Why We Should Care about Accessibility in Games

Accessibility and representation in games is a topic close to my heart, and this short video pretty much sums up why. It’s an interview with Ian Hamilton, one of the people behind Game Accessibility Guidelines — a really terrific resource that anyone interested in making games should look at regularly.

Choice quote:

What people often don’t realise is that games aren’t just a bit of fun. The access that they give you to recreation, to culture, to socialising, is stuff that a lot of people take for granted. But if for some reason your means of accessing those things is restricted, then actually games can be a really powerful contributor to your quality of life.

Games are an amazing medium when it comes to allowing and enabling those who are often left by the wayside by mainstream society to participate. Often, from a development perspective, it’s as simple as allowing the players the freedom to customise their experience to fit their particular needs. And, as Hamilton says in the video, this isn’t just altruism: Making a game playable for more people means more people are likely to actually pay for it. Basically, we really have no excuse not to make our games as accessible as possible.

Go check out Games Accessibility Guidelines! Tell your friends in the games industry (and your boss, if you have one)! It really should be part of every developer’s toolkit.

The Pitching Assignment

Today starts the third week of a four-week game development project at FutureGames, and I’m home sick. My teammates made me promise not to work from home, citing my own principled stand against crunch culture. So I’m gonna blog about school instead!

One of the first courses at FutureGames (where, as mentioned in my review of 2017, I’m now studying game design) covered the topic of pitching. We were given the option of coming up with a pitch for a sequel to an established franchise, or answering a request for proposal for a big-budget Game of Thrones title. I chose the latter, because it was the more fun assignment, and also supplied more concrete specifications. I tend to do better work within a framework with clear constraints. Regardless of which assignment we chose we were to hand in a one page proposal, and (optionally) deliver the pitch orally in front of the class.

As an aside: The “one-page proposal” thing was probably the most confusing aspect of the assignment. When you start looking into this aspect of game development — planning, pitching and so on — it seems as though there’s little consensus in what’s actually expected or desired when it comes to the length and content of various types of documents. We were given to know that one-pagers are typically up to ten pages long, contain a lot of art and little to do with mechanics. But then you google it and find instructions that say something else entirely. I take this to mean that like with so many other things in this young industry, there are no hard and fast rules to how these things are done.

Project Sunlight

In a RFP titled “Project Sunlight”, “Big Publisher Incorporated” asked for a “fresh take on the brand” of Game of Thrones (but “you can’t alienate existing fans, since they will be the most important market”). They supplied the following requirements:

  • Must define the key elements of the brand: what makes your game more GoT than other games?
  • What is your angle to the brand – the thing that makes your game different from all other GoT games?
  • Focus on characters with audience sympathy, and not be an “evil” game.
  • Don’t dig too deep into the world lore – rights cover the HBO show, not the book series.
  • The game has to be marketable to a worldwide PG-13 audience.
  • Assume full voice acting resources and character likenesses, if applicable.
  • Suggest crossplatform tie-ins that fit with your core idea.

And without further ado, here’s what I came up with:

Game of Thrones: Shadow Pawn logo

“Every game needs its pawns. What if you find yourself used as one, suddenly embroiled in the world-shattering conflicts of Westeros’ noble class?

In Game of Trones: Shadow Pawn you step into the life of a young orphan in King’s Landing. An expert climber, outftted with street smarts, a sharp blade and a silken tongue, you are employed by powerful people to spy on their peers. But of course, nothing is ever what it seems…”

I would try to summarise what kind of game it is, but really it’s easier if you simply read the rest of the pitch here: Game of Thrones: Shadow Pawn

An androgynous person wearing dark fantasy armour against a dark backdrop. They are crouched on top of a street lantern, brandishing a sword and a large dagger.
“Key art” presenting the eponymous player character (adapted from an image found online)

Although I hadn’t planned on doing the oral presentation, I ended up doing so anyway after seeing some of my classmates deliver theirs. They are an inspiring bunch of people! I was very glad I chose to compose my one-pager in the style I did, so it could kind of function as an overhead presentation — the text is too small but at least the pictures gave the audience something to look at.

Afterwards, one classmate told me “I don’t really like Game of Thrones, but I’d like to play this game,” and another said “I don’t usually like this kind of game, but I’d want to play yours”. I guess I must have done something right!

How about you — would you play Game of Thrones: Shadow Pawn?