The new SimCity has been plagued with technical issues, and it’s fair to say that you can make the argument that it is completely inaccessible to everyone regardless of disability because people can’t log on to the servers to play a single-player game that, for some reason, must always be online. But these problems will (most likely) be fixed within the next week or so. And when they are, disabled gamers will be happy to know that the new SimCity is extremely accessible.
The only people that will have even the slightest level of barrier with this game are players with visual disabilities. That is because the perspective that the player has in SimCity is an overhead view of what will eventually become a sprawling metropolis with thousands of Sims and hundreds of buildings. The game uses speech bubbles both to communicate the thoughts of the Sims that are living in your town, and when individual Sims want to give the mayor—you—special missions or tasks. But the problem arises in that these icons can be small. But they are not easy to miss, because they are always surrounded by a fairly large speech bubble. Combine that with the fact that players have the ability to zoom in on their cities, thereby making these icons larger, and one can see how the icons that appear in each city would not cause much of a barrier. A larger problem arises when one considers that the user interface icons (such as the various tools for creating road) are just as small as the thought bubbles of your Sims. But these cannot be enlarged. But the gameplay is forgiving, and encourages a trial-and-error approach that should eliminate some of the problems players may encounter when selecting the wrong tool tips.
The larger problem arises in that nearly every feature in SimCity relies on the ability to distinguish color clearly. Whether it’s zoning your city into industrial, residential, and commercial zones which are color coded, or looking at one of dozens of data maps to determine what your city’s ground pollution is or what the land value of a certain area of your city is, players must be able to distinguish not only between distinct colors, but also between different shades of colors. Darker green houses mean that the Sims living there are happier than those living in lighter green houses. But developer Maxis has taken the initiative and has included not one but three separate colorblind modes, each of which compensates for the lack of the ability to see one primary color (blue, green, or red). And although it’s not perfect, it does make an attempt to heighten the distinction between colors, and thereby makes it easier for colorblind gamers to enjoy this game.
By contrast, players with fine motor disabilities will have absolutely no problems with this game. As a PC game, it sets the standard for fine motor accessibility because it can be played simply using one hand on the mouse. However, this goes even further, because unlike some games which have this functionality but in which it negatively affects the performance of the play to use just a mouse, SimCity has absolutely no need for the keyboard, or even for the player to have a second hand. Combine this with the fact that there are no time constraints whatsoever and that the game can be played completely at a player’s own pace (even when playing with other people), and SimCity becomes even more accessible.
The one possible area where gamers with fine motor disabilities may struggle is in the selection of individual buildings or Sims, which can appear tiny when players start the game. But because the game allows players to zoom in so far that you can literally follow each individual Sim back to their home, it’s easy to select individual buildings by using this function. Again, we need to bring up the game’s forgiving nature, because even if you accidentally click on the wrong building, nothing usually happens unless you’ve selected the bulldozer tool. And even then the game will warn you before you demolish an important structure, and all unimportant structures automatically rebuild.
Finally, those with auditory disabilities will not face any barriers of any kind in SimCity, since the Sims speak in an unintelligible language and everything they say to you is communicated via speech bubbles. And even when the game uses auditory cues, such as a fire siren telling you when a building is on fire, there’s not much you yourself can do about it beyond building a fire station and watching the computer simulate the firemen’s response. And there are always the visual cues of smoke pouring out of the building and the thought bubbles of the panicked Sims.
On the whole, yes there are tons of problems right now with the general playability of SimCity. But these will pass away, and SimCity would be worth a recommendation for any PC gamer. Just wait a couple of weeks until they iron out their kinks.
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The Bottom Line for Disabled Gamers: SimCity
– The game features three modes to offset the effects of colorblindness.
– The icons on the user interface are tiny and cannot be enlarged within the game.
– There are no time constraints of any type in this game.
– Because of the way a player’s city develops, buildings can be close together, and players sometimes run the risk of clicking on the wrong one.
– Very little information is communicated through sound.