Last weekend, Nintendo gave players a chance to demo their new game, Splatoon, on a global scale. As it was only available for a select three different hours over a two day period, it seemed to double-function as a hype building exercise and a stress-test on their online servers. That said, the game looks and feels amazing! I’d love to geek out about it for hours, but now isn’t the time. However, during the one hour I played, the game felt just slightly awkward: it was hard for me to aim. In most shooting-based games (first, or third person) camera control and aiming is controlled with a second analog stick on the controller. Splatoon, on the other hand, has the vertical aiming controlled by tilting the Wii U’s controller. (I didn’t know at the time that it could be changed!) Being fairly experienced in the “typical” method, this threw me off to a high degree, which got me wondering: does everyone new to games feel this way?
I began to think a lot about accessibility in games. Again, I’m privileged with experience in many game genres and the conventions of gaming
such as control styles, terminology, and and techniques that may be less obvious to someone who isn’t an avid gamer (such as double jumping). Not everyone has had the chance or desire to gain that experience. How do they feel when a game assumes they have been playing for 10+ years? There’s been much talk of gaming being very insular and isolationist. I agree; while it is nice to have games that cater to certain niches, improving accessibility to gaming as a whole should be more of a priority.
In order for the industry to be sustained, it cannot focus only on the needs and preferences of a single demographic. An article by Steve Lubitz (co-host of the Isometric gaming podcast) discusses this idea. Based on the Splatoon example, the aiming felt out of place to people like us gamers, who are stuck in their ways. But to a player with less experience, this might feel more intuitive and comfortable. I can’t say for sure, and would love to see some data on it, but it shouldn’t be ruled out as a gimmicky and poor mechanic just because the “old guard” doesn’t like it. While some people find it interesting, there is a bit of debate about it.
This also got me thinking about how players with disabilities might feel with certain gameplay elements. Again, I’m privileged in being able-bodied, so I may take some things for granted if they haven’t been brought to my attention. A quick and simple example is the idea of colorblindness. While many games don’t change much depending on which spectrum of color one is able to see, some very much do. If a player can’t differentiate some colors, they may be in for a world of frustration if an objective requires that ability. For example, many multiplayer games differentiate teammates and opponents by the color of their screen name ,such as green vs. red. Fortunately, there are games that have come with accessibility options already! World of Warcraft has options to customize the user interface to varying degrees on three separate colorblind filters. Splatoon has an option in the same vein. Similarly, there are tools and resources for developers to make their game colorblind friendly. For instance, sites like Includification.com provide examples of pitfalls and ways to circumvent them.
One of my favorite games, Crypt of the Necrodancer, has a few measures to make it more accessible for people. One big example is its anti-epilepsy measures. When the player is doing well in the game, the floors light up and flash to the beat of the songs. It can be a quick reminder to the player if they’re not missing beats, but it is mostly a cosmetic affect. However, it can be very easily turned off with no penalty. The Bard character is put in as an an aid to those who may be Deaf, or have difficulty with rhythm or other difficulties the game. All in one, the Bard gives the game accessibility to groups that may be unable to play the game any other way.
A last example is quick as well. The Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises typically feature left-handed modes. While left-handedness isn’t a disability, it is an often overlooked deviation from a supposed “norm”. Since these games use specific control inputs, the guitars, drums, etc, are meant to be held like the instruments they emulate. As with real ones, they are held a certain way based on the user’s comfort. “Left Hand Mode” gives players the option to hold their instrument in their preferred orientation, and the gameplay cues change to reflect that. On the development side, it’s some extra work, but provides a much smoother experience for everyone affected.
Overall, these are just some current efforts being made in the gaming community. While there have been many improvements, accessibility is something games need to continue to focus on for various reasons, whether they be physical, skill, or experience based. This will make the industry more inclusive, which is both good morally and in a business sense—there are many markets that are hungry for the chance to play games, and we all deserve a chance to play the. Charities like Able Gamers (associated with the aforementioned Includification.com) are in support of this. It’s my hope that going forward, more games will contain options to be as inclusive as possible to many groups. The gaming community preaches that gaming is for everyone, and we need to be sure that when we say this, we actually mean everyone.