If you enjoy the thrill of doing things in secret, and trying not to get caught, you might be one of the many people in the world who enjoy Social Deduction games. Popularised first by board games like Werewolf or Secret Hitler, then moving later to video games with titles like Among Us, Social Deduction games are at their core about a couple of players, secretly tasked with being evil, trying to sabotage the rest of the players without being caught out.
While social deduction games have become pretty popular in recent years, they come with a lot of accessibility hurdles inherent to the genre which can make them difficult to play for some disabled players.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about Social Deduction video games. We’re going to talk about some of the issues that disabled players face when playing these games, ways the games themselves can facilitate play by disabled users, and ways those setting up group game nights can improve accessibility themselves.
When playing a game like Among Us, with social deduction elements, one of the most important aspects of the game is making sure players can instantly recognise each other. If you spot a dead body, and a player running away from it, you need to know who was running away at a glance, out of the corner of your eye, without ambiguity. Among Us handles this by allowing players to colour their whole character a custom colour. Allowing character colours to be customised means that they can be selected to ensure colourblind players can differentiate them, and by colour coding characters dyslexic players are not pressured to read player name text above someone’s head in a panicked rush.
If you compare this to Imposters, the recently released social deduction mode in Fortnite, players pick custom character skins which may match those of other players. If two players have the same character skin you will need to either read and remember their username in the heat of the moment, or pay attention to a tiny, randomly assigned coloured square with a number in it. This is a lot more difficult to easily identify, and may make the game more difficult to play for players with issues processing information quickly, or those with dyslexia.
Sticking briefly on color blindness support, at launch Among Us contained a puzzle where players needed to connect wires together based on colour, which was inaccessible. The developers in a later update added symbols to each wire, making the puzzle solvable without colour clues.
One area where Imposters is currently more accessible to disabled players than Among Us is in terms of map availability during the interrogation stage of the game. Among Us features an in-game map during regular gameplay, to help players navigate the map effectively, but does not allow that map to be looked at during interrogations.
As a gamer with aphantasia, a condition where I lack a visual memory and imagination, I really struggle to tell other players where I am on a map when I do not have that map visible as a reference, which often leads to me seeming suspicious in discussions.
Fortnite Imposters allows players to pull up a map, including a “you were here” pin pointing out their location prior to the meeting, which makes it a lot easier for me to explain to other players my location, or come up with a convincing lie about where I was. When playing games of Among Us, consider telling players it’s okay for them to bring a map up on another screen, and perhaps even send everyone a link to a map before the game starts.
Beyond some of these mechanical changes, there are some interesting accessibility issues inherent to social deduction games that players may need to work around, to keep the game fun for as wide a range of players as possible.
Perhaps most obviously, social deduction games inherently rely on a certain level of deceit, accusations, and in many cases being the product of false accusations. Players with social anxiety, trauma around being gaslit, or simply anxiety around conflict may at times find games like Among Us difficult to play.
These are inherent aspects of social deduction games, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a few steps if you’re setting up a game night to make the game more accessible to players who may have set thresholds of comfort with these mechanics. Perhaps consider setting up a safe word, so that if someone is being falsely accused to the point of genuine distress, or is sincerely upset by something someone said in the moment, they can call the match quits and take a moment to recover without it being seen as a tactic in the game. Consider breaks between rounds of the game to debrief and check if everyone is okay if things got heated, and potentially even consider taking breaks to play custom game types, such as the fan made hide and seek game mode. Consider ground rules, or what kinds of lies are acceptable, and which are not, if there is a specific kind of deceit that is going to cause conflict with some players.
Additionally, some players may find verbal speech during social deduction games more stressful and taxing than non verbal communication, including players with social anxiety, or players on the autism spectrum. Consider offering players the option to engage via Among Us text chat, or Imposters quick chat commands, if they find that less stressful than real time voice conversations.
Lastly, bare in mind that in groups of players mixed between neurotypical and disabled players you may find conflict, where neurotypical players perceive disabled players’ speech patterns as inherently indicative of deceit. If a player stutters when accused of being the killer, that might not be because they have something to hide, but because they stutter when stressed. If a player gives flat, emotionally dry, information led answers that could be seen as a sign of deceit, or could just be an autistic player communicating normally. A player who volunteers a LOT of information unprompted might be overcompensating to hide a lie, or they could be a player with ADHD who needs to get all the info out of their head before they forget it.
There’s no simple way to fix this communication mismatch, but it’s something players should be aware of. As a disabled player, I’ve experienced being called a liar in games in the past for the above traits, and it can be really upsetting to be assumed to be deceitful because of your natural mannerisms as a disabled person. My best advice on this topic would be to listen to your players, and trust them that if they say “I’m stuttering because of my anxiety”, trust them that they’re not using that as an excuse to get out of something. Learn how your players communicate, and don’t insist something is a tell of deceit if a player has expressed that’s a natural part of their disability.
Additionally, remember that as pointed out before, non verbal chat options are available, and may help disabled players to come off less deceitful for aspects of their disability.
While some of the accessibility support I talked about today comes from the developers of these social deduction games, a lot more of it comes from understanding and supporting the people you are playing with. Social deduction games are inherently social, and to make them accessible to a wider range of disabled players requires being aware of the needs of the people you are playing with.
Usually, when I publish episodes of Access-Ability, my critiques are aimed at the people making games, and how they can help make them more accessible. Today is an exception, this is an episode where you, the viewer, can make a difference in your own game nights with friends.
You may not find that your friend group needs to follow every piece of advice laid out here, but you may just find that next time a new friend wants to join you for a night of Among Us, these might be useful suggestions to know if you want to help them feel welcome and included.