The Long Road to Fully Inclusive Gaming

Picture the scene in your mind for a second. It’s Friday and you’ve had a long, tiring week. All you want is to sit down, relax and unwind. So you rush home, switch on your PC or console of choice, grab some snacks and jump into your favourite game. You spend hours immersed in the world, forgetting the week you’ve had and enjoying the best that gaming can provide. 

Being able to play video games as they were intended is something millions of gamers take for granted on a daily basis, but for some fans of video games, it’s not as easy. 

For decades now, games developers have been making groundbreaking, exhilarating experiences that disabled gamers have been desperate to play, but haven’t been able to because game mechanics and controls, not being able to hear or see things what’s going on, or even to distinguish colours in puzzles, amongst other things, have made it impossible for them to share the same experience. 1 in 3 gamers have been forced to stop playing games due to their disability. 

Fortunately, it looks like things are starting to change.

It’s not that games developers haven’t looked at accessibility before. As far back as 1950, Bertie the Brain, a tic tac toe game, featured adjustable difficulty levels. Atari games on the 2600 had special features that slowed down or otherwise altered gameplay for younger children, and in the 1980s, Nintendo created a Hands Free controller for the NES that strapped to the chest and allowed someone to sip or blow air into a straw, and use their tongue to move the character on screen. Unfortunately, the controller was incredibly expensive and hard to get hold of.

Accessibility efforts continued when in the mid 90s, Sega made an effort to support disabled gamers by requiring every title it launched to have full button remapping and even made a game for blind players, though it was only released in Japan. 

In recent years, the games industry has gone further to factor accessibility into their development, which has been backed by some of the major hardware manufacturers like Microsoft with the release of the Xbox Adaptive Controller in 2018. 

The Xbox Adaptive Controller was released for PC and Xbox One and was specifically designed so that the buttons could be assigned to any input, with built-in integration for common third-party accessories created for players with disabilities. This mainstream controller joins the ranks of several other accessible controllers on the market.

Alongside this, games are now launching with more and more accessibility options. From The Last of Us Part 2, Gears of War 5 and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End that released with a wealth of accessibility options to simpler additions like Mario Kart 8 with it’s auto-acceleration feature that allowed players to focus on steering and shooting turtle shells and even Minecraft that can now be played with eye movements, progress has come in leaps and bounds.

But as always, there is still a way to go to achieve full gaming accessibility. Games still rely heavily on Quick Time Events (QTEs) in which a button has to be pressed quickly to perform a fast action. These events can be difficult for disabled gamers to manage and can result in a persistent, irritating game over. QTEs are just the start of remaining issues that form a barrier for disabled gamers, and while game developers are listening, progress isn’t as fast as it could be.

Even in the rapidly expanding streaming market, accessibility still needs work, and has pushed disabled streamers to implement ideas and put pressure on streaming providers themselves. DeafGamersTV is a streaming channel on Twitch that is run by a deaf gamer, Chris Robinson, that advocates for better subtitling in games to assist the deaf to play, including adjustable size, position, font and colour. He also wants Twitch to pick up better subtitling to ensure that streams are more accessible.

Other streamers have raised concerns about screen-readers (software that reads all text on screen aloud) not working well with Twitch and other streaming platforms, a lack of accessible add-ons for better streaming, and a need for a disabilities tag that users can add to their profiles to promote inclusion.

There is clearly still a long way to go to reach full accessibility, but the industry is changing and hopefully, with enough voices behind the issue and more developers listening to those voices, it won’t be long until gaming is truly inclusive. 

In other news…

This week it was announced that FIFA 21 will receive a very special player in an update. That player will be Kiyan Price, a teenager that was said to be on a path to footballing greatness until he was sadly murdered with a knife when he tried to break up a fight in 2006 at the age of 15. 

Kiyan was enrolled in the Queens Park Rangers football academy, playing the number 30 when he died, and a foundation was set up in his name that aims to persuade young people to stay away from knife crime. 

This year would have been Kiyan’s 30th birthday and alongside his addition to FIFA 21, he will also appear on a Match Attax card and Queens Park Rangers will formally assign him his shirt number 30 permanently. 

To read more about Kiyan’s story and the Kiyan Price Foundation, head on over to thekpf.com.