Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What is Accessibility?

Lately I have been working on a project called Discovery. It's a teenage superheroes game. It's pretty simple, system-wise and concept-wise. The dilemma for me is my intentions for the game.

I want the whole game to be able to be explained in a less-than-10-minute video and be supported by a single-page character sheet. I mean, so far, not so hard, right? If it's super simple, someone can explain a game in 10 minutes (Archipelago, The Quiet Year, etc. - good examples of super low social footprint games with easy explanations - even Apocalypse World is pretty easy to explain in a few minutes). However, I have a combination of problems I'm working on.

It has to be a video with sound. Why? Because some people can't see. The video has to have subtitles. Like, absolutely has to. Why? Because some people can't hear well or process audio well. There has to be an accessible transcript so that people can translate it easily. These are all things I can easily manage with the help of my in-house video editor.

The character sheet has to be available in an easily-downloadable format. This is not an issue. However, the BIGGEST problem I have is the character sheet itself. It's purely visual. It requires someone to explain it. It can't be used by someone who can't see. I have no means of getting around this roadblock. I was tasked with finding a way around colorblindness, and I figured that letting people use their own color markers would work. However, I have not found a way around having a visual character sheet for a game that is about making a visual presentation of skills and emotions. Is it even possible? Is this a way I will fail in making my game accessible? Is it even failure?

One of the keys of this project is also for it to be free. This means that I can't do anything with it if I don't have +John Sheldon able to work on the video, which means I have to work around his schedule. It means I need to make sure to have a place to host it where downloading it for free is not an issue, where you don't have to sign up for membership.

So, I guess, my question is: where do we stop on accessibility? How much responsibility does a designer have to their consumers? How can we make games more accessible, and what does accessible really mean? There are boundaries that some people cannot cross due to accessibility issues, including comprehension issues, physical disability, and even financial limitations. How do I make my games meet those expectations?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on G+. I look forward to hearing them!


  1. For how far it's possible to go - avoiding all unnecessary barriers. You can't avoid all barriers though, if you did that you wouldn't have a game. Some are an essential part of the mechanic.

    As for how far you should go - as far as you can, which, as with everything, won't be as far as you would like. But if you're thinking about it from the outset you'll be able to do far far more than if you thought about it later on.

    Visual things can be made accessible to people who are blind, it would be helpful to see exactly what you have in mind for the character sheet though. Could you drop me a line on twitter (@ianhamilton_) to show me a sketch or screenshot or something? If so I might be able to assist.

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