Well, here we are again, about to embark on a brand new console lifecycle. Sony announced last Wednesday that their new hardware would be the PlayStation 4, and then proceeded to wow gamers with technical specs and demos of what the system can do that blew the socks of off anyone who was paying attention. But what does all this mean for disabled gamers? Well, we have scoured the net to find all the confirmed information about Sony’s new hardware, in order to try to develop a comprehensive picture of what the system’s accessibility may be. On the whole, the PS4 looks to have some unique accessibility challenges, as well as some features that will make it more accessible than its predecessors.
Simply put, the PS4 is light-years ahead of the PS3 from a technical standpoint. Without going into too much tech-speak, it is important to notice that the system has sixteen times the RAM of Sony’s previous hardware. In a world where computers can have 16 GB or more RAM, 8 GB may not sound like a lot, but when you realize that Killzone 3 was beautifully rendered using only 512 MB of RAM, then perhaps the picture gets clearer. Developers have already said that this massive leap forward in technical capability will allow them to create deeper, more vivid experiences. This could be both a boon and a curse to disabled players. On the one hand if developers take it too far and load their games with tons of fine detail, visually disabled gamers run the risk of being cut out of Sony’s audience. But on the other hand, if games have the freedom to have so much more depth, perhaps things like comprehensive colorblind modes and on-the-fly text-sixe adjustment could actually be possible. Ultimately it is up to the developers whether they will use the toolset that Sony has given them to increase accessibility, or just to continue the status quo.
DualShock 4 Controller
The single biggest revelation at last Wednesday’s press conference was the DualShock 4 controller. And it is perhaps the single most important feature when looking at the hardware’s possible accessibility. It’s disappointing to see that the DualShock 4 still rests on its triggers, making it all too easy for gamers playing with the controller on a lap tray or table to register unwanted trigger presses. However, the fact that the triggers are now concave (indented) versus the convex (rounded out) triggers of the DualShock3 means that gamers with fine motor disabilities will have an easier time gripping these triggers than the ones that controlled the PlayStation 3. Similarly, the sticks on the DualShock 4 feature an indented surface, which will make them easier to grip than those on the DualShock 3. The sticks are also reportedly further apart than the DualShock 3’s, which again will increase accessibility for players with fine motor disabilities, by decreasing the risk of stick collisions when tilting both towards the middle of the controller. Even the addition of a headphone jack is good news for disabled gamers, because it eliminates the need to fumble with cords connected directly to the system. On the surface, the DualShock 4 seems to be more accessible than the DualShock 3 or other PlayStation 3 controllers. The one possible hiccup is its most obvious feature, the touch pad. But since little is known about this (beyond than that it is a touchpad) gamers will just have to wait and see how this affects the system’s accessibility.
After the official press conference, Sony continued to make waves by announcing that the PlayStation 3 would include a new PlayStation move camera, which very obviously takes a hint from the Xbox Kinect. The presence of this new stereo camera peripheral shows that Sony is still committed to the idea of motion control, and is now even more invested in making it an accurate and enjoyable mode of gameplay. However this may actually improve the experience for disabled gamers. Since it is clear that Sony is not moving toward an all-motion-controlled platform like the Wii, gamers don’t need to worry that they won’t be able to enjoy Sony’s new hardware. Even better, a more accurate motion control system increases the viability of games used as therapy and exercise for the disabled community. The one downside is the fact that the standard DualShock 4 controller will include a motion control light bar, which seems to spell out games that require players to physically manipulate the controller’s position during gameplay, much like the SixAxis gyroscope’s functionality in Killzone 3. This kind of feature has posed barriers to many disabled players in the past.
At the press conference, one of the most impressive ideas that Sony unveiled for the PS4 was the “Share” functionality that it included. The concept was built around the idea that spectating has become more popular, especially with the rise of pro and semi-pro gaming. Sony created a way for PS4 users to capture and upload videos of their gameplay. Once captured, the video will reportedly be posted to all of the user’s social network pages (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and can be made viewable for anyone on PSN. The execs at Sony also stated that gamers would experience unprecedented interactivity through the “share” functionality, which will allow players not only to see each other’s gameplay in real time but even to participate live in each other’s games. The example they used was that if you were having a problem with a particular level, you could contact one of your friends who had already beaten the game and ask them literally to take over the gameplay for you and help you pass whatever area you are struggling with, simply by using the PS4’s “share” button. This feature has obvious applications to game accessibility, because (if it works) it will give players the opportunity to get help without having anyone else in the room. In particular, this might provide alleviation from quick time events. If, for example, a player cannot get past a particular boss fight because of a QTE, they can simply ask one of their friends that has better fine motor control to step in and handle it for them. The only trick is that players will have to know enough people to make this strategy effective. But that too might inadvertently increase the size of the game accessibility community.
Ability to Play Used Games
Rather than a concrete feature, this last aspect is based on a pretty strong indication that Sony made to GameInformer magazine that the PS4 would not block used games. If this is the case (and assuming retailers such as GameStop do not change their return policy on used games), disabled players can rejoice because they will still be able to buy used titles and return them if they are inaccessible. In fact, one of the most detrimental things that any hardware could do from the standpoint of accessibility is eliminate the used game market, since the ability to buy a game, play it, and return it if it’s not accessible ensures that fewer players will get burned if a game proves unplayable because of their physical disability.
On the whole, the PS4 looks like it will make gaming easier for players, regardless of their physical disability. But we’ll have to wait for the holidays to get a clearer picture.