5 Accessibility Features That Every Game Should Have
Things have improved somewhat in recent years when it comes to accessibility features in video games. Many developers now consciously provide elementary options that tweak the gameplay experience to better suit players with different abilities and specific impairments. However, much work remains to be done to promote industry-wide understanding and communication—the vital importance of implementing these options for many gamers.
Publishers could make improvements to allow a broader audience to enjoy their output. In this feature, Isabelle Meyer looks at a handful of the most useful accessibility features already present in many Nintendo Switch games and identifies areas where developers. This is very much a non-definitive list. But highlights options that should be implemented as ‘industry standard’ these days.
Quick Time Events
Many gamers have disabilities and face mild-moderate, depending on their exact nature. Some people struggle to hold specific types of controllers or can’t complete Quick Time Events due to delayed reactions. As such, buying games as a disabled gamer can be tricky — a section that one player might negotiate quickly could be a significant roadblock for another. And one which the developer never intended to present such an insurmountable obstacle.
One way game developers ensure that disabled gamers can fully enjoy their hobby is by including accessibility features — options that enable players to tailor the gameplay experience to their exact needs and preferences.
Even when games include accessibility features It can still be difficult for disabled gamers to access and activate them. Or get reliable information regarding their existence
Of course, this isn’t always the case. Some games are developed where accessibility features aren’t included at all (and in some cases even purposefully excluded and replaced with a “git gud” mentality that makes games harder. Often for the sake of bragging rights than any specific game design reason.
Even when games include accessibility features, it can still be difficult for disabled gamers to access and activate them or get reliable information regarding their existence. They’re rarely spoken about in reviews making it much harder for those with disabilities to find out if they can play specific games. With some developers who go that ‘extra mile’ and include a host of accessibility features, these can be hidden away in menus or sometimes for more passive accessibility features, even locked behind paywalls/DLC.
A Disabled Gamer’s
All of this can leave disabled gamers with the dilemma of whether buying a game is worthwhile, especially when digital games are not quickly returned (and many releases are digital-only). Even with physical returns, it’s not like the old days where you could produce a game for its total value even if it had been played — these days, you’re trading for store credit, and so you’ve already eaten a loss to see if you can play the thing. Suppose the game can’t be played for whatever reason. In that case, there’s often a feeling of being left out as players cannot join in with the latest popular title and its online discourse with friend groups or wider gaming communities.
Without risking spending out on a game, a disabled gamer’s only solution is to look up reviews and hope that writers will include accessibility information in their report. This method not only heavily relies on a game being popular enough for review sites to cover, but also a degree of luck that the reviewer comments on those particular aspects of the game — areas which it might not occur to them to highlight, but which are vitally important to some potential players. Here are five accessibility options that we’d like to see implemented as standard (where appropriate and applicable) across any new title.
#1 Difficulty Options That Can Be Changed At Any Time
One of the most superficial accessibility features that can assist disabled gamers with all manner of impairments is an adjustable difficulty level. Difficulty options have been present since the earliest video games, but not in every game — and the tendency for developers is to add more challenging modes once you’ve mastered Normal.
Easier modes have slower moving enemies, higher main character HP levels, or remove Quick Time Events that are mandatory to pass certain stages. Any or all of these examples may offer disabled gamers a less taxing gameplay experience and enjoy the narrative more fully — if the game has a story, that is.
More granular difficulty options are becoming a lot more common. Even better are those games that let you alter difficulty settings at any time with no penalty rather than locking you into a fixed one-time selection — this is something that the Ys series does well. The option to change your mind during a playthrough if further through the game there’s a spike — or if with the unlocking of power-ups, something physically hard to complete at first becomes significantly easier — is a boon for all players. An adaptable gameplay experience can also benefit those who have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days, enabling them to make adjustments as needed so that gaming doesn’t have to be a ‘good’ day experience only.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes this further and allows a custom difficulty level to be built, letting players craft their own challenge to an extent. Alternatively, some games have a “Story Mode,” which tones down the difficulty and can even remove gameplay obstacles entirely so that players of any skill level can enjoy the narrative. These Story-focused modes generally assist through altering player/enemy health bars, offering immunity from enemy attacks, or adjusting movement speed. It may offer more signposting or guidance, activate automatic grabbing of platform edges or highlight jumping routes for players, or offer bonus items to assist in the early game or aim assists — it all depends on the game.
A story-focused mode that de-emphasises skill-based gameplay allows players of all ability levels to enjoy a game’s narrative journey. The destigmatization of the broader player base of needing to play on such a mode would make the gaming community a more welcoming place for more players.
#2 Platforming Assist Options
Platforming of some sort crops up in games across all genres. This is a common area that disabled gamers can struggle with, particularly those with motor difficulties or issues with depth perception.
Some games such as Super Mario Odyssey include shadows to show where you will land to mitigate this — an invaluable tool for all gamers navigating a 3D space on a 2D screen. However, these shadows are not always easily visible, which somewhat defeats the point of their inclusion. This ring makes it much easier to differentiate from the background environment.
Again, including the ability to add a more precise landing position indicator is a relatively easy feature for developers to implement, and it could help many types of players. Such a simple feature could open up quite a closed-off genre to more players who would typically have been unable to engage with platformers.
#3 Alternative Colour Display Options and Filters
In-game colors can significantly impact people with a variety of different disabilities. The ability to adjust some aspects of the colors on display using preset filters has made its way into some games, such as Immortals Fenyx Rising and the Crash above Bandicoot 4. While these color filters are great for mitigating issues for some players, they do not constitute a one-size-fits-all solution for color vision variations.
