As the popularity of video games continues to soar, so too does the interest in accessible gaming for the estimated 20% of gamers with a disability. There are mainstream options and accessible alternatives available which provide growing numbers of gamers with disabilities access to the cultural, social and recreational benefits that gaming provides.
Mainstream gaming overview
Mainstream video game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii U, Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4, along with handheld game consoles such as the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita provide gamers with a variety of platform options to choose from. Major releases are generally available across multiple platforms, with different accessibility features available dependant on the device in use.
Mobile gaming, predominantly on iOS and Android devices accounts for the largest number of downloadable titles worldwide, containing many accessibility features ranging from switch access to built-in screen-readers. The Windows PC gaming market has also increased in recent years, including growth for Mac and Linux development.
Accessibility is also dependent on the design of the game. Although accessibility in gaming is currently at a lower level of implementation than other media, growing numbers of mainstream games consider some element of accessibility as part of their design. Most mainstream games provide closed captions (also known as subtitles) for people who are Deaf or hearing impaired, and some major releases include colour-blind modes for people with visual impairment, with Sim City, Battlefield 4, Borderlands 2 and Star Wars: Battlefront receiving press coverage for their efforts. Considerations for gamers with mobility-related disabilities are also available, such as reconfigurable controls, choice of input devices and aim assists. Accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired has seen huge strides in recent years, largely due to built-in iOS and Android functionality for mobile gaming. In 2014, two mainstream titles to include specific blind-accessibility settings were SkullGirls on PC and Injustice: Gods Among Us on consoles.
Emerging technologies are providing new ways to increase access to gaming, such as gesture controls, useful for gamers who are unable to operate a controller, and voice commands, useful for gamers who find menu navigation difficult. A limited range of assistive technology is available for consoles, and a very wide range for PCs, from head mice to switch interfaces, custom controllers and voice recognition software.
Accessible mainstream games
If you're a gamer with a disability, your best choice for finding accessible games is the Windows PC. The PC has a number of distinct advantages over consoles and handheld devices, especially in areas such as flexibility. With some technical know-how and following tutorials online, it's possible to make many PC games operable with your own input devices or assistive technology (AT). While consoles do have some games that keep accessibility in mind, often you can find a more accessible version of the same game on the PC, if not then possibly with some tweaking not possible on the console systems.
Nintendo systems, currently being the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, often do have great game design but fall short in accessibility due to the innovative and irregular control methods used, such as the Wii-mote pointer, required use of a stylus for some mechanics, and also motion controls.
While there are few games that accomplish being able to make a video game accessible to everyone, often it is difficult to achieve without breaking the core mechanic of the game. There are however a number of games worth mentioning on the PC and consoles for their good game design and recognition of gamers with disabilities:
Accessible alternative games
- RapiTap! by 22 Point is one of the first accessible, real-time reaction based games available for Android. The game has been designed with blind and low vision gamers in mind, providing a quick adrenaline rush for anyone, fully sighted or not.
Accessible games for children
- Ballyland by Sonokids is an educational computer game for all children, including children with special needs, specifically designed to support learning by children who are blind or have low vision. The game is available for PC and Mac computers, as well as iPad and Android mobile devices.
- All Abilities ePlayground from the Gold Coast City Council, Department of Communities (Disability Services) and Sonokids Australia is an award winning initiative providing accessible in-browser games for children of all abilities. Options are available for players who are blind or vision impaired, with input via mouse and keyboard controls, automatic scanning and Puff2Play technology using a microphone.
Accessible gaming resources
One of the best sources of information about accessible games and gaming are online communities. Other sites are available providing news, reviews and discussion.
AbleGamers is a well-maintained and active community-based website that provides information and reviews to gamers with disability. It is the public face of The AbleGamers Foundation, Inc., a non-profit public charity in the US.
- D.A.G.E.R.S. provide regular game reviews, feature editorials and interviews about accessible gaming.
- Game Accessibility informs gamers with disabilities about the availability of accessible games.
- Game Accessibility Special Interest Group (IGDA GASIG) mailing list has regular news, views and information about accessible gaming.
- AudioGames.net host busy discussion forums on all aspects of game accessibility for vision impairments.
- OneSwitch Blog gives regular news and views on accessible gaming, predominantly covering switch accessibility for profound motor impairment.
- AppleVis provide community reviews of iOS accessibility for vision impairments, and popular discussion forums.
- GameOnForEveryone produced by SpecialEffect provide video solutions for reviews and tutorials on input devices for motor impaired gamers.
A growing number of resources on how to design more inclusive games are available, including two in particular that have seen wide use and award recognition.
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