The modern gaming industry is worth an incredible $200 billion and continues to push the boundaries of technology and entertainment. With a staggering 92% of people with disabilities playing video games, it's crucial that with each year, the industry grows more conscious of its issues and the improvements that have to be made towards better accessibility. That being said, for those with learning or physical disabilities, there couldn't be a better time to explore some of the new, unique and innovative technology that small and large brands are creating. Leading brands, such as Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo, are setting the trends with their inclusive controllers and accessibility regulations, while smaller companies and charities are tackling some of the larger-scale issues in their local areas. Now more than ever, the progression of hardware, system setups, and big business attitudes make our current era the best for getting into gaming. Let's take a look at some of the incredible work these brands are doing and a few ways you can improve your experience and accessibility at home.
We’ll start by looking into what some of the larger, more successful companies are doing towards inclusion and better accessibility. In early 2020, Xbox (owned by Microsoft), released a new program for evaluating Xbox and PC games, coinciding with updates to their accessibility guidelines. Xbox says, “Developers now have the option to send Microsoft their Xbox or PC title and have it analyzed and validated against the recommendations provided in the XAGs.” This statement continues the trend for Xbox's commitment to accessibility, with their very popular and highly successful 'Adaptive Controller' being released in 2018. Other large companies such as Sony Playstation and Nintendo keep updating their accessibility policies too, with the new PlayStation 5 and current Nintendo Switch having clear color, zoom, text size, and contrast controls installed in every device. However, changes at the top take time, and as new technologies come into existence, bigger manufacturers are having to keep up with the pressure of outdated controllers and inclusive hardware.
It's not just the big names in tech that make a difference to gaming accessibility; smaller companies are snapping at the reins with inspired ideas and software. Accessible Games (powered by the Able Gamers charity) is a small company pioneering accessibility and educating developers as to its importance in the industry. Special Effect, a UK-based gaming charity, is also doing a lot of work for those with disabilities, helping people get into gaming where they otherwise wouldn't have considered it. They say on their website, ‘support is always tailored to the abilities of the individual, rather than their condition,' a unique and forward-thinking approach towards inclusivity.
Finally, people are taking matters into their own hands. Tech smart gamers are finding solutions to their individual needs with custom mapped control surfaces, voice-activated commands, and oversized apparatus. These intelligent individuals are becoming the solutions to their gaming problems.
Able-bodied or not, gaming gives a social lifeline to millions worldwide, something that's only been further appreciated with the Covid-19 pandemic. Gaming's solitary origins have grown into vast communities, connected nowadays via chat apps such as Twitch, Discord, and a host of others. For those with disabilities, gaming is a means for many to make friends from across the world, inhabit avatars on screen, and be judged for their skills rather than appearance.
Many have gained notoriety for being some of the best gamers out there, competing for serious cash prizes, and consulting with the multi-billion dollar gaming industry on how best to serve its differently-abled consumers. The dangers of social isolation are on par with smoking, so the ever-increasing sophistication of the games, the industry, and the meteoric rise of esports helps give so many hope, happiness, and connection.
Now for the most helpful part of this piece - the gear! While there have been some incredible and inspiring mods and creations to suit the needs of disabled players, it's gratifying to see that there's an increasing marketplace for mass-produced solutions, too.
Homemade solutions may still be needed for some, but the hope is that in time they'll be enough accessories and in-built settings options to make ALL games playable for everybody.
With a bit of shopping around, you can find a surprising mix of utilities that can help people game in ways never considered before. From foot pedals, flight sticks to an increasing range of adaptive game controllers. Of course, none of this gear will be of any use in less you're using the best router for gaming - luckily, we've collected a list of these too.
Gaming accessibility, like the games industry itself, has transformed massively in the past two decades - but there's still much more to be done. Luckily some of the biggest companies on the planet are investing more thought and money into catering for their disabled fans. Society as a whole is also becoming more understanding, accepting, and better-connected thanks to the digital age.
Representation of disabled characters in the media itself still has some way to go, but certain developers have recently made headway in creating inclusive content that doesn't feel insincere or an afterthought - though a lack of playable characters is very evident. For many, gaming is a way of life that helps them live out experiences they would otherwise be unable to do. To fight isolation - and show the breadth of talented and dedicated gamers from all backgrounds - the industry must plan with all players in mind. Only that way can the true potential of all video game lovers shine.