If last year was a turning point where game accessibility became visible, then this year is a weathervane—showing the direction developers are working on. Although it feels like disability critics and advocates have been arguing that we have the right to be here, many studios have recognized this and are making games for us and marketing to us. Accessibility in games has never been so obvious-but this visibility itself is questionable.
Many high-profile games actively included information about accessibility in this year’s marketing, and released news about their accessibility menus and features before launch. However, it is much easier to talk about the existence of features than the absence of obstacles. You will never see reports saying “the latest franchise addition promises no tiny text” or “the upcoming blockbuster will never spin the camera at a disgusting speed.” It’s a good thing to post news about game accessibility in advance — telling disabled audiences that they are welcome and providing them with information about playing upcoming games — but it also leads in some way about accessibility Sexual public dialogue.
Microsoft is one of the largest publishers and is particularly outspoken when it comes to the accessibility of its games and hardware. Its two major releases this year-Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite-both include accessibility news as part of its pre-release marketing. Although both games have made very obvious efforts to include disabled players, the results have been mixed. Disability critics praised one and criticized the other.
Both Forza and Halo Infinite provide a comprehensive accessibility menu at startup-Halo Infinite makes it one of the first things you see. Both games also allow you to make your character visibly disabled by using prosthetics as part of the character customization options. Although these are clearly visible steps to include disabled players, the actual accessibility of the two games is surprisingly different-showing completely opposite problems.
Browsing the settings of Forza as a disabled player is a strangely fragmented experience. The parts related to accessibility are very specific, including customizable settings such as color blindness, subtitles, text-to-speech, and game speed. Some of them are relevant to me-I will return to game speed-but some settings that profoundly affect game accessibility are in other menus. Vibrate settings in “Gameplay”, adjust audio level in “Audio”, and control remapping in “Control”.From the point of view of motor accessibility, many of its comprehensive difficulty settings are necessary for me, but they are also accessibility advocate Steve Seller in his Forza Horizon n 5 comments It is just as beneficial to him as a blind player.
It’s easy to distinguish which settings will particularly affect the obstacles I personally encounter, but as accessibility consultant Cherry Thompson recently published this year’s Global Accessibility Conference, “All options are suitable for everyone, and all options increase accessibility.” All players are browsing the interactions between our hardware, our software, and our bodies, and negotiating how much friction there is where they meet.
When you put a set of options behind a special menu, many players will not look at them. Accessibility design always has more benefits than any specific obstacle it intends to solve—the “subtitles are good when you eat a lot of snacks” example is eternal—but once you determine that it is for accessibility needs, People ignore it no matter how they benefit. Relatedly, it conveys how some settings are about adjusting the game, and how some settings are “extra”-you can still feel these effects in many games. Turning off the quick event is just to watch a UI prompt of an emergency pulse. It is very common to expect you to press the button. It is not so urgent because it feels a bit wrong.
Forza’s clumsy navigation settings are unfamiliar because of how easy it is to access elsewhere. When I started playing it, all the difficulty settings were default, and I felt that I couldn’t control my car. I oversteer, I keep stopping, and every few seconds I lose my literal and metaphorical motivation. Although I gave some control of the car to the game’s AI, the key to making the driving feel right is to reduce the game speed to 85%, giving me a fraction of a second to react. This is a setting I have never seen in any other game, and I now really want to use this setting in every game I play.
Accessibility settings may allow me to control my car, but I am still not good at driving-it’s just fun right now. Driving badly in a way that feels good and right means breaking through obstacles, beheading cacti, and getting stupid high-score bonuses. Did not hit the tree, did not pause, did not feel frustrated with my hand. Forza provides room for the “right” game-literally, self-driving through Mexico, sliding down a cliff, or trying to shorten your personal best by a few milliseconds. Settings alone cannot create this experience.
Forza has a clumsy communication menu but an accessible core design, Halo Infinite is the opposite. It will pre-display its accessibility menu when you start the game for the first time, but every element in this section is also present in every other section. In its introduction, it is obviously not so distinctive-but to get to the surface level, its playability is much lower.
In Ben Bayliss’ comments on barrier-free exports Can i play that, He first warned that based on Xbox’s history, it’s easy to assume that Halo will be accessible, but “it’s important to note that the number of accessibility options available does not determine whether the game is accessible, and Halo Infinite seems to be a A perfect example.”
The “clumsy implementation” of the accessibility features he criticized was also a problem I encountered when using Halo. Things that seemed helpful at first didn’t really hold up-like full controller remapping still didn’t let me avoid stick clicks in any way. Just like those awkward QTE opt-outs, setting the function to “switch” instead of “hold” will never be correct. At the end of the first mission, when I was going to rush through a collapsed station, the Master Chief kept slowing down and taking a leisurely walk every few seconds to make the timing seams of the level design painful and visible.
Most importantly, the main experience is just uncomfortable to play. The design of Halo Infinite prioritizes mobility and aggressiveness. It wants you to think constantly, switching between your guns, melee, grenade, and tools. Your ammunition will run out very quickly, if you stand in the same place for too long, you will be vulnerable, and you will hit the enemy’s face-not only to hit them, but to take them when they fall gun. If this core loop is exhausting you, if your reaction speed is not fast enough, if it is information overload, then there is no setting that can alleviate the basic elements of the Halo experience.
The design of the game itself even admits that this gameplay is overwhelming. You do it a few minutes at a time, in fragments that are traversed, cutscenes, and search battery breakdown.But the design of this rhythm only takes into account the limitations of some players, and Infinite’s campaign is deliberately more challenging than any of its predecessors in the series.
Accessible games are games that take accessibility as the core of their design. Clear accessibility settings may inform players with disabilities that you are considering their needs, but accessible game design is more complicated than that. As Thompson said in their speech, “An option may promote accessibility, and sometimes it is a bandage to the problem. This is not accessibility per se.”
When the most compelling game determines how the game approaches the trend of accessibility, 2021 makes me feel very complicated. It feels like a player that developers are actively pursuing, not as exciting as I am sometimes “lucky” to be able to play games. Marketing the accessibility of the game and making its features and settings so highly visible is a statement of intent: players with disabilities are welcome here.
At the same time, I am cautious that only the most obvious works-distinguishing players with disabilities from others by virtue of their visibility-will be selected and copied. The work of making game design accessible in the early stages of production is still generally only recognized in niche spaces. This is the difference between installing a walkie-talkie on a train platform and asking someone to provide me with a ramp and using an accessible platform to allow you to board the train without assistance. It’s great to go somewhere; it’s hard not to feel the other.