How Developers Are Making Games More Accessible to People with Disabilities
Unicorn Booty is a proud media sponsor of GX4 (aka GaymerX). This article is based on the panel “Failure is (Not) An Option: Tearing out the roots of Get Good culture“ but for our complete GaymerX coverage, click here.
If you’ve ever run into video gamers who fetishize difficulty, as in “Oh, you beat it on easy mode? Pssscht—” then you’ve run up against the “get good” gaming culture — and it’s ruining gaming.
Gamers who say “get good” might just say they’re rightfully enforcing gaming as meritocracy, the idea that games are inherently equal and fair, rewarding skills and punishing the lack thereof. But, of course, like the real world, video games don’t work equally well for all people. A disability can get in the way — for example, a disabled gamer convinced Naughty Dog to add new accessibility options to their highly popular Uncharted 4.
Gamer Josh Straub, editor-in-chief of D.A.G.E.R. (the Disabled Accessibility for Gaming Entertainment Rating System) was a big fan of the Uncharted series, but found that he couldn’t physically press the rapid-button pressing required to complete the game. Luckily for him, the developers at Naughty Dog listened and added a few new options, including the option to hold down the “punch” button to have the same effect as rapidly pressing it.
Of course, some hardcore gamers objected — again, that whole “skill fetishization” thing — as if by including the option, they were denying “the wrong players” from completing the game and “earning” the ending.
But even beyond physical limitations, sometimes gamers just aren’t good at certain types of games. For instance, this writer is terrible at most first-person-shooters. Even if a player is interested in a game’s storyline or a particular game as a work of art, they can still be stymied. For this type of gamer, many developers have included “story mode,” allowing gamers to bypass difficult sections of the game.
Ultimately, “Get Good” culture is just another form of gatekeeping — and do we really need more gatekeeping in geekdom? Not just that, but it runs counter to most gamers’ desires. With alternate accessibility options, “story mode” or other ways to make gaming more open for everybody, it means more game sales — which, in turn, means more games.
Take the classic example of the Fire Emblem series: hardcore gamers objected to a new mode in Fire Emblem: Awakening that allowed characters to not die forever if a battle was lost. As it turned out, this mode proved a good decision — Awakening was intended to be the last game in the series… but its new mode sold so well, it kept the franchise alive.
Some of “get good” culture is rooted in nostalgia — arcade games are often incredibly difficult, for a very good reason: the harder the game, the more quarters you plunk in. So if you wanted to play for a minimum of quarters, you had to practice, practice, practice. In other words, capitalism at work.
With home gaming, there’s no material need for difficulty based on quarter-lust, but gamers of a certain age remember those experiences in arcades and how good it felt to finally be able to get to the final cut-scene on one coin.
Unfortunately, this desire to keep games super difficult doesn’t always gel with the ideal that “gaming is for everybody.” Of course, no one is asking that these alternate modes should be the only way to play games — but as an option, the end of “get good” culture can help catapult gaming even further into the mainstream.