In recent years, the mobile phone has gone from being a method of communication to a method of gaming. As a gaming platform, the smartphone has some unique strengths and weaknesses uncommon to any other gaming device. For this reason, smartphones are the next platform we are examining in our series on hardware accessibility.
During my time at GameInformer, I helped start a new feature called “This Week in Mobile.” The interns were responsible for finding out which games were hot for particular devices, and writing up summaries of them for our readers. While doing this, I was surprised by the sheer volume of quality games out there for mobile devices. This is probably the smartphone’s greatest strength as a gaming platform.
There are so many smartphone games out there, many of which are free—which gives a disabled player lots of freedom to take a trial and error approach that would be financially impossible with traditional gaming platforms. It’s easier to get past a game being inaccessible if you only paid $1.99 than if you paid $60 for it. As a result, any gamer who can access a smartphone interface should consider using it as a gaming device, because whether it’s Angry Birds or Rayman Jungle Run, there’s sure to be something for any gamer’s taste—even if they are looking for a hardcore zombie shooter (like Dead Trigger).
As far as the actual accessibility of the hardware, most smartphones have the same challenges. They’re small, they rely on touch sensitive gaming, and their text is tiny. Ironically, this means that the only gamers that won’t have a problem using a smartphone as a gaming device are the hearing impaired. Most mobile games only use sounds as an add-on, and most smartphone platforms have operating systems that don’t rely on sound.
However, a visually impaired player may struggle with games that require lots of reading, as most smartphone screens are between four and ten inches in width, and most games don’t offer an option to increase text size. As a result, reading text can be difficult, especially if games lack contrast. And if a visually disabled player wants to play a top-down strategy game or a game with an isometric viewpoint, it can be hard to see the finer details of units if they are not obviously distinguishable.
The size of most smartphones may also be a barrier to gamers with fine motor disabilities since there’s only a small amount of room that a player uses to control the game. To compound matters, most smartphones rely on either touch or stylus interface, both of which can be very hard for gamers with fine motor disabilities. But if a player can get past these hurdles, smartphones offer so many different styles of games that it would be almost impossible to find one that was not both fun and accessible for most disabled gamers.