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  • Advocating For Accessibility In Video Games

    [04.22.21]
    - Morgan Baker

  • We see this again in the rogue-like genre, where Sugergiant Games includes a God Mode in their award-winning title, Hades. God Mode essentially gives gamers a subtle, but impactful boost every time they die. Hades is praised for its narrative, and with this design choice, the game is genuinely more enjoyable to people of varying disability backgrounds, from motor and cognitive all the way to blind and low vision.

    When asked about God Mode, Sugergiant Games shared, "We want the new God Mode in Hades to help open up the thrilling experience of playing rogue-likes to more folks out there, or just let you relax & enjoy our story."

    Though rogue-likes may have previously been known for difficulty, and sometimes increasingly complex gameplay, Supergiant Games prioritizes their story and accessibility within the game's fundamental nature. In fact, since the only way to progress through certain narratives is dying, Hades cleverly uses the fundamental gameplay to make it generally more accessible.

    Hades; The character is looking onto a city that is swallowed in lava. He states, It's nice and warm out here, I'll give it that.
    Hades (2020)

    Other honorable mentions include SOMAAssassin's Creed Valhalla, and Watch Dogs: Legion.

    Instance 3: Memorization

    Many games include some amount of memorization. However, many disabilities impact the ability to memorize items, routes, skills, and more. As so, we can ask: Is memorization a fundamental component of the video game?

    Take Hearthstone as an example. Blizzard Games decided that memorization is not critical to Hearthstone's fundamental gameplay and therefore, allows players to use third party deck trackers while playing their online, collectable card game. Ben Brode, the previous lead designer, notes, "Any app that duplicates what you can do with a pencil and paper already is fine."

    Hearthstone deck tracker, showing how to calculate cards and drawing probabilities.
    Hearthstone (2016)

    Another example is Super Mario Odyssey. Players must hop from Kingdom to Kingdom, and memorizing the list of necessary tasks and multitude of in-depth maps is a genuinely strenuous feat. Nintendo decided that though the game encourages exploration, memorizing tasks and maps are not a fundamental component of Super Mario Odyssey. As so, players can use Assist Mode, which turns on arrows that guide the player to the point of destination and/or the next task.

    super mario odyssey assist mode, blue arrows pointing in the direction on where to go next.
    Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

    The last example is Red Dead Redemption 2. Similar to Super Mario Odyssey, Rockstar Games created a massive universe for players to explore, filled with many stories and adventures. However, attempting to memorize the complex routes in Red Dead Redemption 2 can sometimes pull players out of the immersive storyline. Rockstar Games did not intend memorization to be a fundamental component of their game in this way, and as so, included a GPS for players. As an added plus, the GPS links very nicely to quests/waypoints and even includes an autopilot mode, for those would like to kick back and enjoy the scenery.

    Red Dead Redemption 2, map with a red line showing where to go, following a waypoint.
    Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)

    Instance 4: Puzzle Solving

    Almost every game incorporates some sort of puzzle solving, whether it be small iterations or full levels. But is puzzle solving a fundamental component of the video game?

    Ubisoft Quebec shows not always. In their open-world RPG, Immortals Fenyx Rising, the designers show through their decision-making that though the map is covered with intricate puzzles, the action of "puzzle solving" in itself is not a fundamental component of the game. As so, players have the option to turn on Puzzle Assistance, which includes a robust number of alterations and options. The Director of User Experience explains that they designed Immortals Fenyx Rising intending for "these options [to] provide an experience true to the team's vision for the game."

    Immortals Fenyx Rising, someone solving a puzzle by pushing a boulder down a ramp.
    Immortals Fenyx Rising (2020)

    Other times, puzzle solving assistance is built straight into the game. For example, in Naughty Dog's The Last of Us Part II, the characters will include dialogue to assist in finding the solution, such as suggesting the player to throw a rope over a fence. Similarly, Miles from Insomniac Games' Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales will drop hints for players who are stuck on a puzzle. The choice to give puzzle hints is inherently an accessibility feature, and in the instance of both action-adventure games, hints do not fundamentally alter the nature of the game, as the primary focus for both games is the narrative and action components.

    Miles Morales petting a cat and saying
    Marvels' Spider-Man: Miles Morales (2020)

    Concluding Thoughts

    To review, a "fundamental alteration" is a change in design that is so significant, it alters the core aspects of the video game. Whether you are a designer, programmer, artist, manager, producer, researcher, or any other role, this paradigm can assist you as you advocate for games accessibility in your next big title.

    So next time you are in a meeting, ask: What are our games' fundamentals? Does adding accessibility fundamentally alter the nature of the game? And if accessibility would hinder core components, is there a middle ground? When critically thinking about these questions, I think we will be surprised by what we learn.

    Republished leahybaker.com (includes additional examples).

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