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Making Online Games Accessible

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As the months continue to tick by during a global pandemic due to COVID-19, people with disabilities are feeling isolated. With the inability to hang out in traditional manners with friends, it is more important than ever that online games, which have always been seen as a frivolity, are made digitally accessible.

The reality is, online games are a cornerstone of our new normal. No longer are we saying “Let’s go grab dinner!” Instead, more and more people are saying “Let’s play (insert game here)”. Unfortunately, most of these games are not accessible for people using assistive technology.

So where does this leave us? The answer is, as usual, left out. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have had to watch my friends play games during quarantine, while I am left on the sidelines because the website is not accessible. They may make comments, and try to include me, but that is no replacement for true inclusion.

Oftentimes, the games are quite graphical in nature. However, as shown by “The Last of Us, Part II”, any game, from the simplest card game to the most immersive RPG, can be made accessible with enough thought and commitment to inclusion. Below are my Top 5 Tips for ensuring that your game is digitally accessible to the widest audience possible.

Tips for a Digitally Inclusive & Accessible Game

  1. Multiple Modalities: Ensure that you are communicating game stats in as many ways as possible. You may be showing visuals, playing sounds, and providing haptics for key events at the same time. Also, ensure that the game can be played with various control mechanisms, from mouse to keyboard to alternative pointing device.
  2. Provide Time: Ensure that the game provides settings to change the amount of time users are given to do things. Many times, people with disabilities may simply need extra time to complete certain actions. With games played with smaller groups of friends, you would be surprised as to how much people are willing to help their friend be included in a game; I know I have been.
  3. Simplify Instructions: Provide simple, clear instructions, whether in the game itself or in a separate instruction manual, to explain the rules and how the game works.
  4. No Advantage: Ensure that there is no advantage to playing the game with one modality or another. A player should not be penalized for having a disability, and the game should be just as easy (or hard) for any person playing.
  5. Test it!: In the end, the best way to ensure that a game is accessible, is to have people with disabilities play it, and take their feedback into account. If you make an honest effort in making it more accessible, you will have a very loyal player base for years to come.

Ultimately, in cases like online games, there is a difference between aiming for WCAG Compliance where applicable and creating an equitable experience because it is ‘required’, and doing the right thing by considering the importance of inclusion for all users. Take it from my personal experience outlined above: Ensuring that your game is digitally accessible makes the world a more enjoyable place, and will make your game a top choice for many groups of people on game night, regardless of whether they have disabilities.

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