Some combinations can make it harder for players with certain types of colour-based vision impairments to differentiate the hues on display. For example, I have encountered vision modes that put items highlighted in orange against a blue backdrop, which may be an excellent combination for those with more standard color perception. Still, for others, it makes differentiation harder. While preset alternative color options mark an improvement to games where no alternative is offered, color selection features can be vastly improved by allowing the gamer to select the colour choices themselves opposed to only allowing for pre-determined options.
Colours also impact text readability, with black-on-white text often being a barrier to text-heavy games. Like colour vision, there is no one-size-fits-all option here. Games are made accessible even further by including other options such as adjustable fonts, backgrounds and the ability to switch font sizes.
#4 Character and Ability Customisation
A more passive accessibility feature you’ll often encounter is character customization which allows players to alter their character avatar’s appearance and attributes. While this is usually a fun option for all gamers, it also has passive accessibility benefits. It typically allows colorblind or vision-impaired gamers to amend character and clothing colours to help them stand out better.
Adjustments to a character’s appearance are not always an immediately accessible option, though. For example, in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, costume customization is an option as the game progresses. However, only specific colour options are available and even then, this requires significant story progression to unlock them as purchase options. Alternatively, other DLC costume options are available for use at the start of the game, with some colors exclusive to the DLC.
Monster Hunter Rise
Another example is Monster Hunter Rise, where — pleasingly — color customization of armour is available without DLC. This, however, is unavailable at the start of the game; instead, the player needs to be a specific Hunter Rank, and even then, only particular types of armour colour are customizing. Arguments about locking costumes and cosmetics behind microtransactions aside make playing much harder for players who either can’t afford to buy additional DLC or manage to unlock new customization options through gameplay.
With color in gaming, it is also important to bear in mind that some with photosensitive conditions, including those that trigger seizures, may have trouble with specific color ranges. The option to tweak color and brightness/contrast values across the board — characters, environment, menus, and UI — might make the game more accessible to these kinds of players.
It is also worth noting that those with photosensitive disorders also have to pay closer attention to frame rates (although, let’s face it, there’s no shortage of gamers preoccupied with that particular topic!) because some struggle with repeating colour patterns flicking by at higher frame rates. That exact color combination may not lead to difficulties at lower frame rates, meaning that — shock! horror! — a lower frame rate may be desirable in certain situations. Screen flicker rates may not affect the average player, but for those with photosensitive disorders, they can cause activation of conditions even if the flicker isn’t consciously perceptible.
Unfortunately, as hardware develops further and further, the general expectation is that games must have as high a frame rate as possible. This could, unfortunately, result in certain players exclude due to the hardware only offering refresh rates above those they can tolerate. OLED screens can help deliver a more stable image, although again, there is no one-size-fits-all adaptation, and OLED technology may not help with every photosensitive gamer. Indeed, it comes with issues of its own.
#5 Button (Re)Mapping and Expanded Controller Options
Button mapping in games is more related to ‘pro’ gamers on PC or using a professional controller. But can also help with accessibility opportunities for some disabilities. The prevalence of button mapping has grown a lot over the last few years — indeed, Nintendo integrated system-level button remapping on Switch in the 10.0.0 firmware update. More games than ever now offer some degree of button mapping or different controller layout options.
There are usually two main aspects to button mapping: adjusting input options for easier reach on standard controllers or adjusting to a specific controller that better suits gameplay. Changing for specific controllers means custom controllers built to support particular disabilities can easily play in games. With the Switch, button mapping features are playing with custom Joy-Con grips to allow for one-handed playing.
Beyond the games, between first and third-party manufacturers. A host of controllers are mending with the Switch.
Many controller manufacturers (particularly those for other platforms) often focus on building bigger and bigger controllers — with more buttons, extra programmable paddles, and so on — which certainly assist some gamers. However, some people equally need something smaller and easier to hold. Such as those whose fine motor skills struggle with small controllers and buttons. Similarly, there is the issue that some bulkier controllers and consoles are too heavy for specific players, and as such.
Nintendo’s Hardware – How Could Switch Be More Accessible?
The Joy-Con are a welcome change due to their small and compact design. But the number of licenses and unofficial grip peripherals into which the Joy-Con place. It might be nice to see Nintendo itself produce an official small Pro Controller with more reliable analog sticks. More options are rarely a bad thing, especially in this case.
For some, holding the Switch handheld can be too cumbersome or weighty to be practical, especially with the slightly heavier Switch OLED. However, the Switch Lite is one of the lightest gaming devices and surprisingly weighs less than the 2DS XL and ‘New’ 3DS. The Switch Lite doesn’t suffer a major loss in graphical fidelity compared to the standard Switch. The greater pixel density of the smaller screen arguably makes the image more pleasant, albeit significantly smaller and dimmer than the OLED screen.
A Switch Lite OLE would undoubtedly be a popular addition to the Switch lineup.
The Nintendo Switch is a versatile console that has allowed many players to explore gaming which may previously have been unable to do so. Or enabled them to sample new genres that were perhaps inaccessible to them previously. The Switch has already demonstrated its unique ability to draw many people together through its games. Just think about the vast Animal Crossing phenomenon during the global lockdowns. With the help of developers, the hybrid console has arguably made gaming more accessible to those with both social and physical disabilities. Then any system previously. It would be fantastic to continue this trend and encourage developers. Hardware manufacturers to consider the positive effects of including accessibility features and the improvements they offer gamers of all skill levels and abilities.
You’d like to see it as standard across all video games. Which of the features above do you most use when they’re available? In the poll below, let us know which other accessibility features.