'Includification' in gaming at South By South West

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Wednesday, 12 March 2014 12:19pm

Austin Texas is currently playing host to the South By South West (SXSW) popular culture conference. The program celebrates innovation in music, film, technology and gaming. Among the companies taking part is AbleGamers Charity, a US based organisation which promotes inclusion of people with disability in gaming culture. Below is our interview with AbleGamers’ Chief Operating Officer, Steve Sohn.

MAA: You’ve coined the word ‘includification’. Can you give us a definition?

Includification is a phrase meant to convey the ideas of including everyone as an ongoing movement.  Game accessibility is not a topic that can be solved with one answer, or decision by one entity, but rather of movement by one segment of the video game community, disabled gamers, asking to be fairly included in regards to access of mainstream entertainment.

Expanding upon that idea, Includification became a living breathing document that can be updated and grow as the community morphs with new technologies and gaming advancements. It became a roadmap for developers to design video games that include as many different options for gamers with disabilities as can possibly be added within reasonable expectations. We do not believe that all video games will ever be playable to every gamer in the world, simply due to the various circumstances surrounding vast differences in individual disabilities and the abilities of every individual. However, we believe that almost every video game can and should include simple, cost-effective, and practical solutions that enable a large swath of the community of gamers with disabilities.

MAA:What would you say to a person with disability who’s never tried a game before?

You can play. Simple as that. You can play. It doesn’t matter what disabilities an individual gamer may possess, what abilities he or she be able to utilize, everyone can play video games. It’s a matter of understanding the options that are on the market, what games are available, what games are friendlier to certain disabilities than others, and what workarounds can be accomplished with the right amount of expertise. And that’s where the community of AbleGamers comes into play, as well as the individual experts who hold decades of experience in adapting equipment to work with individuals no matter their disability.

MAA: AbleGamers provides advice to game developers. Do you receive much interest from the industry? What are the most common problems game developers seek help on?

AbleGamers receives emails every week from industry professionals seeking guidance on accessibility. This is a stark contrast to the industry of 10 years ago, where accessibility was rarely thought of, and in the situations where accessibility was brought up for discussion, developers would literally walk away. Today, developers and publishers are much more interested in including the once very underserved market of gamers with disabilities.

Most of the common problems developers face when ensuring their videogame is as accessible as possible can be found in the pages of Includification. Questions of how to make interfaces colorblind friendly, friendlier for the hearing impaired, and even suggestions for blind and cognitively impaired gamers can all be found in the 50 page document complete with charts, graphs and developer exercises.

MAA:Games apps or games that are available on smartphones and tablets have become popular in recent years. Has this levelled the playing field for people with disabilities? How?

No. Quite the opposite. In fact it’s been one of the media soundbites I like to use when it comes to those types of devices in which I say, “Games have become more accessible to the masses, but less accessible to the disabled.” Where games are now available on every device that comes to market, not every device is accessible to gamers with disabilities.

Those with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and any other of the hundreds of neuromuscular diseases have issues with strength, dexterity, micro-movement, macro-movement, and so on and so forth.

Tablets, smart phones, and even the iPad can be a nightmare depending on your disability.

Now having said that, there are also those with certain neuromuscular problems that would prefer to use an iPad to a mouse, a tablet to a laptop. It depends on your individual disability, but for the most part, mobile devices are not friendly to those needing accessibility options

MAA: What’s the significance of being included in SXSW?

SXSW is an extremely prestigious cultural event that happens once a year in Austin, Texas. The who’s who of the technological world come together to share and learn from one another in every way possible. It’s not just another conference, the passes are expensive, the talks are very high-end, and the people who attend SXSW are very knowledgeable in the field of technology, film, music and the Internet.

Mark Barlet, Founder and Executive Director of AbleGamers, being invited to hold a solo talk is a huge deal. AbleGamers was extremely honored that the event organizers of SXSW believe the message and mission of game accessibility is important enough to deserve its own hour-long talk.

MAA: What are some stand-out accessible games and what makes them special?

Any game that scores 7 or higher in the game accessibility review database of AbleGamers’s community portal is a good example of standout accessible games. In fact, each year AbleGamers holds awards for the most accessible mainstream games of the year. This year was Final Fantasy and the Stanley Parable, last year was XCOM, and the year before that was Star Wars the Old Republic.

What makes those games special is the various features that are not intended to be accessibility options, but simply good game design. One of things AbleGamers has been preaching for the last decade is that accessibility options are not needed in games that are designed from the ground up to be as inclusive as possible. If you keep in mind that one-in-seven men are colorblind, one-in-three gamers want to be able to change the size and fonts of the text on their screens, and other incredible statistics adding up to nearly 100,000,000 gamers with disabilities can be solved with very efficient design.

If you’re lucky enough to be attending SXSW you can see Mark Barlet present tomorrow.

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