Accessibility

Accessibility

What are the guidelines for game-designers? Do certain elements have to be present? Are other elements never allowed to appear? Do either of those affect the accessibility of a game, and if so, would that be a positive of negative effect?

In order to understand the importance of the before-mentioned questions, the word ‘accessible’ has to be further dissected. It can be defined as ‘being within reach’ or ‘easy to communicate or deal with’, which when it comes to games means that the game should be easy to get into. For clarity’s sake it should be pointed out that this does not mean that the game itself should be easy; as in, a singular mechanics that requires no mastering (i.e. Solitaire, Tic-tac-toe).

To put it in other words: the distance between real world and game world indicates the accessibility. If a player is discouraged from stepping across this boundary – by complex rules, entangling lore, or other obstacles – the accessibility lessens. Each player has his own threshold, and the more experience the player has, the more likely he is to not be encumbered by such obstacles.

There are two game-elements that directly influence accessibility: the level of (possible) immersion and the game mechanics. There are, of-course, other elements, though they can be considered to have little effect in comparison to the before mentioned attributes, or are directly linked to personal preferences (i.e. art-style, writing-style).

Immersion

Immersing can be described as ‘to make yourself fully involved in some activity or interest’. Thus, the act of full immersion within a game, means that the players is one with the game world. No immersion means that the player is fully conscious of the barrier between himself and the game. Nearly all games find themselves somewhere between those two extremes. If a game is able to conjure up this immersion within its player, then it lowers the threshold between both worlds. In other words: the game becomes more accessible.

There are different ways of achieving this immersion, and thus an increase of accessibility; the most obvious game-element linked to immersion would be the ‘game world’ in which the game takes place. This can be a world of any size or shape, set in any time or location. But to achieve high accessibility, the world shouldn’t feel too strange to (new) players. For example, the game Dystopia (Hadaller, 2002) has an easy to grasp concept for their game world: the game takes place in 2155 America, where the government has turned evil. An idea which isn’t too hard to grasp, as it has been explored many a times in literature and on the silver screen. For an example on the other side of the spectrum we can look at 1984’s Fringeworthy: The Game of Interdimensional Adventure (Sadlet & Tucholka), a game that also takes place in the far future; 2007. This game has alternate earths, aliens, histories that never were, and planetary exploration. Though not impossible to become immersed in, when looked at from an accessibility-aspect, it is clear that the former would rank highest.

Some games have the luxury of being able to lean on existing worlds to smoothen immersion within their players. Take for instance the Star Wars Roleplaying game (Perkins, Stephens, & Thompson, 2007), which requires little introduction of the game world, and thus lessens the boundary between real world and game world. This also applies to tropes used within the game world. Take for instance 2011’s The One Ring (Nepitello) based, of-course, on J.R.R. Tolkien’s work – the godfather of fantasy tropes. Since the humans, elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, and other races that appear in this RPG have been used throughout all of gaming, no introductions are needed for new players.

Just for fun, we could also look at an example of a game in which the players are further removed from their real world, and put into a game world that has little to no relatable aspects, lowering accessibility of-course. A grand example would be Crawdads! (Costa, 1986), in which you play as a crawdad (a small lobster) and walk around the dystopian world where no human live… Brilliant!

Game mechanics

Besides immersion, the other influential game-element that applies when talking about accessibility, is game mechanics. Game mechanics are anything and everything which can be considered a gaming rule; the way the player interacts with the game world.

All games have some sort of player-interaction – something that creates excitement. Most commonly these player re-actions are required to deal with a random and/or unpredictable action within the game. For example, an in-game character shoots a gun at you – you are aware the character can do it, but unsure of when it will happen – the player-action is your response to the bullet flying in your direction, the player-interaction is how you perform that action, and the game mechanics are the tools you use during this interaction.

By keeping the interruption between the player’s desire to act and his in-game actions as short as possible, you lessen the threshold between real world and game world. In other words, the player-action should be translated into game mechanics as smoothly as possible; the player-interaction should feel comfortable to the player. This will increase the accessibility of the game.

In turn, you could interpret this as a hindrance. The barrier between real world and game world, as seen from the perspective of game mechanics, can, at best, be null. Which, if it is, would mean there is no hindrance to accessibility. Realistically, there will always be a threshold; a transition between worlds. We use our keyboards to make our in-game character move – though instinctively done by experienced players, there is always that small reaction time that can be considered detrimental. Thus, game mechanics can only ever hinder accessibility, and the best addition they could be to immersion could be “none hindrance.”