When it comes to unique ways of trying to make video games more accessible, High Contrast Mode is one of the most interesting innovations I can think of, and one inherently suited to video games and their ability to render visuals in real time.

While games like the Batman Arkham series used high contrast effects as gameplay mechanics, for features like Detective Vision, The Last of Us 2 popularised its use as an accessibility mechanic, and Sony first party titles released since have begun adopting it as a standard.

Sony is making amazing use of the feature, but there might be a part of the industry even more in need.

So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about how high contrast mode could be a particularly useful addition to handheld gaming. We’re going to be talking about what the setting is, why it’s particularly useful for handheld gaming, and some potential additional benefits it could bring to portable games.

So, what exactly is High Contrast Mode? Well, Sony’s implementation is a customisable filter that turns unimportant elements of a game world greyscale, while highlighting important elements in bright and easy to differentiate colours, making them easier for blind and partially sighted players to see, and easier to parse for players who struggle to prioritise sensory information.

An example of possible implementation, you could have the player character highlighted in blue, enemies in red, and friendly NPCs in yellow. Boss monsters could be in orange, and collectable pickups in green for example.

High Contrast Mode in Sony games often also reduces the level of visual detail rendered in an environment. Lighting is simplified, non character textures are reduced in complexity, and non gameplay pivotal details such as debris on the floor of an environment are reduced. These changes all help to ensure that details which do not contribute to gameplay progression are less frequently distracting.

It’s important that players where possible can customise the colour selections in high contrast mode, both to ensure that at a glance a given player makes the right connections between the colour they see and what they feel that should denote, but also to ensure the setting remains useful for colourblind players too.

So, why do I think High Contrast mode would be a particularly useful addition to portable games on handheld consoles? Well, put simply, smaller screens with lower output resolutions and less powerful rendering hardware push out less visual detail to players. If you’re a blind or partially sighted player, playing an identical game on handheld or TV, the handheld version is going to be more difficult to make out details on, and harder to play.

With that smaller screen real estate, I can’t help but think that bringing high contrast mode support to portable gaming could really help to make that space in particular more accessible as time goes forward. Taking that smaller image and highlighting with bold colours the important gameplay elements could really help make games more easily viewable.

Additionally, for non disabled users, high contrast mode could help make games easier to see and parse in bright environments where screen glare makes details more difficult to make out, and an implementation of the feature that reduces texture detail could help improve the framerate of handheld games with unlocked framerates somewhat for players willing to make that tradeoff.

Sony doesn’t currently produce any new gaming handhelds, or games designed for gaming handhelds. If the PlayStation Vita were still around today and getting first party game releases I suspect we would have seen by now some handheld games that support this accessibility feature, and probably wouldn’t be talking about this as a hypothetical.

That said, this isn’t entirely hypothetical. Spider-Man: Miles Morales or The Last of Us 2 on PS4 can be played on Vita using Remote Play and, yes, it is easier to make out important visual information on a smaller handheld screen with high contrast mode available. This is something which could actively really help more people play handheld games more effectively.

I don’t know whether Sony has any kind of patent that would restrict other developers from implementing their own High Contrast Modes in games, or has ever made a public statement saying they would support more developers following their lead, but I would love to see them step forward and say other developers can do this.

In a perfect world, I would love for someone at Sony to officially come out and say that other developers are not only allowed to implement High Contrast Mode in their games, but also encourage its adoption in our broader industry. It’s a great feature, and it’s really benefiting the accessibility of their first party console games, but our industry would be even better if everyone knew they could implement it too, in particular developers of games for portable devices.

Previous post Video Games Need Accessibility Standards
Next post Xbox Adds Accessibility Tags, and System Level Colourblind Filter Support

Leave a Reply