We love games and no doubt you do too. They allow us to travel to breathtaking worlds and go on amazing adventures with characters only imaginable in your wildest dreams. However, as much as games can be incredible, they sometimes aren't always accessible to everyone, which is unfair, to say the least. And so, to showcase those who are making moves to resolve these issues and use the power of gaming for good, we've decided to celebrate those companies and organisations that go the extra mile for players of all kinds.
One of the key issues facing gaming accessibility has always been input devices and how we can design controllers for all abilities. Microsoft's Xbox Adaptive Controller is one way to provide a much more practical way for people with a disability to play and enjoy games that otherwise would be inaccessible. This device has allowed for so many new gamers to join in the fun, and it's the first widespread controller of its kind.
Before the Adaptive Controller, however, charities such as Able Gamers were the only ones designing input devices for people with disabilities and particular needs. Today, this amazing charity still works to give aspiring gamers the tools they need to play, using technology like mouth controllers or eye gazing systems to find a way for people to play video games no matter their disability.
Aside from these fantastic devices, a host of others have been designed to aid those in need. Take the specifically created range of technology from Ablenet for example, providing several new ways to play and implement current systems. The BIGtrack trackball allows those with limited usage of their hands or arms to find a new way to interact and play the games they know and love, without needing the dexterity necessary to operate a mouse, keyboard or controller.
Button Mapping & Accessibility
For a lot of players, button mapping and accessibility options are just an added extra. However, these expanded features have also allowed people with different needs to enjoy and be part of the popular games many of us take for granted. Uncharted 4 is well known for its extensive accessibility options that help with aiming and movement. Likewise, Overwatch has the ability to button map every single action of each of its heroes, to ensure a more accessible experience for those with limited use of their hands.
MarioKart 8 took this a step further and implemented systems such as smart-steering and auto-accelerate to assist with driving, so players can focus solely on having fun and less about staying on the track. Sticking on the topic of Nintendo, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has a whole bunch of accessibility features which may go unnoticed to the fleeting eye. The game has extensive controller mapping to help make the tricky controls more plausible, everything can be customised, from items to stages and even characters, all designed to help ease confusion on the visual-heavy stages. If a match seems to be punishing in its difficulty, players can increase the handicap and make it a more balanced fight.
These are just a selection of the great improvements we're seeing, although while we've come a long way in the last few years, there's still more to be done. DAGERS, a games journalism site for disabled gamers, is working to highlight this by writing reviews about different titles from the perspective of their handicapped editors. This allows readers to determine how accessible a game will be from a visual, auditory and fine-motor scenario, giving an insight most wouldn't be able to.
Lots of modern games have settings to support people with visual or audio impairments. These simple but incredibly useful tools can range anywhere from the simple act of adding subtitles to the variety of impressive colour blindness options that are becoming more prevalent.
Forza 7 is designed so people with visual disabilities can still play the game by listening out for the specific audio cues within it. On the other hand, Rocket League has absolutely no reliance on audio cues, making it perfectly playable for anyone with an audible disability. Life is Strange has customisable subtitles which can be altered in size, even adding a solid semi-opaque rectangle behind the text to help those with limited sight. We're also getting more colour blind options; by providing these subtle options, games which are difficult to play become much more enjoyable. Destiny 2 and Battlefield V both use these systems exceptionally well, to make the experiences they create more accessible.
As well as colour blind options in-game, it's worth mentioning the hardware which is implemented to aid those with audio-visual impairments. These can range anywhere between the brilliantly designed keyboards which feature larger fonts in a variety of colours on their keys, all the way to the narration/speech to text features embedded in the Xbox's settings that allow for seamless interaction even with limited visual ability.
Simple additions like these, to games and hardware alike, can improve a person's experience exponentially, which is something that doesn't get enough credit. Of course, with the way things as they currently are it would be impossible to regulate, but we think it should be mandatory for modern games and systems to provide simple accessibility features, making each and everyone's experiences as equal as possible.
One of the more significant ways to help others is to raise money for charity and research groups. In general, games have been fairly successful in doing this, so why not give it the credit it deserves.
This year has seen the coronavirus health crisis inspire countless game companies into action. From game giveaways (our favourite was the one where devs and publishers grouped together to give NHS works thousands of games to say thanks for their efforts) to huge fundraising efforts to support local, national, and international efforts to combat the pandemic and its wider impact. We've even seen hardware manufacturers like Razer devote some of their production capacity to creating face masks to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Looking further back, Overwatch developer Blizzard launched the Pink Mercy skin, where all proceeds went to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It generated over $12.7 million over its duration, highlighting just how generous and supportive the gaming community can be.
Another great example comes via horror game, Dead by Daylight, which raised over $500,000 for the Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation when selling a cosmetic DLC package to players in the game. Similarly, Call of Duty players can purchase the endowment in-game item to help Activision Blizzard support unemployed veterans get a stable and supportive job. Since its creation in 2009, the publisher has donated over $25 million to the foundation and has helped over 54,000 veterans get back to work.
Over in the division of mobile gaming, each year Apple puts together a huge charity sale, raising money for RED as part of the fight against AIDS. Where it was once simply a sale where proceeds went to charity, it has now evolved to be much more. Popular game series support the event each year by creating exclusive content to entice players into donating. Clash of Clans created a (PRODUCT) RED pack which used event-exclusive currency to unlock a badge for players townhalls, to show their support.
Whilst all these simple charitable acts may seem inconsequential to us, the consumers, when these donations are totalled up it can make a huge difference to the lives of those in need, so let's keep supporting them and encourage new events where possible.
Virtual Worlds for Rehabilitation
Games and the technology developed from them can also be implemented for medical purposes. Virtual reality was once just another way to experience entertainment, however recently it has been adapted for other uses such as rehabilitating PTSD sufferers, helping people overcome neurological limb mobility limitations, and it has even provided a platform for Alzheimer's research.
Medical professionals use the systems as a way to help people through trauma or as a bypass through the psychological limitations in physical rehabilitation. For Alzheimer's, VR can be used as a detection system for younger people and as a treatment for older sufferers by providing a relaxing environment they can feel safe in. This type of treatment is known as sensory-therapy as it provides a scenario for the patients to interact with, without putting them in any physical danger or at risk of injuring themselves.
For anyone suffering from PTSD, VR is proven to be a successful treatment. It uses virtual systems to expose patients to the scenario which is causing them trauma in a relaxed and much less threatening situation. The idea behind this is continued treatment will eventually enable PTSD sufferers to cope with and adapt to their anxiety and hopefully reduce the effect of the feeling overall.
When looking to aid those with neurological limb mobility limitations, VR can be implemented to aid them without requiring much other physical influence. This means, for people who are physically limited due to health issues, but still seek the therapy, they can look to virtual reality to aid them in recovering the motor functions which may have been lost otherwise.
The exciting thing about these systems is they are frequently being updated allowing us to learn more about potential new applications for the tech, meaning we can expect to see further refinements and uses as the science/technology progresses.
In this modern age, wouldn't it be nice for everybody to have an equally enjoyable experience when playing their favourite games? We certainly think so, and we're glad that so many people have dedicated themselves to helping others. So, let's keep supporting those at the forefront of these efforts to make gaming more inclusive, whilst also doing what we can ourselves for those who need our help closer to home.
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