A current generation game controller has almost 20 buttons and two analogue sticks but the average human has just less than two hands and just less then ten fingers and thumbs. How can we make sure that everybody can enjoy our games?
Controlling games is a skill that most of you reading this will have honed over many years of well-spent youth and adulthood. Critics may bash video games as being a waste of time, but there is no denying it takes a huge amount of dexterity to play some of them. Have you ever tried to talk you Dad through a 10 hit combo in Tekken? This isn’t simple stuff. Now imagine you only have one arm; or you can’t fully use all your fingers. Can you still do that headshot in Modern Warfare? Can you still perform that mid-air reversal, or a handbrake turn?
You probably can’t, but not because of your disability, because the game makers have picked out which buttons do what and give you little or no choice about it. One quadriplegic gamer, Chuck Bittner, decided it was time to raise a little awareness his plight and started an online petition asking for custom button remapping to be implemented in all games, that petition currently has over 50,000 signatures on it.
Colour me unimpressed
Controllers aren’t the only area of where developers forget about what is generally know as Accessibility. When the Killzone 2 beta came out, my teammates at Sony and I were lucky enough to get early access and we ran some lunchtime multiplayer sessions in the office. Except that my two nearest neighbours in the office are red/green colour-blind. Take a look at the screenshot below and see if you can work out why they didn’t enjoy playing that much.
This is a screenshot from Killzone 3 which was released 2 years after Killzone 2, and I notice that they will be adding support for colour-blind players in an upcoming patch. So, yes they are thinking about it, but it’s clearly not a priority.
Why should we worry you may ask? Well, aside from being inclusive and getting as many people as you can to play the game that you poured the last two years of your life into, you may well find that in the future you simply have to worry.
In the UK, accessibility is already a required to provide sub-titling for 90% of it’s content. It’s not a unreasonable step for legislators to extend the website accessibility code to games, requiring that all games provide button re-mapping, subtitles and perhaps, alternative colour schemes.
So what should we be doing now?
Implementing button re-mapping is not a huge task, though it is probably not going to be the highlight of someone’s week when the task comes up on their schedule.
One of the main issues I imagine is brought up if someone suggests full button re-mapping is the additional the QA and TRC problems that are likely to arise because of the additional flexibility offered.
So perhaps in this area it isn’t just the developers that need to be involved, but the platform holders too. Is it possible for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to offer button configurations as part of the operating system? It seems like this should be the best solution, taking the burden off the developers and giving a uniform interface for everyone.
As for the colour-blindness issues, I guess the simplest solution is to stop making games for Red Vs Green or at least provide an alternative, how about Teal vs Orange?