Often, when I publish episodes of Access-Ability, I’ll get someone either in the YouTube comments, or on Twitter, responding to the episode by saying something like “this is really interesting, but doesn’t affect me personally”. That’s not necessarily surprising, but I think it overlooks the fact that for many people, your current level of gaming ability will not last forever, and accessibility support that doesn’t impact you today may in the future.
Setting aside that anyone can develop a condition or experience an injury at any time which could impact their ability to play games, all of us are aging, and with age come changes to our physical abilities as people. From declining hearing and eyesight quality to reduced mobility, over the decades those of us who love games today are going to find them increasingly difficult to play, and many people who currently don’t need accessibility support will eventually need it.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about video games and aging. We’re going to give a brief overview of some of the ways most of us will need support to game as we age, some of the basic solutions and challenges that could help us keep gaming, and how most aspects of gaming accessibility will eventually be important to most gamers, regardless of their current level of support needs.
The following list of accessibility needs and support solutions for older gamers isn’t going to be exhaustive, there’s over a year’s worth of in depth videos on this channel going into greater depth on these topics, but the aim of this video is to give an overview of the situation, so that people who currently do not require accessibility support can get a sense of the areas of this industry it might be in their self interest to see improved.
Right now, Nintendo still releases a reasonable number of video games with forced, unavoidable motion controls. This is not a Nintendo exclusive issue, most VR games released today also feature unavoidable motion controls too.
As people age, typically a few issues arise that may impact the ability to play games that involve forced motion controls, from chronic pain to reduced mobility and increased fatigue.
Nintendo demonstrated with the release of Skyward Sword HD that when they want to, they can think of creative alternatives to motion controls. This is something we should be encouraging, because motion controls will eventually be a barrier to entry that stops many of us playing games.
When it comes to VR gaming, many of the tools required to minimise motion requirements are already being worked on by third party teams, including support for tools where you can automate standing up and crouching using button presses rather than motion, but these need to be standardised by headset manufacturers and game developers.
In terms of games requiring physical motion to be playable, large amounts of standing or walking can become more difficult with age, and as such many of you who currently enjoy playing real world movement games such as Pokémon Go may, over time, find engaging with that style of gameplay more difficult.
Pokémon Go introduced a lot of remote gameplay options during “The Big Year Inside” that helped players who struggle with walking to play the game from home, but rolled them back once the world began to open back up. Those kinds of accessibility support tools are important, and will be important to many of us in the years to come.
As most of us age, our vision and hearing quality will both begin to decline. Most of the support tools we talk about on this channel for deaf and blind players will eventually become important to most people, and as such pushing for these to be improved is in most gamers best interests.
The Last of Us 2 is still somewhat of a gold standard in this regard, with the introduction of features such as high contrast mode visuals for partially sighted players, and audio cues for sightless players, options to change subtitle size and colour to be more legible, visual cues to show where sounds came from, closed captions with speaker tags, and a whole host of other small but useful features.
Additionally, features such as menu narration, where menu text is read out as you move your cursor, and text to speech or speech to text for voice chat, help blind and deaf players engage with a wider variety of game types.
Very few games right now feature any kind of audio descriptions for gameplay, but that is something which could be a step forward to supporting partially sighted and sightless blind players.
Subtitles in our industry also need to be standardised to high quality closed captions, with customisable sizes, fonts, colours, and background opacity levels, to be as useful as possible.
Even the most skilled gamer today will not be as skilled decades from now, as a variety of aspects of aging will impact technical ability in games. From lessening coordination to reduced muscle strength, chronic pain to reduced reaction times, games will keep the same difficulty, while becoming more difficult for you as a player.
Lessening coordination with age, paired with lessening reaction speeds, mean that gamers as they age will take longer to react, and be less precise when reacting. On the simple end of things, difficulty modes and customisable difficulty menus offer support to older players, but there are also more specific ways games can help, such as Forza Horison 5 offering the ability to slow down your car, or Celeste offering additional jumps and health to players.
Automation of actions, and simplified control layouts, are going to become increasingly important to gamers as they age too for the above reasons.
Games with quick time events should offer options to increase timer length, as should games like The Jackbox Party Pack, and button mashing prompts should have the ability to be swapped for holds or single presses, to support older gamers with chronic pain conditions, which become more common with age.
Muscle strength impacts a few different areas of gaming, but here I’ll highlight the weight of handheld gaming consoles and controllers. As controllers get heavier with the addition of new features, it’s important that lighter controllers are also supported for players who may struggle to hold something heavy for an extended period of time.
When it comes to gaming handhelds, there will always be a balancing act between screen size, power, and weight. More powerful handhelds with larger screens are easier to see if you are partially sighted, but heavier to hold for those with muscle weakness or hand pain.
Dedicated accessibility controllers, as well as console level features such as co-pilot mode, can help older gamers keep playing as they age by remapping controls to larger buttons which require less small-scale manual dexterity, or allowing a second player to help with a second controller mapped to the same character.
As we age, and our coordination and fine motor control decrease, accessible packaging will become all the more important. If you’re an older person living alone, and you struggle to see or get a grip on a small clear sticker sat flush to the box holding your game console box shut, you’re likely to have a bad time. But, Microsoft has been moving toward having more of their products ship in more accessible packaging, including stickers with a large unstuck edge that’s easy to grip, and ribbons that can be used to lift things out of boxes enough to get your hands underneath them.
As memory storage and recall tends to get worse with age, features such as the ability to rewatch cutscenes, or read recaps of plot, will be increasingly important for many gamers.
The ability to pause and save video games is also going to be more important to many players over time for a variety of reasons, ranging from forgetting a game is running on a handheld and the battery running out, through to increased urgency when it comes to using the bathroom. The ability to stop a game at any time, and not lose progress once made, impacts everyone eventually.
Finally, let’s talk about financial accessibility. Many of us gaming today are going to have less money available to us in old age than generations before us, due to a combination of our inability to get onto the housing market, plus historically stagnant wages, and pensions not rising with costs of living.
Options such as Game Pass are ultimately going to, for many, become how we can afford to play new games. A small recurring fee for access to lots of games is, honestly, going to be more accessible to many than actually purchasing and owning new release titles, as game costs balloon.
Additionally, a variety of issues that come with old age impact memory and impulse control, as well as overall cognitive ability, in ways that will make many older people more susceptible to predatory microtransaction practices, which as a social group that already has less money to begin with is going to cause issues.
This video massively simplified a lot of discussions, and skimmed over a lot of specifics and details, but the main point I want to convey here is that a lot of the things that do not impact your ability to play video games today will impact you 40 or 50 years from now. Maybe not all of these things will impact you, but the chances are high that at least one will, and there’s no way to know which in advance.
Even if accessibility doesn’t impact you today, you should care about it. If you can’t care about it for the people it’s impacting today, care about it for your own self interest, because eventually it probably will impact you, and you’ll wish you’d fought hard now to get the industry ready to support your personal accessibility needs.