Accessible Design at Global Game Jam 2013

Screen shot from A Wise Choice: A laughing range of mountains is the back-drop. Hovering in the foreground in front of some lush grass and a withered tree is a floating monkey mug of tea. The text below reads, 'Well hello!... you look... Different. Well, I suppose we are all different in our own little ways, but you look.... wholly not from this world..."

Global Game Jam is an annual game hack weekend, where teams around the world are given a common theme to work to (this year’s was ‘heart beat’), and divide into teams to produce an entire end to end functioning game by the end of the 48 hours. Read on…

Accessibility challenge

A couple of years back Tara Voelker (whilst in IGDA GASIG chair guise) kicked of an accessibility challenge at the Orlando GGJ venue, with teams volunteering to take on an extra challenge outside of the usual theme, competing to produce the most accessible game. In 2012 this was expanded further headed by Ian Hamilton to cover several venues around the UK. In 2013 the challenge grew again to cover venues in the UK, Australia and Canada.

For the 2013 event entries were initially judged at an individual venue level on some fixed accessibility criteria, and then went to a panel of judges (Mark Barlet of AbleGamers, Lynsey Graham of Blitz Games Studios, Barrie Ellis of OneSwitch, and Ian Hamilton of for the final vote on the international winner.

Global winner

The winner was a game called ‘A Wise Choice’, from the London venue. There were many games produced with limited vision in mind, and many produced with simple controls in mind, but A Wise Choice attempted both and many more, with features ranging from easy to read text to full self-voicing, and even a scanning switch interface for profound motor impairment.

The primary focus was blind gamers, catered for through pre-recorded full self-voicing. Creating a fully self-voiced game is no mean feat even with a decent timescale and budget, and it was very clear that not only had some good thought gone into the interaction, but also that a real effort had been made to ensure that the game was just as enjoyable regardless whether the player could see or not.

In addition to profound visual and motor impairment other less profound impairments were also well catered for, from low reading age to dyslexia, partial deafness to hyperopia.

Some quotes from the judges:

“A wonderfully accessible mix of Oliver Postgate style story telling and Gong hippy-dom
“Impressive given the combination of the timescale, the disability they catered for and the scope of the game.”
“Hugely impressive access. Very well thought out”

You can download and play the game here:

More information on the game available here:

Other entries

A few highlights from some of the other regional winners and commended entries:

Accessibility diversifier

There was also a second element, added by the GGJ organisers – an official accessibility diversifier. Diversifiers are secondary themes that are not competitive, and are open to every single person from every venue. This meant that all jammers around the world gained some awareness of accessibility. Many teams deciding to tackle it themselves, with with around 200 developers deciding to take up the challenge, producing over 80 games with accessibility in mind.

Many of these were games that widened their audience by thinking about things like control complexity, text formatting, contrast, colour-blind friendly schemes and so on, and others aimed to tackle more tricky accessibility issues, opening up play to gamers with profound impairments.

The most popularly tackled of these by far were blind-friendly / audio only games:

Single button games were also quite popular:

And there were some pretty interesting and creative one-off ideas too:

To reach these kinds of audiences in the space of 48 hours is obviously quite a feat, yet that’s exactly what both the challenge and diversifier games often achieved.. a greater level of accessibility than is found in commercial games.

Judge Mark Bartlet remarked: “I thought that all of the entries show that making games with accessibility in mind can be done! I was impressed to see what could be done in 48 hours. What this really proves is that there is no excuse for adding basic accessibility to games, regardless of the budget.” – echoed by us all.

Via: Ian Hamilton post on the IGDA GASIG forum. I’m aiming to cover some of the one-switch games here in the very near future, time being kind.

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