The fact that EA (Electronic Arts) Games hugely popular football game FIFA Soccer 13 has received the AbleGamers Foundation for accessible mainstream game award this year might come as somewhat of a surprise to anybody who has played football computer games in the past. Up until now all the most successful games in this genre were almost totally inaccessible to gamers with physical or cognitive disabilities because of their fast-paced nature and the complexity of their controls. So how have EA managed to accomplish this? Well according to Mark Barlet, President and Founder of the AbleGamers Foundation, they have made the game accessible by “including remapable keys, an unheard-of mouse only mode and game settings that allow the entire game to be tailored to the unique abilities of each disabled gamer”. Including these features is very much in line with the Principles of Universal Design, particularly 1) Equitable Use and 2) Flexibility of Use but they also follow the AbleGamers Foundation’s own guidelines for designing accessible games as outlined in their “Includification” website and document published last year. This is an extensive document and certainly a “must read” for game designers interested in creating accessible games. The document acknowledges that universal design as it is applied to other software applications and the internet is not a perfect fit for game design and rather than insisting on a Utopian standard it makes recommendations and suggestions that are currently well within the technical abilities of game developers. While the visual nature of most games might make the Universal Design principle 4) Perceptible Information very difficult to entirely satisfy, by concentrating their efforts on 2) Flexibility of Use game designers can at least hope to accommodate a sizable proportion of those gamers currently excluded from participating in the majority of mainstream games. Accommodations including; allowing the user the ability to change the size, colour and font of text, providing high contrast and colourblind options, allowing the user to set an appropriate difficulty level, a choice of input options and the ability to slow down game play would all help gamers with various disabilities play the same game titles as their peers. This is what EA Games did with FIFA 13, in fact (from my reading of the report rather than reviewing the game) by simply allowing a choice of input options (remapable keys, mouse only option) and providing the ability to slow down game-play EA have not only gotten the good press of winning the accessible mainstream game award 2012 but they have also significantly grown their potential market. Hopefully other game developers will see what an easy win this was and the bar will be raised next year.
What are your thoughts on Universal Game Design? How can designers creating something that is both universally accessible and universally challenging? Is it even possible?