Game accessibility is an important part of the industry. Making games accessible makes sure that anyone can enjoy them regardless of physical disability. Yet it is hard to convince developers to take the extra time to include features that make games accessible, when they already are spending large amounts of time simply designing and building each game. However, disabled gamers shouldn’t get discouraged, because there’s a future for game accessibility in open-source development tools.
These tools, such as Unreal’s UDK (Unreal Development Kit), give anyone who cares to take the time to download them the same tools that were used to develop games like Gears of War. The beautiful thing about most of these types of tools is that they are free. Gone are the days when would-be designers would have to spend hundreds of dollars on software that could only build the most basic games. Now, developers who are interested in a thriving indie game community have made their professional grade tools free for anyone with the desire to build games. But not only are they free, they are also much easier to use than similar tool kits in the past.
This summer, a friend and I sat down with the UDK and began to build what we thought would be a first-person tower defense game. Even though we were not able to finish it, we were able to make massive strides completing our basic level layout, including weapon drops, and we were able to begin the process of fine tuning the AI. But the fact is, I went into the process with absolutely no game design experience, and was still able to learn (thanks to YouTube) the basics of what I needed to do.
So, that experience taught me this: If there is going to be a future in accessible gaming, it will likely come through disabled gamers themselves building games. After all, nobody can better determine what’s most accessible for a player’s disability than the player themselves. As a result, if a large group of disabled programmers were to come together and were to start building games from the ground up around accessibility, that would ensure that more disabled players would be able to enjoy these types of titles. But even more importantly, because disabled gamers would be building these games, they would also be sure to be good games in addition to accessible ones.
I shudder every time I hear of a non-gamer trying to push for game accessibility, because in my mind it conjures up images of dumbed-down gameplay and truncated experiences to make the game easier. But if gamers build games that they like (in theory, that means good games), and if disabled gamers build good games, they will build good games that they can play. But in order for disabled players to start making good games, they have to have tools they can use. And since typing long lines of code such as “cout<<endl<<rand()% 5 + 1” is not possible with voice recognition software, and not practical with fine-motor impairment, these disabled gamers must have easy to use tools. Thankfully, because of resources like the UDK, I have hope that it will be possible soon for disabled gamers to start building games from the ground up that are both fun and accessible.