Xbox Lead Developer Talks About the Future of Video Game Accessibility

Via The role of the past year, interest in the field of video game accessibility has increased. Developers of all sizes have incorporated accessibility features into their games, whether in indie lover likes Ao Dai or major AAA released as Ragnorök . God of War. In terms of hardware, Xbox released the Adaptive Controller in 2018 and PlayStation more recently announced project Leonardothis will be the company’s attempt to bring more accessible controllers to the PlayStation 5. The conversation about who gets into video games and how people play video games has never been more relevant. position.

Behind these compelling releases is the work of accessibility advocates, who advise and advise on these games, paving the way for more disability-friendly and accessible games. available to a wider audience. Sometimes companies also hire specific organizations to serve as a consulting during hardware developmentand or speak up about problems as they arise. And now, an awards show is recognizing this achievement as it happens, celebrating accessibility in video games.

import Game Accessibility Conference Award.

The awards were started by the Game Accessibility Conference, a conference dedicated to video game developers interested in expanding their knowledge of accessibility in games. . The awards — recognizing the work of those who “raise the bar for accessibility” — cover 18 categories and celebrate work in areas as diverse as academic research, publisher leadership in accessibility and representation.

This year, God of War Ragnarok took home awards in the category of Outstanding Accessibility AAA and Best Deaf/HoH. Nominations are shortlisted by a panel with the final picks chosen by a combination of public and jury voting. To learn more about the awards and what the future of game accessibility looks like, Polygon interviewed Tara Voelker, co-director of the Game Accessibility Conference Awards and head of accessibility team. Xbox Game Studios senior. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Polygon: How do you rate what makes a game accessible? (I imagine it’s hard and complicated.)

Tara: Assessing what makes a game accessible is both simple and complex. Essentially, a game is accessible when a player with a disability can play it. However, different gamers have different needs and different barriers that make them unplayable. A title that can be extremely accessible to deaf/hard of hearing gamers but completely inaccessible to the blind. That’s the complicated part.

To accurately gauge whether a group of players can access something, you must understand their needs and verify that those needs are met. For example, to make the game accessible to people with color blindness, you ensure that no key information is displayed solely in color and supported by shapes, patterns or text. Honestly, it’s still very rare that a game is actually accessible to everyone at once.

Image of Kratos fighting Freya in God of War Ragnarok.  Kratos is opaque green and Freya is marked with opaque red.  You can clearly distinguish the two outside in a fairly dark and snowy scene.

Image: Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

What makes an “accessible game” accessible?

An accessible game is one that has thought of unwanted barriers that might prevent players with disabilities from playing and avoids them altogether, or offers the option to remove them. As a game developer, you know what experience you want to give your players, and the goal is to make sure everyone can get it.

For example, the challenge of a racing game is to get your car around the track as fast as possible. The challenge isn’t struggling to hit the gas on the right trigger on the controller because you have limited dexterity in your hands. This extra challenge can be eliminated by allowing the player to rearrange the gas into the A button. No more struggling with the trigger and you can start the race.

I understand it’s a vague idea and the way it is expressed may vary from title to title.

How do you see the game approach changing over the years?

The field of accessibility in games has grown massively over time. When I first started gaming, there were no full-time access jobs in the gaming field. At all. And now there are many at both the studio and publisher levels. When accessibility first started ramping up, developers were rewarded and praised for things like color blindness filters, but now they’re expected and you’ll get a lot of complaints. without them.

Accessibility in games is on an exponential rise, and the proliferation of accessible titles we’ve seen over the past few years is truly astounding. What’s most interesting is that the idea of ​​accessibility is moving in earlier in the game’s development. Over the years, accessibility has been retrofitted. A game would be built, and then developers would see how many accessibility “holes” they could patch. Some of these vulnerabilities cannot be patched for reasons that were decided earlier in the development process. Now we are avoiding creating these holes altogether.

LeChuck from Return to Monkey Island reading a map.  He's dressed as a pirate and you can see his desk lit by a candle as he writes.

Image: Digital Devolver

Why is it important to celebrate the work that happens in the field?

While accessibility is on the rise, it’s still a space that relies heavily on supporters. In many situations, it can still take a lot of work to ensure that accessibility is a concern during development. That is real work. We want everyone who works for accessibility to know that they are appreciated and have time to see their impact on the honored players. Not only will it help them lift their spirits and recharge their batteries for the next battle, but it will be easier to win the next time when they can point their finger and say, “Well, look at the prizes and the success. This recognition…”

Is there anything else you would like to share with us today?

Gaming has a lot of benefits and is truly a part of popular culture. Players with disabilities deserve to be a part of the games space, and our games only get better as we consider their needs during development. Accessibility features are used not only by people who identify as disabled, but by gamers everywhere.

The easiest way to ensure that the game is accessible is to only get feedback from players with disabilities. There are plenty of people who want to play your game and will tell you why they can’t. Talk to them!


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