WaPo: How accessibility consultants are building a more inclusive video game industry behind the scenes

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Nov 16, 2018
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Last year, Forbes published an article titled “’Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’ Needs to Respect Its Players and Add an Easy Mode.” In the piece, Dave Thier, the author, argues that the title’s egregiously high difficulty settings detract from the superb world and character design. “The difficulty is only one part of what defines these games for me, and honestly, it’s not the most important part," wrote Thier. Easier difficulty settings would allow those with physical or cognitive limitations — or just limited time to play games — the opportunity to experience the studio’s artistic vision.

It was the latest salvo in a debate that has taken on a culture war-level valence among players online, a debate that has been litigated and re-litigated to no apparent end. Fans of the series, angered by the article, argued that not all games are meant for disabled players. Futzing with difficulty settings, they said, tampers with the creative intent of a game, especially in genres where a game’s key selling point may be its difficulty (as is the case with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice).

But the recent efforts of accessibility consultants and developers to create inclusive products tell a different story. Unbeknown to many, accessibility consultants have been pushing for an accessible industry for years. From menus containing a plethora of options, including the ability to customize controls and adjust subtitle size, to disabled inclusion within the workspace and gaming community, the often-hidden efforts of accessibility consultants are beginning to become standard practice within the industry.
Ian Hamilton is one such accessibility consultant who regularly assists developers to ensure that their video games can be enjoyed by both the able-bodied and disabled. A key part of Hamilton’s work is dispelling false rumors regarding the implementation of accessible features. Despite the gaming industry’s rise in acceptance toward the disabled community, coinciding with Hamilton’s efforts, some still question the addition of accessible options.

“There’s a common set of misconceptions that people often have various combinations of — that accessibility is difficult, expensive and involves diluting down your vision, harming the majority to suit the needs of less than 1 percent of the population who don’t play games anyway,” he said.

By directly engaging with developers and players across social media platforms, Hamilton regularly connects skeptics with disabled voices, as well as articles and research which point out their incorrect assumptions. Hamilton views statistics as a useful way of highlighting people’s misconceptions.
 
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