As the gaming industry continues to grow and innovate, so does the need for accessibility. Pervasive Accessibility, the idea that everyone should have access to technology, has become an integral part of the industry. With the changes in society and the need for accessibility driving the industry forward, it is expected that the historically closed and inaccessible industry will begin to change its ways.

The gaming industry has been criticized for its lack of diversity in its workforce, and for excluding people with disabilities. This is the first time that the Entertainment Software Association has brought together almost every major video game publisher and developer to talk about how these issues impact the industry.

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) recently put out a call for innovation in the area of accessibility; the ESA is a trade association that represents the interests of the video game industry. I think the gaming industry has a lot to offer with regards to accessibility for all types of people.

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You may have noticed that accessibility comes up often when we discuss GDC, and GDC 2021 will be no exception. While presenters often rehash some of their recommendations, one thing I’ve seen as a player is that while creators have a lot of intriguing ideas and methods, games seem to be caught in a rut outside of a few developers. Kill the mob/player by pressing the button. For a prize, repeat this task 100 times. Complete the chest leaping problem.

We have the ability to do better. We have the technology and individuals who are willing to think beyond the box. We don’t even need to get into AR or VR to accomplish some of these goals, so let’s talk about some of the existing and emerging technologies that game developers may utilize to make games more accessible to a broader range of players, as well as the gaming community in general.

Celeste’s strategy

In his presentation on utilizing AI to help players, UC Santa Cruz PhD student Batu Aystemiz mentioned that the game Celeste is both challenging (in terms of being a platform) and versatile, since it has an assist option. Consider it a “cheat code” input, where you can give yourself unlimited stamina or stamina, but you can also adjust factors like game speed or air dashes. As Aystemiz points out, they are useful not just for gamers with disabilities, but also for players who simply wish to immerse themselves in the narrative or who have a momentary problem, such as a broken hand. Indeed, Aystemiz mentioned Mario Odyssey’s assist mode, which directs the player toward the goal (a feature seen in many contemporary MMOs) and assisted him both when he fractured his collarbone and when the light in his room made it impossible to read the screen.

In competitive games, particularly ranked PvP, assist modes may be difficult. Having said that, I believe the ability to skip through uninteresting material in order to achieve your preferred play style/level is equally essential. Crowfall’s starting experience was terrible for me, as I previously said. I’m not new to the genre, as are many of you. I understand kill and delivery missions, vehicle combat isn’t that difficult, and is leveling up really that essential in a PvP game that appears to value stuff above levels?

In MMOs, a simple “Done” button may suffice, giving XP or completing important quests for non-essential quests. I mean genre clichés that can be found in any other game when I say “non-essential.” Quests that may teach game principles, such as crafting experiments or siege phases, should obviously not include this (though I would argue that many games should be reduced down to the basics and avoid wasting developer and user time). Gamers that like grinding may continue to do so, and repeated missions may just compel you to complete a daily for the first time, but conserving time enables players to accomplish the things they want to do.

I had a non-MMO player attempt to play ArcheAge with me a few years back. Despite the fact that she liked the way the game looked, she couldn’t get into it. It took her much too long to reach to the point where we could really collaborate. Even though she found Mario games to be a little too much for her, having just a few movements on her hotbar wasn’t enjoyable for her, so she left after probably less than an hour.

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Assist from artificial intelligence

Aystemiz spoke on how AI can handle problems in a more natural way by utilizing reinforcement learning (AI that learns by performing an activity for points, as opposed to a navmesh that essentially serves as pathing). This gives developers greater freedom. We know that this kind of AI is capable of defeating players, as shown by AlphaStar’s supremacy in Starcraft II, but it can also be used to help. As we witnessed with Hearthstone’s deck building AI help, the AI may be adjusted to concentrate on macro or micro tasks.

