Accessibility Issues

accessibility

Inaccessible doesn’t (always) equal bad; in fact I’m here to argue the case for inaccessibility as a legitimate game mechanic, rather than simply dismissing it as a flaw.

Some games are going to have a degree of inaccessibly as a naturally occurring side-effect of their depth and complexity. Piloting a sidewinder in Elite is never going to be as simple as flinging an “angry bird” across the screen; that’s just a reality of those particular games.

However, being easily understood – for example what you need to do and where you need to go –  is a more governable facet of accessibility and I think some games (Elite is an example of this as well) can be intentionally vague or obtuse in this area by design.

See, the trouble with accessibility in this respect is that it doesn’t leave much to the imagination. In some games – many in fact – that’s absolutely fine. But, in a sandbox game like Elite, you want room for people to figure stuff out; it’s where much of the reward is hidden in the game. The same is true of other sandbox titles, like the survival game Ark for example.

Starting out in Ark is brutal. Not many games will make you feel as lost, confused and vulnerable as the first few hours of Ark. Many will write this off as shoddy “inaccessible” game design and completely overlook how important that learning curve is. Showing you the basics would, without a doubt, make the game much more accessible, but it would also completely undermine both the core survival aspect of the game and also the reward of finally turning the tables on it.

It’s a delicate balance, but the more a game shows you, the more it takes away from you discovering for yourself, and in some genres it’s worth remembering that can actually be quite detrimental.

Sometimes it’s not purely understanding what you need to do that makes a game inaccessible, but the fundamental difficulty in achieving it that is the problem. The obvious solution – one as old as the hills – is that long standing and often condescending difficulty select option (Change “easy” to “recruit” or “beginner” if you want, will still know it means “loser”). There are games where this “accessibility” has been masterfully implemented; Forza Motorsport for example. It takes a fairly complicated racing sim and makes it completely customisable to individual skill levels via a very intuitive user interface. There are other games though, where difficulty is the foundation the franchise is built on.

The most obvious example of this is the souls series of games. For a game that is notoriously difficult and unforgiving, the game has ironically been beaten by more than most because of it. I’d go as far as to say that had the game have had more accessible difficulty settings, not only would it not have been the success it is today, it would be a game breaking addition. Difficulty is the soul of Dark/Demon souls, and it’s also why so many of the other mechanics work well in the game.

From the trial and error mechanics, to soul collecting, character builds, leaving hints and summoning help; it’s all built from the challenge of the game. Undermine that and you would undermine everything.

Inaccessibilities like those found in these games also feed into a wider phenomenon; that of the gaming communities. Say what you like about gamers; when it comes to communities that form from games like Dark Souls, they’re a cohesive bunch that produce invaluable supportive advice for conquering games. From FAQ’s, to Wiki’s, YouTube video’s and forums; people come together to discuss and overcome the challenges at hand in a way that’s quite remarkable. It becomes a group effort, where vast resources of information are created for free by the community, for the community. This level of cohesion is born from inaccessibility and is not found to this degree in games that don’t have it.

From a games critique point of view, accessibility is certainly a slippery subject; one that really does boil down to personal opinion, but one that I think is definitely deserving of more careful consideration. It’s all too easy to label a lacking component as bad, without really contemplating if less is sometimes more.

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