The Importance of Video Game Accessibility

Accessibility logo in which a blue person in an x position is surrounded by a black circle.

While game studios, UX researchers, and scholars are finding novel and inventive ways to craft video games accessible for the vast and diverse player base in the world, players who don’t belong to the focus groups or aren’t familiar with the phenomenon are either quick to dismiss it or questioning its importance. To be fair, game accessibility shouldn’t need further explanations or rationalizations. Bringing wonderful virtual worlds accessible to the widest possible audience is as good a reason as any. Still, I’d like to address a few important benefits that video game accessibility has.

Firstly, as of today, games are an essential hobby or leisure time activity for many, from younglings to the elderly. The games and game industry is gradually expanding, estimated to surpass 200 billion US dollars in market value in 2023. Thus, it’s reasonable to think that the player count is also increasing – and consequently the diverse player base. Through games, people form connections, share experiences, experience emotions, and challenge themselves. Games are a societal phenomenon, one which unites people from schoolyards to coffee rooms in workplaces. However, the lack of reliable accessibility means that a big chunk of the player base is potentially excluded from participating in the vastly popular game culture – partly or fully. A rough estimate from 2019 indicated that there were 2.5 to 3 billion active players. Of these, at least a third experiences disability that affects their playing of games. Another survey revealed that 30% in the US and 20% in the UK players identify as disabled. It doesn’t mean that all people with disabilities play games, or utilize game accessibility, but it’s a rough indication of how large numbers we are speaking here.

Secondly, it’s important to remember that it is indeed society that disables individuals by imposing unnecessary barriers from poor public transport to inaccessible spaces. Even though it is imperative, transforming public spaces, buildings, and infrastructures accessible may be challenging and costly. However, games do not have those same limitations or excuses as physical spaces – making accessible games is very doable, especially if considered early in the game design. Furthermore, as society feels often inaccessible, playing games and participating in game culture can be one of the few hobbies or activities that a person with a disability can exercise.

Thirdly, developing accessible games is not a walk in the park, far from it actually. Disabilities vary a lot so it’s a massive task to cater to all the different disabilities and impairments. Still, that shouldn’t prevent considering game accessibility and there’s even a great solution for getting accessible design right – bringing disabled people into the design process. No, I don’t mean to utilize their goodwill by exploiting their know-how and sending them home with a movie ticket, but actually hiring them. Many of the current jobs can be inaccessible for a lot of people with disabilities but game development isn’t one of them, quite the contrary with the possibility of remote work partly or fully and the availability of highly developed tools for collaboration and communication. There are plenty of smart and passionate people who are criminally overlooked as employees due to their disabilities. Besides, in addition to accessibility, disabled employees would potentially bring expertise and novel perspectives to other aspects of game design from narrative to visual presentation to craft truly authentic games with diverse representation. Too long games have had a bare minimum of disability representation which often falls into unimaginative and harmful tropes.

Lastly, game accessibility benefits all – yes, even you. Everyone can have situational impairments that affect one’s senses or general game experience: a noisy environment, bright room, sleeping baby, or broken hand, or just lack of general game literacy – and game accessibility could aid in these cases considerably. More importantly, I always like to say that we all grow old which usually brings a fair share of issues to senses and mobility. If you intend to play games 30 years from now, surely you would like that the game accessibility would’ve evolved in that same time period so you can reap the benefits then.

So, let’s make encompassing game accessibility and accessible game design the new normal.

The main picture is downloaded from Pixabay.