By Amy Mason
Editor's note: this post is adapted from Amy's notes for a presentation to a group of game developers, and geared toward that group, but includes sources for accessible games as well.
This list is not all-inclusive, instead it is meant to act as a springboard for further research and learning. It provides a mixture of different resources including guidance and developer documents, example games to give developers an opportunity to try non-visual gaming, and sites for further reading.
Guidelines and Best Practices
Inclusive gaming is still a fairly young field, however, there are already a number of reference materials that should be beneficial to developers when working to build inclusive games.
Game Accessibility Guidelines
This document outlines proposed best practices for creating inclusive games that can be enjoyed by gamers with varying skills, abilities, and disabilities. It is well laid out and fairly straight forward.
Android Accessibility Developer Checklist
This document provides guidance on how to make Android applications accessible to blind users. Although games may not be explicitly focused, an Android developer looking to make their game more accessible will find this document to be a good starting point.
iOS Accessibility Programming Guide
For those developers who are working with the iOS platform, Apple has provided a fairly rich set of instructions on how to create accessible apps. Once again, this document is not geared specifically toward games, however, a game developer is likely to find these documents an excellent resource when planning to add VoiceOver support.
W3C WCAG 2.0 Web Accessibility Guidelines
This is the body of standards for web accessibility guidelines, and despite being quite vast in its scope, this material is likely to be of assistance when thinking about accessibility and what needs to happen to make web based games and technologies more usable by people with all sorts of disabilities. Of special interest are the “Four Principles of Accessibility” which can be found at http://www.w3.org/TR/UNDERSTANDING-WCAG20/intro.html#introduction-fourprincs-head . The article details the importance of web technologies, (including games) being “Perceivable,” “Operable,” “Understandable,” and “Robust”.
Games that are Accessible by Accident
Games that are “accessible by accident” have been successfully played by blind gamers despite the developers not explicitly working to include them. Many of these games still contain inaccessible content that could be further improved by a more intentional inclusion of accessible elements. (In some cases, developers have come on board later, and added accessibility enhancements as they became aware of their blind fan base.)
Kingdom of Loathing
KoL is a very tongue in cheek browser-based adventure/RPG. It is heavily text-reliant, and thus is accessed by blind users via their screen access software. This game is not fully accessible but it has had a fairly strong blind following in the past. Most elements are playable by blind gamers. Untested, but it is likely that the elements playable by blind players are also accessible to deaf-blind gamers.
Mortal Kombat/Street Fighter/Final Fight/Punch Out!
Blind gamers play the classics too! Many 2D fighting/Brawler type games are usable by blind gamers who have worked to perfect their moves and use sound cues to determine what their opponents are up to. Blind Gamers often have to memorize the location of a favorite character, or other menu options in order to play these games successfully.
Hanging with Friends (iOS)
Blind VoiceOver users are able to play this popular hangman clone from Zynga, though there are a handful of unlabeled buttons and other hard to interact with interface elements.
Games that are Accessible by Design
These are games which can be played and enjoyed by sighted and blind gamers alike. These games are from varying genres and platforms, and provide excellent examples of what is possible when developers choose to add accessibility features to their games.
All In Play Games
These card and word games made to be played by multiple players. This is a subscription based service that offers Poker, Crazy Eights and other popular multi-player online fare to its members, both sighted and blind.
This is the included Chess game in Mac OSX. It can be played using VoiceOver, which reads the square that is highlighted, any piece residing on it, movements and actions in the chess game. It is likely to work with Braille for deaf/blind players, but this has not been tested.
Nicolas Eymerich, Inquisitor: The Plague
This Adventure game has been created with accessibility in mind. It is a game with full visuals, but also has been produced as an audio game. It includes fully spoken dialog, which can also be read visually, and can be set to only scroll at the user’s preference. The game does not yet appear to be available; however, it’s a title to watch.
Sryth is a text-based RPG on the web. It’s patterned very heavily after traditional tabletop gaming. The game can be accessed by blind user’s employing a screen access product. As the game has garnered a fairly heavy blind following, the developer has become more aware of blind players, and has worked to add further accessible elements to the game, including a text-based mapping system.
Stem Stumper is an audio/visual puzzle game for iOS that can be played by VoiceOver users. Because most events are noted with sound this game would not likely be accessible to deaf-blind gamers in its present form.
Roll-it! is an iOS-based version of the dice game, Yahtzee. This game can be played by both blind and deaf-blind players using iOS’s VoiceOver, with speech or a Bluetooth Braille Display.
Zombies, Run! Is an iOS augmented reality game which uses story-telling and audio cues to help a user get some exercise in the real world. It was originally a game that was accessible by accident, and the developers have worked to ensure that version 2 is accessible by design. In the previous game, a blind user could set up, participate in a run, and hear the story and game cues, but was unable to use the world-building and strategy elements to strengthen their home base.
Spot On: The Blind Gaming the Blind (Game Spot article)
This article provides a nice overview of both the challenges facing blind gamers, and how they have worked to overcome them. It also includes links to some further examples of games that are both intentionally, and accidentally accessible.
This website offers a different perspective on gaming for blind people, and focuses on audio games (most of which are without any visual display). This is a traditional solution to gaming for the blind, but because audio-only games are often not as compelling to gamers with low or normal vision, they end up being something of a niche product. This works against specialized genres as well. (Titles that are educational in nature, for example, are already enough of a niche that they do not end up with audio equivalents). Thus, it’s an interesting solution, and one which can provide developers a number of ideas on how to incorporate useful sound cues into games, but not a preferred option on its own.
National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind is the largest and oldest consumer organization of blind people. It is our mission to improve the lives of blind people, and to promote the belief that with proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance. We have chapters and affiliates in all 50 states, and our members and website are great resources for learning about all aspects of blindness.