We can go as far as making any game into an infinite runner in which the player just has to worry about leaping over obstacles, but we can also tone it down. In an RTS, the AI might be sent out as units, or the commander could send players out to perform missions. Instead of a random person bullying everyone in the BG, the AI could not only notify that a base is being seized, but also urge people to perform something specific. Imagine being asked to sneak through a player blockade to cap a base by Thrall, or learning that Malfurion ordered the healers to concentrate on your fighter since you have the greatest mitigation. This may be a little much for competitive play, but it might be useful for PvE.

Consider escort missions for a minute. Consider inverting their usual pattern. You might bring some AI with you if you’re having trouble with a quest or raid, even with your buddies. The AI would take the lead and wait for you to catch up before explaining what you should do, such as turning the dragon away from the group while tanking or cleansing fire when your group members are on fire. Simple things like these are already commonplace, and AI “mercenaries” are nothing new, right Guild Wars 1 players?

Yes, this may pose a danger to the human population since gamers may be less sociable. However, if the strength of mercenaries is restricted, people who want to complete content quicker would seek out other players. Due to the AI’s dual role as a coach, raid leaders and class leads may be freed from performing the same live on the spot for players who have never attempted the content before. It ensures that a larger portion of the playerbase is competent, which I understand may be a big challenge for casual raiders attempting to catch up on current material.

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A new world has opened up for you.

However, we’re still thinking on a modest scale. It’s worth noting that the majority of the material I listed is at least somewhat violent. Yes, that’s common in certain genres, and it’s also entertaining at times. But there’s a chance we can turn things around. Tower defense games are often focused on war or colonization, according to Robin Hunicke, Co-Founder of Funomena. But, instead of battling aliens, what if humanity embarked on a space colonization expedition and battled the elements? A genuine PvE scenario, in which players must defend themselves from asteroids, electrical storms, solar flares, and anything else the creator can think up.

We don’t have to go any farther. Direct combat would be death in this sort of setting, therefore the inhabitants of this planet may fight via commerce. Town leaders may attempt to make agreements with others in order to expand their cities so that they may raise animals, acquire land, construct sports stadiums, or even go into space and discover other planets. With NPCs, we could even include language study and diplomacy.

Alelo’s Tactical Iraqi, launched in 2007, is a language and culture game designed by the military to educate troops for dealing with people, but it also needs player voices in addition to emotes. It’s not the first of its type; Google has already created games that use voice control. Anyone who has used Rosetta Stone has undoubtedly had difficulties with correct pronunciation, demonstrating that the higher-end of the technology can be fine-tuned, but we also know from Alexa that AI can make mistakes and cause problems. However, the technology seems to be solid enough to play with, which isn’t only enjoyable for me; it may also enable players with limited hand mobility or coordination to enjoy games. Why not give folks the choice to speak the words to cast, particularly in VR where headsets are already equipped with a mike, since we’re going to be reciting magic words anyway?

When you approach games from a cultural perspective, you can get some very profound immersion. Game designers have the ability to build whole new civilizations and ways of thinking. People with diverse ways of thinking have revolutionized many sectors, from animal behavior to the Pokemon brand, even outside of gaming.

archeage-elf-is-moody-300x169Perhaps needing to look for someone who speaks Elvish in order to escape a tough raid boss isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it sounds interesting to me. Even if it only featured mobile users acting as NPCs in different niches of a bigger game, a few Jackbox games might be modified to be features in an MMO. If we can simply go beyond the money of AAA games and look at how more creative games draw in people from all walks of life, I’m confident creators can utilize their ideas and newer tech to create something we can all enjoy.

After all, 15 percent of the world’s population has some sort of handicap, according to Courtney Craven, creator and Editor-in-Chief of Can I Play That?, who spoke during the panel. This equates to nearly a billion individuals, making them the world’s biggest minority. They have $21 billion in discretionary spending in the United States (which includes entertainment), and 70% of them will click away from material that isn’t available to them. Developers may benefit from accessibility not just in terms of creativity, but also in terms of catering to an audience with more cash but few individuals who are aware of their requirements. And as someone who isn’t deaf but constantly uses subtitles, I can attest to the fact that accessibility features may also appeal to popular gamers.

Andrew Ross of MOP is covering GDC’s summer digital event in 2021! More of his reporting may be found here:

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