Click Here for the abridged version of this article in Disability Horizons
The gaming industry recently is going through positive changes becoming much more inclusive for gamers with various abilities. 30% of gamers have a disability so companies cannot afford to alienate that valuable user-base. The awareness and application of accessibility has grown exponentially, now that developers are making their long overdue venture into this forgotten field. However, the effective usage of singular voices all working towards similar goals mean that those influential voices need unification.
Playstation & Xbox have both made great efforts to include accessibility features with varying success. PlayStation developers like Naughty Dog (Uncharted 4: the Thief’s End), Insomniac games (Spider-Man), Santa Monica Studios (God of War) etc champion accessibility features in-game creating a gold standard to follow. This has pushed other developers to innovate with accessibility. The recent release of Shadow of the Tomb Raider was groundbreaking for a number of reasons taking the crown from Uncharted 4 by adding another layer of inclusive features for gamers with cognitive disabilities. You are able to alter the difficulty of these key gameplay elements: Combat, Exploration and Puzzles. For example, if you lowered the difficulty during puzzles Lara would instruct you exactly what to do step-by-step.
God of War is a game known for epic fast-paced challenging fights, this is still the case. After release, many gamers were unable to activate the important ability of Rage Mode as it involved simultaneously pressing both analog sticks (R3+L3) so Santa Monica Studios listened to feedback and added an alternative configuration. Having the power of Playstation developers behind inclusion is a great win for all gamers but there’s definitely more the company could improve on.
The accessibility leaders are definitely Microsoft & Xbox, they recently launched their paradigm-shifting Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC). The XAC was designed primarily to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility through strong partnerships with The AbleGamers Charity, SpecialEffect, Warfighter Engaged, and the disabled gaming community. Input from these groups helped to shape the design, functionality and packaging of the Xbox Adaptive Controller.
At the back of the XAC device there are 2 big buttons in the front corresponding to A + B and at the back are nineteen 3.5mm ports and 2 USB ports for external analog stick inputs. The XAC works in harmony with Xbox’s accessibility feature called Co-Pilot, this feature links 2 regular controllers together to act as 1 controller. So, whilst using a regular controller you can link it with the XAC. This means that gamers have the power over the controller and button placements, allowing you to connect a variety of switches or joysticks in the right place for you. It’s basically a unified hub connecting your own abilities with your gaming experience. Freedom & possibilities in a box.
I was lucky enough to test the Xbox Adaptive Controller before launch. I’d never played on an Xbox One X before but now with a working setup I can play the racing game Forza 7. However, I’ve found that it does take time to find the right configuration and the right assistance. The possibilities are endless but it’s sometimes difficult to know the range of products available which connect to the XAC. It definitely will change gaming, it’s a simple idea with a huge impact, nobody can ignore accessibility now that Microsoft has made this bold statement.
I’ve been asked several times by parents about how to adapt a controller for their son who is struggling with their favourite activity gaming. I had to face that fear a year ago, I thought the only solution to that problem was to just stop gaming. I recommend that if people are having difficulties with gaming don’t despair but contact the gaming charity, I mentioned earlier Special Effect. You can either visit their workshop in Oxford or they will visit you at home and help you to create a setup to ensure that you can continue enjoying gaming again.
Gaming is more than just enjoyment, it’s been a lifeline for me especially during periods of isolation so I’m glad to see the beginning of accessibility thinking. All these positive steps are brilliant however the industry can definitely improve, we need Playstation & Nintendo to follow in Xbox’s footsteps.