Hello! Welcome to our ongoing series looking at accessibility in games. Today Vivek Gohil looks at the recent Scope report to see where we are and where we're headed.
Disability History Month is the perfect time to celebrate the disabled gamer community and their accomplishments in the gaming industry.
In the past five years, the whole industry has grown to become a more inclusive space, by recognising that accessibility is crucial. Most game developers now design accessibility settings using the expertise of accessibility consultants. Disabled gamers now have a foundation to create change through voicing their experiences, and there are multiple disabled pioneers working in game design.
In the past, accessibility was Alien Isolation: Amanda Ripley alone in the dark being stalked by an apex predator. In games, no one can hear you scream. Presently, accessibility is Far Cry 6. You're Dani Rojas with a plethora of weapons, awesome amigos and guerrilla ingenuity, all helping to create your own unique playstyle to take down Anton Castillo.
This year, disability equality charity Scope created a report regarding accessibility in gaming, to learn about the barriers faced by disabled gamers.
When the report was published, Molly White, the co-lead of the co-production group from Scope, gave a statement regarding Scope's work to improve accessible gaming and level-up fundraising events, "In a world full of barriers, gaming opens a new, exciting world of possibilities," White said. "But two-thirds of disabled gamers have experienced barriers to gaming, whether through poor accessibility, lack of representation, or negative attitudes from other gamers. Scope believes everyone should be able to enjoy the benefits of gaming. That's why we've published our Accessibility in Gaming report - to shine a light on the most common barriers faced by disabled gamers and discuss what changes they want to see."
Sightless Kombat, a gamer without sight and an influential streamer and accessibility specialist added: "It's great to see more accessibility research being conducted, and the information being publicly available, as it's not just useful for consultants, but everyone else as well to know what the situation is in the industry. As for co-production, it's been amazing to work on an event like this with so many other accessibility professionals and more companies, charities or otherwise, should really consider how accessibility can be implemented not just in their products and events, but in the design processes of those things too."
The findings in the report are extremely interesting so I thought I would share my thoughts.
There are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, a hefty portion of the UK's consumer base. The purchasing power of disabled people (The Purple Pound) is massively overlooked. How overlooked? £274 billion, according to the report.
The findings of this report discovered that 66 percent of disabled gamers say that they face barriers when gaming. The biggest barrier is the affordability of suitable adapted controllers (22 percent), inaccessible consoles (18 percent), knowledge or time to set up assistive technology (23 percent) and inaccessible games (17 percent).
Adapted controllers are bespoke products. It can be difficult to find the right people to adapt this stuff so it can become expensive. When you start requiring accessibility support, there isn't much information out there either. Thankfully in the UK we have the gaming charity Special Effect, which adapts controllers and helps you to find the right set-up.
The hardware solutions that are important to gamers with impairments are clear. 25 percent want to adjust the sensitivity of the controller sticks or buttons. 16 percent require control remapping so buttons are in the best place to utilise their abilities. 14 percent would need a one-handed controller and haptic feedback, and 11 percent require head or mouth operated controllers.
The cost and complexity ramps up when you require mounting solutions to hold switches or controllers for your set-up. It's also not easy to set everything up each time. The Xbox Adaptive Controller and Logitech's switch package are affordable solutions, which open gaming up to a wider range of players.
Personally, the inaccessibility of consoles is the biggest issue for me. The Titan 2 device I use to allow my PS4 controller to work on the PS5 has caught a huge snag. Initially, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart worked perfectly with the Dualshock 4. However, recent Playstation updates have patched crucial accessibility workarounds. This issue prevents me from playing Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut and future PS5 titles. The solution is to buy an add-on for the Titan 2, but it releases sometime next year.
So unfortunately, at the time of writing (November 1st) the PS5 console is inaccessible to gamers using the device until this add-on solution arrives. Disabled gamers shouldn't have to spend extra money to make a console accessible. Also, if the console is inaccessible, then accessibility settings wouldn't benefit disabled gamers. This hardware barrier sabotages the incredible work done by Playstation developers who have revolutionised accessibility.
Scope found that 50 percent of disabled gamers want to know information on the accessibility of a game as this affects their decision to buy it. In the past I would just pre-order a game without worrying, but now accessibility features and control scheme information has the power to change my decision to buy the game. [Chris Donlan here. At Eurogamer we are aware that we have failed to properly cover accessibility features in our reviews, and we are working on a solution for that soon!]
Scope's report highlights that disabled gamers are more likely to be engaged with subscription services, using Discord or watching streams in comparison with non-disabled gamers. The report also highlights that 20 percent of disabled gamers have purchased games that they haven't been able to play due to poor accessibility. Furthermore, 14 percent of those disabled gamers have not been able to return the game or refund it. This is a huge injustice. Subscription services like Xbox Game Pass give disabled gamers the choice to play games without worrying about the cost if the game isn't accessible.
The report also provides recommendations for the gaming industry.
The top recommendation was that 31 percent of gamers wanted platforms to do more to tackle negative attitudes about disability online. Facing trolls or hateful attitudes destroys your confidence; gaming is meant to be enjoyable and social.
25 percent of gamers wanted accurate representation of disabled people in games. It's quite common for horror games to have creaking wheelchairs in a creepy hospital setting or to use wheelchairs that are not representative of modern wheelchairs. We need main protagonists with disabilities or characters who happen to be disabled rather than characters for whom the disability is seen as a major characterisation. (My favourite disabled representation is in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, where Miles communicates using American Sign Language with a character Hailey, who is deaf.)
20 percent wanted more affordable assistive tech and 16 percent wanted more assistive technology options. This barrier needs to be destroyed, with the Purple Pound overlooked there is an abundance of money waiting to be spent on assistive gaming technology. Xbox have really championed the removal of this barrier by first creating the affordable XAC and, in this gen, allowing gamers to use any controller on the Xbox Series X.
Research like this is extremely useful to illustrate the experiences of disabled gamers and highlight accessibility gaps that are present and suggest ways to fix them. The trajectory of accessibility knowledge and collaboration between disabled gamers and game developers is shooting sky high with no end in sight.
Disability History Month celebrates talented disabled pioneers, but it is also important to recognise the present achievements made by disabled people to create a better, more inclusive future.