For many, gaming is an easy escape from reality, but for those less-abled who need it most, it often involves a painful struggle that only highlights their day-to-day difficulties. Thanks to growing awareness and more demand, however, developers continue to make significant strides in the way of eliminating those obstacles that hinder the experience of gamers with disabilities. Though the industry still has a long way to go, this represents another step closer to making games accessible to all, indicating that a brighter, more inclusive future is in store for the quickly growing medium.
Many of these changes have been simple features implemented to accomodate for less demanding limitations. Subtitles, for example, are taken for granted by all, but serve an important purpose for the deaf or hard-of-hearing (making their occasional absence all the more frustrating), and colour blindness and vision impairments are easily overcome by playing with display settings. These sometimes crucial settings often go unnoticed, but they are absolutely necessary nonetheless.
More notable are the variety of options now available for those with physical disabilities to tweak for their individual needs. Many games today are adopting extensive settings options, allowing the user to alter the sensitivity of button presses and mouse movements to make reflex-based gameplay somewhat easier if necessary. Similarly, complicated quick time events and combo moves can be made simpler or skipped altogether as in Spider-Man, while some games allow the use of only one hand to control them.
Naturally, these options are great for those who need them, yet they are still not enough for some with more severe handicaps whose needs are much less supported. Such issues could largely be solved by button remapping features which are already widely available across most PC games, but few console games have them, and even system-wide controller settings on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are too limited.
Companies have thankfully addressed this issue with custom gamepads designed specifically for those with certain disabilities that make most games playable without any significant struggle. Most notable is Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller released recently in 2018, which features an extensive array of standard plugs that allow one to connect virtually any controller or button and map them to specific commands. Other controllers involve motions controls, eye tracking, mouth movements, and more — the options are truly endless, making gaming virtually accessible to anyone in spite of their needs.
Beyond companies and developers, however, gamers have pushed for these features that have truly made a difference. Dr. Mick Donegan, for example, started the charity SpecialEffect specifically to help disabled children play games, and such demand has contributed greatly to the recent push for more accessibility for the medium. Additionally, these leaders seem to be finally getting the recognition they deserve: SpecialEffect has won awards for its work, and just last week, disabled game Stephen Spohn and leader of AbleGamers appeared in a feature during The Game Awards 2018 to discuss his experience before thousands of viewers. The mission of these companies is that people should recognise and consider, as the inclusive philosophy behind the push for more accessibility in games is one that will surely expand to include more audiences in years to come.
Ultimately, seeing more people being able to love playing games as any other is encouraging, especially for those for which it would otherwise be an impossible struggle. One can only hope developers are taking note, and that more games adopt such crucial yet simple features in the future.