[games_access] MMOG Topics for Terra Nova?

Tim Chase agdev at thechases.com
Sat May 19 20:36:38 EDT 2007

> I have LOTS of ideas for posts but I don't think that they

> will be received well by the Terra Nova crowd -- if anyone

> can help me think through how to post about a particular

> topic, even if it's only very narrowly related, I'd

> appreciate it!

In these forums (forae?) at TN and on other popular gaming
boards, I repeatedly see a couple issues thrown in the face
of efforts here:

1) adding accessibility features "dumbs down" the game
removing the fun/challenge for the hard-core gamers;

2) equating the accomodation of all disabilities with
accomodating even *some* disabilities; and

3) the difficulty of adding certain accessibility features
to MMOG worlds

Yes, it's hard to be all things to all people without it
dominating the design of the game--an aspect that may churn
the stomach of even the most socially-minded game designer.
However, even small advances on any of these fronts may make
significant headway for accessibility in gaming.

For #1, there are repeated themes of how *certain* features
added for accessibility benefit all gamers. Things like
remappable controls or [CC] are often mentioned. Also, a
variety of difficulty levels, though not mentioned quite as
much, offer entry points for the casual gamer, but allow for
deeper challenges for the "industrial-strength" gamer.

Just because a game offers remappable controls doesn't mean
hard-core gamers are going to be impared by it. Just
because someone can turn on [CC] and play with the audio off
while their wife/kids are sleeping, doesn't mean they have
some advantage over other folks. And if a hard-core gamer
finds the "easy" level too easy, well, that's their own dumb
fault and they should crank up the difficulty.

Requiring less complex controls (whether as drastic as
one-switch or simply cutting back on the 20-buttons, 2
D-pads, 2 analog sticks, and 6 DoF gyro controls) makes the
game more accessibile not just to folks with mobility
problems, but to casual gamers in general. Cell-phone games
and one-switch games seem to be made for each other and for
marketing to the casual gamer.

With #2, I think it would be helpful to enhance our
suggestions/top-10 list with annotations regarding the
difficulty to implement such a feature, how it impacts game
design, and how it helps reach a larger demographic (and how
large that market-increase is). The idea of creating a game
for the Who's _Tommy_ scares a lot of folks. When we
mention the word "accessibility", folks see a
black-and-white world in which a game is either
inaccessibile, or the "deaf, dumb, and blind kid [that] sure
plays a mean pinball" can play it. Perhaps clarifying that
there's a gradient of accessibility would soften our
message. While, yes, it would be great to make games that
Tommy can play against the hard-core gamer where they're
both on an equal footing, there's also a range of less
drastic measures that game designers can incorporate that
allow them to retain freedom of design while still
increasing their audience.

The third item is one of the hardest and something that's
not been discussed quite so much on the list. A number of
features for accessibility come at odds with these worlds,
often because they mirror the same barriers that the real
world presents. Some of the items in our top-10 are
difficult if not impossible to implement in such a world:

- slowing the game down like bullet-time impacts the whole
world, or
- giving everybody access to auto-aiming reduces the
challenge for those crazy hard-core gamers, and unlevels
some of the playing field
- adding [CC] becomes more difficult because there's not
just a pre-scripted set of lines that the audio department
records, but you have live voice-chat that doesn't [CC]
- a broad range of difficulties is hard to implement when
the hard-core gamers are in the same world as those that
need easier challenges

Theoretically, one could use voice recognition software to
do dynamic [CC] of voice-chat, but voice recognition
software still has a long way to go, and sucks up a lot of
processor time/power from games that may want it.

I understand that some MMOGs have a partitioned world in
which the newbies (and those that need the "easy" setting)
can gain their footing. This is an elegant solution to the
problem, that players can stay in such a world as long as
they want/need, and venture into harder partitions as their
skills grow or as they need more difficulty.

Perhaps a way to address some of the disparity in the world
is to make it publicly known which settings a person is
using and perhaps partition players by assistive
technologies; or reduce assistance as the player levels-up.
Or newbie players in the sandbox world may have very sloppy
aiming where auto-assist helps them. However, as they level
up, or adventure into more challenging sectors of the
universe, the auto-assist features start dialing back. This
could allow a player that needs assistive features to still
play, but also allow the hard-core gamers to get their fix
of difficulty.

Anyways, if you've read this far and haven't written me off
as a loonie yet, thanks for playing the audience to my
long-winded ramblings. Michelle, I don't know if any of
this is helpful fodder for future postings, but it's mostly
a brain-dump of my reactions to some of these myths and
mis-impressions I see on such gaming boards when the topic
of accessibility comes up.


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