The accessibility argument in serious games

Digital accessibility is gaining ground in our everyday society. Without a laptop or a desktop computer you are excluded from life in the digital world. Not to mention the dependency of businesses and governmental services for example, virtually anything can be found online.

The development of the digital world has paved the way for serious games, where a serious purpose is leading and entertainment is the supporting element. The education on various topics, stimulation of health and even (physical) recovery are such serious purposes. This means these games need to be accessible for everyone. From someone who suffers from color blindness to the hearing impaired.

Disabilities often cause serious trouble when handling the computer for example. Fortunately, a lot of innovations are giving these people access to the digital world. The physical disabled have their own mechanisms to be able to handle the computer. Visually disabled persons use text-to-speech software or the Braille bar. Unfortunately when it comes to accessibility in computer games this is rather hard. Accessibility, user-friendly interfaces and so forth are seldom seen and rare. Serious games need to be accessible too.

Serious games
Games that are mainly important for education and less for entertainment are called serious games. Games where you’ll be able to run an office, or learn how to start your own solar panel business are a few examples. The need for accessibility however is even greater with educational and healthcare games. A game has been developed where people suffering from serious burns learn how to manage their pain. Even games that seriously help patients recover, from both mental and physical problems. Someone who has injuries has the same chance to be deaf or blind like any other person. In school educational games are used because learning something whilst playing is in our genes and just works better.

Equal opportunities for everyone however are far from possible. A blind child will never be able to play a game that helps teaching colors. But in healthcare, serious gaming is serious business. Recovery is important for everyone and the educational level needs to be equal for everyone. If educational games are used more often ‘officially’ in classrooms around the country it cannot be possible that these games are inaccessible.

How games should be made
But the accessibility of games is not in the spotlights. Games are unique programs and are seldom accessible for normal software that is produced to make the desktop computer, web pages on the internet and often text based programs accessible. To make an accessible game developers should keep in mind that some of the people that play their games have a certain disability. Especially for the development of serious games. Research has shown serious games have potential but nobody knows for sure how big that potential is. More importantly, nobody has found a certain formula with which can be said “this is an effective serious game”. The target audience for a serious game is unique and very specific. Developers of serious games that help people recover from a certain developer and accessibility comes second.

The argument
Accessibility of serious games is important. For some people more than others; education and well-being for example are two very important reasons. But the serious game industry is still in development and in most cases still in the testing phase. What works, what doesn’t? Is this a useful approach, should we use this approach more often or not? Game developers often have a tight budget and serious deadlines to meet the demands of their clients. So is there room for accessibility?

There are a few ways to make a game accessible without a lot of effort or an incredible amount of money. The so-called game accessibility guidelines are some simple ground rules meant for developers to give guidance in the process of making a game accessible. Also available are games that are already accessible. These games(often no serious game) can function as an example for developers. The next step would be to implement the accessibility aspect in Game Design courses at universities.

Emphasis on accessibility
However, budget, deadlines and the relatively unknown aspect of accessibility in games is in need of attention. The future looks bright for serious games, so we have to make sure accessibility will be in the crosshairs of serious game developers. Several websites are already dedicated to accessibility but what’s really necessary is that accessibility will be included in the education of future game designers and developers. But for example, one can also think of funding for games that are universally accessible. A lot of games that could easily be made accessible still aren’t. But the possibilities for those steps in the future are certainly there.

For more information:
Game accessibility guidelines

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