People with disabilities encounter many gaming issues: input method

In previous articles I wrote, including “92% of people with impairments play games despite difficulties” and “Awareness of the term ‘serious game’ low among people with impairments”, I have discussed the eagerness and willpower of people with disabilities to play games despite their impairments and how serious games can contribute to the improvement of several health-related and social skills of gamers, which may be especially beneficial for people with impairments.

(In)accessible games
However, as many of the video games are not accessible for gamers with impairments, surveys have shown that because of their impairments people with disabilities suffer from a loss of gaming experience and some are even entirely unable to play a game. By improving the accessibility of games many unnecessary barriers can be avoided that prevent people with a range of impairments from accessing or enjoying the output.

Many games are inaccessible simply because game developers are in the first place completely unaware of the fact that people with impairments also play games. As for those who are aware, the most important reason behind the inaccessibility of the games they make is that they do not know how they can take the group of people with impairments into account when developing games.

Modified controller
Image of a modified controller.

Audience group with impairments
The audience group of people with impairments who play games is a very broad one. It varies from people who have a low reading age to different classifications of colour vision deficiency and from people with temporary impairments such as a broken hand to people with situational impairments such as a noisy room as the gameplay environment. All gamers have a different level of ability and disability, making it impossible to reduce people with impairments to a certain type of gamer.

To make games accessible for this broad group of people with impairments, it is important to identify the issues gamers in this group encounter when playing games. After all, it’s impossible to solve accessibility issues if we don’t know what the issues actually are. By testing games with the target group, many issues can be mapped.

Research on the accessibility of games
A member of the Game Accessibility project run by the Accessibility Foundation in Utrecht, The Netherlands has conducted research on the accessibility of games by testing a few browser games with people with impairments to identify the problems they encounter when playing games. All test subjects who participated in the game test sessions are people with at least one impairment related to their vision, their hearing, their motor or cognitive skills.

To increase the chance of finding a broad variety of issues, three different type of games are chosen. The games included in the study are respectively the platform game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Sewer Run, the point-and-click game Brain Waves and a drag and drop game Pyramid Pile Up Plus. All games could be played with digital controls and viewed in a web browser on a computer or a laptop.

Sixty-one issues
A total of sixty-one issues are identified in the game test sessions with twenty-nine test subjects. The most obvious issues are related to the input methods. All three games were totally not playable by blind gamers, as the game does not offer support for screenreaders. Navigation menus were not given any labels, making it impossible for screenreaders to read the text on buttons.

Other than the inability to read unlabeled texts, blind gamers also had problems with the use of the mouse. In the drag and drop game, players have to drag blocks from the two sides of the screen to a pyramid in the middle of the screen. The necessary hand-eye coordination required in the process of dragging items with the mouse complicates gameplay for people with blind people.

Game Boy one switch
A Game Boy with just one switch would be perfect for people who lack the coordination to use more buttons at the same time.

Another issue related to the input method is found in the platform game. The game requires the player to use the arrow keys as controls to navigate the character and the z-key to use the specific weapon of the character. Many people with impairments related to their physical skills were not able to play the game well.

Because of their impairments, some test subjects could only play with one hand. Due to the great distance between the position of the arrow keys and the z-key in a computer keyboard, these test subjects were not able to move their hand from the arrow keys to the z-key in time and vice versa. Some were also not able to press a combination of multiple keys at the same time due to muscle disorders.

Identifying the problems
In conclusion, in order to make accessible games, issues that gamers with disabilities encounter during gameplay have to be identified. Through game test sessions, many issues related to the input method of games were uncovered.

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