Accessibility in gaming is an evolving topic. Game and the industry as a whole are continuing to evolve and adapt new technology in order to make gaming for everyone. But every disability is different and no two disabled gamers are alike. Previously, I spoke about my own disabilities and what tools I used while playing for them. I recently spoke to Courtney Craven, the co-founder and EIC for Can I Play That?, a site dedicated to posted accessibility reviews. Craven has become a major voice in the accessibility community.
But Why Tho: Tell me a little bit about you.
Craven: I’m the co-founder and EIC for Can I Play That? and I review games for their Deaf/hoh (hard of hearing) accessibility. I have lupus that affects my hands sometimes (among many other things), making controllers uncomfortable to use and a mouse something that causes a lot of pain. I became hard of hearing about a year ago as well, after I had West Nile meningitis – which is ironic, considering that I’d been doing Deaf/hoh accessibility-related work for several years prior to that. It was nice to be prepared for that, I guess.
But Why Tho: What accessibility options or tools do you need to play games successfully or comfortably – i.e. subtitles, turning off button taps, etc?
Craven: I need subtitles and visualization for important sounds in games and I need to be able to remap my controller and have hold toggle options, to avoid having to button mash or use RB/LB if I’m having a lupus flare. I also need to be able to auto-complete or skip QTEs because my hands don’t always move as fast as my brain does or as accurately as I’d like them to.
But Why Tho: Why do you need these tools?
Craven: Aside from the reasons I mentioned above, I need them because they are a few simple options that allow me to enjoy games instead of being something I could enjoy if not for the stress not having those options causes me. I shouldn’t have to injure myself or exasperate my symptoms to play a game or forego knowing the story or dialogue of a game just because I can’t always hear it.
But Why Tho: Why is accessibility important for the industry and specifically for yourself
Craven: It’s important because we should all be able to have fun in the way we choose to. If abled people have the expectation of being able to buy a game and just play it without any barrier or having to take 15 extra steps to be able to play it, disabled people have that same expectation.
But Why Tho: What are accessibility options you would like to see in the future?
Craven: All of the options exist already, at least from my perspective, though there’s a lot I don’t know and I can only speak from my own experience. It’s a matter of them being applied as a standard. I’d love to see the major engines like UE4 and Unity implement things that streamline the process of accessibility options for devs, so that there is a standard way to present subtitles and that all games have robust remapping options. I’d also love to see the industry adopt some sort of uniformity as to where the options are found. For example, there shouldn’t be three different games with subtitle options in three different locations. Subtitle size, scalability, and speaker labels need to be a given and not something we hold our breath hoping a game got right upon release.
But Why Tho: As the industry grows, do you think it is getting better in regards to considering disabled players? Where do you think it can improve?
Craven: I do think the industry is getting better. There are some major studios like Ubisoft and EA out there leading by example and every day we see more and more devs eager to learn and improve their game’s accessibility. The standardization, as I mentioned above, would go a long way in bringing the rest of the industry up to speed. For me, where the next major change needs to happen is within the gaming community, i.e. non-disabled gamers need to keep their opinions about how “not all games are meant for everyone” to themselves.
I certainly don’t need some random internet guy that’s mad options that don’t impact him in the least exist in a game to spew his garbage opinions all over the place. I need him to just shut up about it and not use the optional options so the stigma surrounding accessibility and those who need it can die in the bin, where it belongs. The “devil’s advocate” people can do the same. There are more than enough actual scenarios in which accessibility is a problem, we certainly don’t need any self-proclaimed “experts” trying to argue against accessibility just to be clever.
In terms of how the industry can help this problem, we need more people working in the industry to be visibly in support of accessibility, like Cory Barlog, director of God of War, with his Tweet a few months ago about how accessibility is not a compromise to his vision. There are a bunch of people working in accessibility at studios who are vocal on the matter, like Ian Hamilton, Karen Stevens, David Tisserand, and Cherry Rae Thompson, but there can never be too much of that.
Accessibility has never and will never be a compromise to my vision.
But Why Tho: What are some easy things all players, disabled or not, can do to raise awareness about accessibility?
Craven: For me, it’s not so much about raising awareness as it is about simply listening to us and featuring us in things just as often as the “mainstream” gamers are. It’s about not painting our community as a special interest group, but about saying, hey, look at this cool person who is also doing this cool thing, so disabled gamers are less of a spectacle.
It always feels kind of inspiration porn when the spotlight is put on a person because of their disability and how they access a game and surprise, they’re good at it. Of course, they’re good at it, disabled people are masters of being good at things in modified ways because we have to do it in every aspect of life, not just games. So I guess a little less surprise that we’re out here existing, doing things how we do them because to me, that serves to amplify the attitude of “well if this disabled person can do this and be good at it, you non-disabled can do anything” and it manifests in some toxic ways.
Like during the whole ridiculous Sekiro thing, you saw so many people going on about things like “Well I saw this guy beat the game in ten seconds using only his foot, so if he can do that, you don’t need an easy mode.” Accessibility isn’t a one-off solution. There’s no one thing that can be applied to a game to make it accessible for everyone because needs and abilities are a spectrum, so options need to be a spectrum as well. Of course, if people appreciate or want to be featured because of a disability, awesome.
But it shouldn’t be the default when mainstream sites and media feature us, because IMO, that only marginalizes us more. And yes, I say this as the owner of a site that is entirely about featuring disabled gamers and how we access games, but I view that differently, I guess, because CIPT is largely educational. And I appreciate that more and more publications and sites are featuring us and what we do just as they would any random gamer doing gamer things.
But Why Tho: Where can people find you?
Craven: People can find me on Twitter at @CyclopediaBrain or they can email me at email@example.com
At the end of the day, every disabled gamer has different needs when it comes to making a game accessible. As accessibility becomes a bigger conversation both inside and outside the gaming community, voices like Craven’s are extremely important. As Craven mentioned, more focus on listening to disabled voices and utilizing the technology and capabilities that already exist will help create a gaming experience everyone can participate in and enjoy.
How do you play games and what accessibility tools are an absolute must for you? Let us know in the comments below.