I talk about accessibility in gaming (making computer/video games so that more people, especially disabled people, can play) a lot around Twitter, and I include a section to mention it in my reviews for games. I’ve also written a blog post about making games for screen reader users. But I’ve never talked broadly about what sort of things might make a game accessible and why these things are helpful.
I myself am disabled with various symptoms and chronic injuries that make some games impossible or just not worth playing for the pain I’ll end up in. Other times, I just have to deal with a certain amount of pain and struggle if it’s something I really want to play. And I’m definitely not the only one with this experience.
This is by no means a complete list—what makes a game accessible for one person may not work for another person. If you’re a game dev who is trying to make your games more accessible, make sure you check out some other posts, tweets, etc. as well in order to get more perspectives. But I tried to include some of the most common things, and perhaps this list can be used as a starting point or a way to spread awareness!
If a game has text, especially a lot of text, having a text-to-speech option (or full voice acting) makes it accessible for anyone with difficulty reading text. In some cases, it can make whole games accessible for blind players and screen reader users. (Here’s a whole post with more in-depth info about making blind-accessible games.)
Captions for dialogue make games accessible for D/deaf and hard-of-hearing players. Or players who have a hard time understanding spoken words. Or players who need to play with sound off. And remember, captions can also includes sound effects (e.g. door creaking open)!
Difficulty Options / Skip
Having different levels of difficulty means more people can play and have an enjoyable experience, regardless of their ability or skill.
This, maybe more than all the others, isn’t just about disability. For example, maybe someone just doesn’t like stressful games, but they still want to see the art and story.
One game that is fantastic when it comes to difficulty options and customization is Project Zomboid. If you are a game developer and need more incentive, you should know that I paid $20 for this game, which I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for those options, and it’s now one of my favorites which means I’ve told people about it and talked about it online a whole bunch, perhaps convincing even more people to buy it, perhaps because they too like the sound of the customization.
This also doesn’t just apply to games with combat. For example, many management sims have a sandbox mode so that you can build and create without worrying about objectives or failure or running out of time. Overland is another great example. It’s a strategic sort-of puzzle game with highly customizable difficulty, including a mode that lets you explore without any creatures attacking.
A skip option is similarly helpful for games with combat or puzzles. Letting people skip difficult fights/puzzles/etc. individually, if possible, is another way of allowing customization and doesn’t require the developer to make changes for all different difficulty levels. Depending on someone’s specific disabilities, or how they’re feeling that day, being able to skip something could mean the difference between being able to play or not play a game. And being able to skip is cool as a player regardless because it means you can try, if you want, but if you fail or don’t want to try, no worries, you can still move forward.
If your game relies on color in any way, it’s especially important to either have some sort of adjustment option, or some other way players can tell what’s what, aside from color (for example, Hue uses color in the puzzle solving, but they have a colorblind mode that labels each color with symbols).
Be aware when deciding on graphics and colors that low contrast could make a game unplayable for some people, for a number of reasons. Especially if you use different colors of similar values (e.g. they would look the same if put in grayscale). Adjusting contrast/colors, adding outlines, or giving options for these things might help.
Warnings for Flashing Lights/Images
A warning for flashing lights/images is super important for people with epilepsy and seizures. The ability to turn off the flashing lights would be even better so that those people can still play.
Play with Keyboard or Mouse or Controller
If your game can only be played with a mouse, it excludes everyone who can’t use a mouse. If your game can only be played with a keyboard, it excludes everyone who can’t use a keyboard. If your games requires both, it excludes both groups of people. If a game is designed so that the player can choose to play with one or the other or both, it’s a lot more accessible. Being able to use a controller to play opens it up to even more players too.
Letting people change what key does what can make a big difference for some people.
Manual Versus Auto Saves
Auto saves on their own aren’t necessarily bad. The problem is when there’s no manual save, and the game only saves when you reach a certain point. A person might not be able to play for that long at a time. Or they may start feeling bad and have to be able to stop quickly. There are some games I want to play more, but I know I’ll have to play at least 30 minutes, and I just can’t always do that, especially while reading a lot of text. And what about people who just don’t have long stretches of free time? Allowing manual saves is beneficial for everyone.
I don’t know much about this, but I know there are certain fonts that are supposed to be helpful and easier to read, and having it as an option is a good idea.
Individual Audio Adjustment
This is already in a lot of games, especially visual novels, but I’m mentioning it just in case. Allowing people to adjust audio for things like music, sound effects, and dialogue separately can be very helpful.
Not something that would be possible in every game, but definitely possible for some, and definitely easier on the eyes, which is often better for eye strain, headaches, etc.