For the last few years – OK, maybe about the last fifteen years – I’ve been noticing a related phenomenon in gaming that really annoys me. Call it “creeping actionism.” Creeping actionism is the tendency of game developers to add action elements to games in which they aren’t needed or wanted, and it has similarly pernicious consequences. More and more action elements are turning up in genres that never used to have them – like role-playing games, for example.
At the Game Developers’ Conference this year, I took part in Accessibility Idol – a game design competition sponsored by the IGDA’s Accessibility SIG. The goal was to create a multiplayer game that a quadriplegic player could play head-to-head against able-bodied players. I’m pleased to say that out of five contestants I came in second – my friend Sheri Graner Ray beat me by one vote. (She created a really cool design that involved training dragons with a pitch pipe, so her victory was well-deserved.) My game was a combat flight simulator for zeppelins. Because airships are large and slow-moving, the game more closely resembles naval warfare during the battleship era than modern aerial combat, and I called it Dreadnoughts of the Skies.
Doing the research for the competition, I learned a lot about accessibility issues. One of the basic principles of design for the mobility-impaired is there’s no such thing as “too slow.” I specified that Dreadnoughts could be slowed down to any degree desired. Another is, keep the user interface as simple as possible. That’s good advice for any game anyway. I specified a mouse-based game that could be played via a head-mounted pointing device. I wanted to support all the traditional flight simulator modes, though, so I included a voice command system to take over the keys that flight sims normally use – throttle up and down, weapons control, and so forth.
Now, you may be thinking, “Who cares about disabled players? Who cares about players who suck? Why should I mollycoddle people I can’t respect as gamers?” If that’s your attitude, you’re a bad game designer – you’re basing your design decisions on your own abilities as a player rather than a desire to entertain other players.
There’s no excuse for it. I’m not saying every game has to be accessible to a three-year-old. But at the moment, even the minimum physical requirements are set much too high, and far too many games offer no support for the disabled player. It does a disservice to our audience, our games, and our industry.