Unfortunately, accessibility is often overlooked in video games. Taking the “The Last of Us Part II” as an example, we’ll demonstrate how accessibility can work in large, complex games and look at more of the latest top titles to see which offer similar options.
Compared to how we passively consume films and books, games demand quite a lot from their users. Gamers need good vision, good hearing and considerable motor skills to be successful in most games. People with physical disabilities may only be able to play certain parts of a game or may be prevented from playing many games full stop.
To address this exclusion, gamers with disabilities have become more organised in recent years and have raised their concerns with game developers and console manufacturers. Their efforts have succeeded in increasing the number of games that offer an ever-growing range of accessibility features, making them accessible to a wider audience.
Developer Naughty Dog has taken a major step forward with its new release “The Last of Us Part II”. The game’s countless accessibility features have been developed with input from players who benefit from them, meaning that the game is already being hailed as “the most accessible game ever” despite its complexity.
Below, we use this most recent example to highlight how accessibility can work in large, complex games, and we look at more of the latest top titles to see which offer similar options.
The three pillars of accessible gaming
To remove as many barriers in gaming as possible, accessibility features need to cover three main areas: visual and auditory aids for people with visual or hearing impairments, and controller settings for players with reduced mobility.
Websites such as “Can I Play That?” and “DAGERSystem” regularly publish accessibility reviews of the latest games. They give gamers who are blind, deaf or who have limited mobility detailed information about the playability of a game before they buy it.
With more than 60 accessibility settings, “The Last of Us Part II” clearly comes out top in all three areas. The list below is just a small excerpt from the wealth of options available and is meant to illustrate how other developers can also make complex games more accessible with simple settings.
Options for people with low vision
One of the biggest challenges in gaming is navigating complex 3D gaming environments. There are many aspects of games that players without disabilities take for granted, but which make it difficult for people with reduced vision to play properly. Hard-to-see enemies and items, illegible text and complex level designs can create a frustrating gaming experience.
“The Last of Us Part II” helps people who are blind or who have low vision to overcome these challenges by including some simple but innovative settings, enabling them to play this complex game without restrictions.
1. High contrast display mode
When this mode is enabled, enemies, items and interactive objects (doors, ladders, etc.) are highlighted in colour, while all the other parts of the gaming environment are coloured grey.
2. Scanning and navigation
With this setting, the player can scan the environment at any time to highlight all the important elements with audio signals and additional visual markers. For example, if the player has detected an enemy using the scanning function, they can then direct their character toward the enemy with another press of a button.
If the enemies are still difficult to see, the player can zoom in and out of the action at any time using the touchpad on the PlayStation 4 controller. Even text that is too small or difficult to read can be enlarged very easily.
4. Audio cues
All interactive objects have an audio cue. For example, if the player is standing in front of a glass pane that can be smashed, this is indicated by a short sound effect (in this case, the sound of glass shattering). The player can use a handy text-to-speech function to receive more information, for example about items they have picked up.
Options for people who are hard of hearing
Gamers who are hard of hearing may have difficulty identifying where certain sounds come from within a 3D environment, and this auditory information can play a crucial role in many combat situations. Players of games like “The Last of Us Part II” can only succeed if they know where enemies are or from which side they are attacking.
To solve this problem, various indicators have been put in the game to visually display information that is otherwise only represented through audio.
1. Closed captions
If enemies or allies are speaking and do not appear in the player’s field of view, their position is indicated by a small arrow next to their subtitles.
2. Direction indicator
This option replaces purely auditory clues during combat with a circular indicator that tells the player the direction from which enemies are attacking.
Accessibility at Swisscom
Swisscom wants everyone in Switzerland to be able use communication media without obstacles. We are particularly committed to making the digital world accessible so that people with disabilities can be a part of the information society.
Options for players with reduced mobility
Gaming can bring many different kinds of motor-skill limitations to the fore. Some players may only be able to play with one hand, while others may not be able to press the buttons quickly enough, and some may not be able to hold down buttons for long.
That’s why it’s crucial that games give players enough options to customise the controls as much as they want. Computer gamers are free to configure their controls as standard since (almost) all PC games allow the controls to be freely adjusted.
Unfortunately, this trend has not yet been established on consoles, but “The Last of Us Part II” is also leading by example in this area, leaving every last detail of the control mapping up to the player to customise.
If configured correctly, the game can also be played completely one-handed.
Conclusion: accessibility despite complexity and action
It’s amazing that such a long, complex and action-packed game as “The Last of Us Part II” gives players with acute physical disabilities the opportunity to play the game completely independently.
The fact that the game is already being celebrated as the “most accessible game ever” is mainly down to its incredible range of options. Players can perfectly tailor the mix of settings to their needs, and anyone can take advantage of options that were developed primarily for other disabilities.
Even people who don’t have a disability but who may only have a little gaming experience can benefit from some of the options. It is also particularly commendable that all these settings work without the developers having to compromise on the core design of the game. If you don’t need these extra options then you won’t notice them, and you’ll get a complex and challenging hardcore gaming experience.
We can only hope that in the future, other developers will also go the extra mile and make their games accessible to a wider audience.
After all, games are for everyone.