic voices. In fact, the synthetic voice only appears on the menu and when reading letters and tickets ”.
She also points out that the game’s initialization, for people who can’t see, was very well thought out. According to the analyst, it was possible to start the game alone, without the help of anyone.
The last positive point that Marina highlights about her experience with The Last of Us Part II was to be able to participate in the debates about the game.
“I think that since I lost my vision I couldn’t give my opinion on a game that was just released. Inclusion is more than giving me 25 to 30 hours of game time, but also enabling me to participate in the social agenda ”.
The first step was taken, now it is to improve
The good news is that the game industry has been growing alert to the need to make games more accessible to people with disabilities. It is not just for the sake of increasing sales to an audience that before was almost completely ignored. The main issue is to treat the PCD player with the same dignity as a person without limitations.
Opinions still differ slightly on the topic.
For Christian Bernauer, from AbleGamers, the latest games have more and more accessibility options. “Most of these functions are simple and have a very low implementation cost, if thought from the beginning of the game”, he analyzes. “Some things are very simple and could be part of any game, like the option to remap the buttons on the controller and change the font / legend size and color.”
For Marina Yonashiro, accessibility in games goes beyond adding sounds for a blind person to be able to locate themselves. “Instead of companies investing in adapting games for people with disabilities, they could create games that do not depend on vision, for example,” he comments. “I don’t believe that accessibility is about creating games made for people without disabilities and then adapting them for people with disabilities. For me, it is only inclusion when the game is born with the concern of being accessible ”.
The debate is valid and the skepticism of some is more than understandable. There were many years of hiatus without more serious and concrete action on the topic. It is up to players, with and without disabilities, to continue to charge developers for solutions in their games that promote inclusion and, on the part of the studios, more initiatives to adapt their gameplay experiences.
I believe that the exchange of ideas and opinions between developers and players, in the initial stage of creating a game, may even be the way to further refine accessibility features. The first step has already been taken, now it is to improve.
AbleGamers has created a guide called APX (Accessible Player Experiences), which compiles several difficulties that players may have and how to get around them. This material is available for free download.