GDC 2015 and beyond

First, big thanks to all who attended our roundtable, panel, drinks and talk at GDC this year and a warm welcome to all new SIG members! Your support is vital for the SIG and accessible gaming. I’ve compiled this wrap-up of the roundtable based upon my and Richard’s notes, with support from both Ian and Richard (thanks!). Also, thanks to Jarryd Huntley for the excellent group photo. I hope I have been able to correctly represent all input from the roundtable, otherwise please let me know so I can correct myself.

The Game Accessibility SIG Roundtable had 34 attendants, which was more than double compared to 2014. In addition to the roundtable, our panel and Tara’s talk had hundreds of attendants. The situation for game accessibility has changed in many ways since 2003 when the IGDA Game Accessibility SIG was founded.  The roundtable discussed the aim and actions going forward for the SIG, based upon the game accessibility manifesto introduced in the panel presentation earlier the same day.

GA-SIG_Roundtable_2015

Attendants of the Game Accessibility SIG roundtable at GDC 2015

A question was about how to contribute to the SIG. The simple answer is to sign up for our mailing list. Even just taking part in conversation and sharing news is a valuable way to contribute, but you can also volunteer to do what you think is most important and feasible for you to do. It is informal volunteer work, so you don’t need any blessing, just find out which other people on the list would be interested in collaborating with you. Proposed initiatives from the panel session and the roundtable were:

  1. The SIG website should primarily be a one-stop-shop for information about game accessibility, a repository of “saving game history forever” as someone put it (sorry but can’t remember who!), in the same vein as wayback machine. So in real terms, a simple means of finding information about accessibility regardless of what your need is – definitions, business cases, research papers, design methods (such as UA-Games and Parallel Game Universes), guidelines, tools and so on. Update and add links to what is available. It should be noted that almost all of this are already on the site, but perhaps the structure of the site needs to be evaluated? This could go hand in hand with updating to a more current responsive template. Also might be worth contacting Bor Verkroost about his existing work on collating accessibility contacts and resources by country, and see if he would be interesting in integrating that into the site.
  1. We should also have an Accessible Game Twitch Channel, to put faces on the community and ambassadors with emotional stories. Make the message positive and keep it fair.
  1. Have a game accessibility Ice-Bucket Challenge-like campaign to further raise awareness
  1. Advocating for game accessibility built-in as part of platforms, tools and game engines should be done to lower the threshold for implementation; there is no sense in reinventing the wheel for every game for generic things like closed captioning with a visual sound radar or screen reader support. The built-in colour-blind simulation in Unreal 4  and the next PS4 firmware update which Sony have recently announced are great examples of the progress. Tell (tool) developers and user centered designers at game companies, what they do right while also pointing out what is missing in terms of accessibility is a useful approach. The Game Accessibility Code site is one step in providing developers with code examples. We could also look into where game jams could fit in – for example an engine-sponsored jam to produce accessibility focussed engine plug-ins.
  1. Automated accessibility testing was proposed (as is available for web pages) and can be helpful, but I would like to add a caveat: the output of tools require interpretation and theory to be useful, and thus doesn’t eliminate the need for education. Web technologies are far simpler and more standardised, and even so, the best available automated checker for web (tenon.io) is able to check against only 17% of web accessibility guidelines. There are accessibility testing tools available for native apps, so linking to these would be a good start.
  1. Write articles on Gamasutra etc, which has been done to some extent before but this could be expanded. Awareness raising articles now regularly go out throughout the games press, but as more people gain awareness, technical how-tos become more beneficial.
  1. Work with game festivals and competitions, such as IGF and Games For Change to have game accessibility rewards, which raise awareness and praise accessible games.
  1. Encourage inclusion of disabled gamers in the research / QA / testing process, by creating a database where companies can find both individual testers and local disability organisations (such as Lighthouse in San Francisco) who are happy to work with game studios. The IGDA user research SIG is very active and steadily growing, and would be an excellent partner for this, providing information on processes, payment etc.
  1. Provide filtering of a wide range of disabilities in storefronts such as Steam

Most of these actions can be related to education in some way or another. Before GDC the SIG sent out a survey to the SIG mailing list but also to blind gamers, and the top priority of the response was about including accessible design in game education. At the roundtable, education was broken down into two main categories: for developers and for consumers. If accessibility is considered at game companies it is often ad-hoc, sometimes appearing as a personal interest or need within user research / UI / UX, but without a formal accessibility group or position. This is a strong contrast to other industries, where “accessibility specialist” is a standard career path, and practitioners in all disciplines have at least some base level of knowledge about accessibility, due to inclusion in most undergraduate course in, for example, web and construction.

For course leaders who don’t have much knowledge of accessibility, the suggestion of including it can be pretty intimidating. So there was considerable discussion of the SIG working towards some standardised curriculum material, simple plug-in suggestions of easy ways to integrate into existing curriculums, covering specific modules, ways to include in existing modules and assessments, and recommendations of individual exercises and assignments.

The document handed out at the panel, compiled by Ian: “Ways to further accessibility in the games industry” contains a lot of the above and more. You can find it here: http://www.ian-hamilton.com/ways-to-further-accessibility-in-the-games-industry/.

For GDC 2016, there was a request to keep all the game accessibility sessions together in one day, as it can be hard for some people with impairments to attend during several days. Further, I was also told that the information of where to find elevators was hard to find, and that the carpet at parts of the Moscone center was not optimal for wheelchairs. I will discuss all of this with the IGDA staff and see what can be done for GDC 2016.

If you haven’t done so already, please sign up for our mailing list to participate and contribute: https://pairlist7.pair.net/mailman/listinfo/games_access

To quote the philosopher Bernard Suits: “playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”. However, the unnecessary obstacles should only be those which are needed for playing the game, i.e. the core mechanic, the thing that people are buying the game to experience. Unnecessary obstacles that do not have anything to do with the core mechanic can be avoided or removed, and that is what game accessibility is all about.

We would love to have you join us and volunteer, and help the industry to move in a positive direction!

Best regards,

Thomas Westin
co-chair of the IGDA Game Accessibility SIG

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