Dear game developers,
it has been said, and rightly so, that the quality of a society can be measured by its dreams, and that its dreams are dreamed by artists.
As a game developer, you are a very special kind of artist. While others are creating static works of art such as paintings, books, or recorded pieces of music, you have chosen to create experiences, dynamic, living worlds to be explored, adored and, with some skill and luck, mastered. Your messages are wrapped within layers and layers of interactive content, and you have given a great deal of thought to the process by which the players of your games will gradually discover them.
One of the aspects you are probably most passionate about is immersion. The greatest compliment for you is when players tell you how they managed to completely forget about their daily concerns for some time, losing themselves in the details and intricacies of the experience you created.
I once wrote a short story for a friend of mine so he could read it during a vacation. Internet access for virtually everyone had not been invented yet, so I gave him a floppy disk with my short story on it. When, after his vacation, I eagerly inquired what he thought about my story, he handed the disk to me, explaining his computer had refused to read it. Frustrated, I broke the disk in two and threw it against a wall.
For me, as for many other gamers with disabilities, unfortunately, most of the artifacts you are creating turn out to be just like that broken floppy disk from thirty years ago. We would love to appreciate the work you put into your creations, to immerse ourselves in the universes you are crafting, to experience for ourselves the dreams you turn into realities, but we find ourselves locked out of them for lack of vision, hearing, motor skills or cognitive flexibility.
Lack of accessibility in games is a solid stone wall standing between you as the artists and large portions of your audience. Ironically, it may even be those who would benefit the most from your creations who are affected the most by this wall.
I am hoping that my words may inspire you to look upon your creations from a new, more expansive perspective. You are selling experiences, so why not start there? Let's take an experience often found in games, such as that of trying to escape from a wild animal predator in an enchanted forest. In near total darkness, you are relying almost exclusively on sound and touch. You stop and listen closely. Was that someone, or something, breathing? You try to tune out the irregular voodoo drum of your own heartbeat. Where did it come from? The left! You turn right and make a run for it. Ouch! You hit your foot on something---probably a root. The pain is excruciating. Your predator is gaining on you. Without a healing potion and an elixir of acceleration, in a few seconds you will meet a messy end. Curse the darkness! You cannot even read the labels on those potions. Can you remember which of these vials contained the healing potion? The square one? The octagonal one? You try the square one and ...
As you awake, the council has assembled around you, the remains of a powerful teleportation spell still scattered all about the temple proper. You just had an accessible game experience, and I didn't even use any audio or haptic feedback, just some carefully crafted writing. Now imagine adding some atmospheric music, the ambient sounds of the forest, and your favorite storyteller narrating the action.
This is my appeal to you: Start with the experience, and ask yourself how this experience can be encoded such that players with different abilities can immerse themselves in it. Think of your games as dreams. A person with hearing loss, a blind person, a person with autism, they all dream differently. How can you make sure that your dreams gracefully transform into their dreams?
We are not entitled to accessibility. It is your choice whether or not to ask yourselves these difficult questions. But if you don't, many of us will miss out on the fruits of your passion. Being an artist myself, I know how much this hurts. I vividly recall the sound of that floppy disk hitting the wall. So please do us---and yourselves---the favor and make sure it doesn't happen too often.
Here's to games for everyone,
with best regards,
Dear game developers,