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Guidelines for developing accessible games

Introduction

This guidelines based on the guidelines of MediaLT and the guidelines of IGDA.

Table of Contents


1 Types of Disabilities

1.1 Visual (Vis)

a) Blindness
Blindness is usually defined as "the loss of vision, not correctable with lenses". People who are totally blind cannot play games that rely on visual cues to prompt a player. They must rely on sounds or special hardware such as force feedback to indicate when they need to act.

b) Low Vision
Low vision is related to blindness. A person with low vision can detect light, perhaps see some motion, but is very limited as to what they can see. Users could play games provided there was some degree of magnification of the screen. Users could respond to visual and sound cues, but their ability to see a wide area of the game may be restricted by the magnification of the screen.

c) Color Blindness
Color blindness is an inability to detect certain colors. It ranges from total color blindness, where the person perceives the world as shades of gray, to more common types where a person does not perceive the differences between red and green or yellow and blue correctly.

1.2 Auditory (Aud)

a) Deafness
Deafness is an inability to understand speech or recognize environmental sounds. Deaf people generally communicate using sign language, of which there are several dialects.

b) Hard of Hearing
Hard of hearing gamers may be able to recognize some sounds but may need to turn the volume of their speakers way up for auditory cues to be useful. Depending on the degree of loss, hard of hearing gamers could use many of the same accessibility methods that would be provided for deaf gamers.

1.3 Mobility (Mob)

a) Paralysis
In paralysis, the nerves that control the voluntary muscles of the body are no longer signaling those muscles. Depending on the cause, the person may have only a limited ability to move any part of their body.

b) Neurological Disorders
Certain neurological disorders can cause mobility issues. Due to problems with transmitting impulses to muscles, people with neurological disorders also suffer many of the same issues affecting paralysis victims.

c) Repetitive Stress Injury
Repetitive Stress Injuries are a result of repeating motions over a long period of time. Most of these injuries are readily treatable, but can reoccur if the person goes back to the same habits.

d) Lack of Mobility
One of the unfortunate aspects of aging is the gradual loss of flexibility in joints and difficulties moving as fast or as well as one used to. Degenerative diseases like arthritis become more common.

e) Lack of Steadiness
Along with the problems listed above with lack of mobility, there is a gradual loss of muscle tone, making fine movements more difficult. Other factors like Parkinson's disease can also affect the ability to control a game.

1.4 Cognitive Disabilities (Cog)

a) Memory Loss
The inability to retain information can make certain types of games more difficult. An action game with a complex storyline or an adventure game with a complex map can be difficult for people who have memory problems.

b) Attention Deficit Disorder
There is currently a lot of discussion and research going on regarding Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Much of this research focuses on understanding the underlying causes or attempting to determine how widespread the problem is.

c) Dyslexia
Dyslexia is considered a learning disability. It is considered a problem with processing information.

1.5 Priorities for the different types of disabilities

P1 = Must have

Must have means, that it is absolutely necessary for the listed group of gamers. Otherwise the game is not accessible for them.

P2 = Should have

Should have means, that it is a big help for the listed group of gamers. The game is accessible without that point, but with that point, the game is easier to learn or the fun factor is higher.

P3 = May have

May have means, that it is a help of feature for the listed group of gamers. The game is accessible without that point.

2 Level/progression

2.1 Offer progression from simple to more difficult and/or from beginner to advanced levels

It is important that the concept should be neutral with respect to age, in other words simple without being childish, stimulating, and enjoyable giving motivation to continue. The program should be structured such that it is possible to progress from easy to more complex exercises and/or have a logical build up from beginner to more advanced.

Many games have a training-modus which may be all that is required for some users to be able to use the program.

Priorities:
P1: Cog (Memory Loss)
P2: all others
P3: none

AuthorComment
Roland BP/CS: In the training-modus, all possible inputs and input devices should be trained, with the option to repeat every part of the training, and to skip parts of the training, if they are not accessible to a group of gamers.

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2.2 Offer choices which give real variation with respect to degree of difficulty

Possibilities to choose functionality, extent of help etc., will ensure that the product can be used by a broader user group. Examples of choices are: speed, complexity, functionality, language/text. Changing the speed could be changing the whole game speed or, as an other option, changing the speed of the opponents. Same with complexity: could be easier levels or less opponents.

A training modus can the user (or the self learning game) help to find the right configuration.

Priorities:
P1: none
P2: all - a training modus is not a must, but it helps all to learn the control of the game
P3: none

AuthorComment
Roland BP/CS: After the controls of the game are trained in the training-modus, the training-modus could have short game sequences with increasing difficulty to find the right difficult level and recomend it to the gamer.

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2.3 Offer larger packages: games, videos, books, toys, stickers

For some handicapped users it may be appropriate to combine software and other products with the same theme. Especially some people with cognitive disabilities needs this kind of support to understand the game or to keep concentration. Examples of additional products are: videos, books, toys, stickers.

Priorities:
P1: none
P2: Cog
P3: all others

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2.4 Offer direct access to individual activities

A handicapped user may be able to use parts of the game (individual activities). But if the game is constructed sequentially the user is perhaps not able to access the relevant individual activities. Allow therefore direct choice of individual activities.

Direct choice of individual activities can be partly achieved by saving the settings.

Priorities:
P1: all disabilities, if not all individual activities are accessible
P2: all
P3: none

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2.5 Offer accessable hints to get at secret areas

Many producers put in secret areas or secret equipment in the game to encourage users to play more. Trick codes are often required to access the secrets. The trick codes may be obtained by doing the most unlikely things. The codes are often found quite by accident during the course of the game.

The secrets are difficult to access until the first person release them on the Internet. Some producers take this into account and provide an option to choose to access all the secret codes at once or one at time if you wish to have a go first. An option for releasing the secret codes will not spoil the game for the other players: the point is that this should be optional.

Access to secret areas and equipment can be partly achieved by saving the settings.

Priorities:
P1: none
P2: none
P3: all

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2.6 Use simple language

The language used, both in text and speech, is significant for the users ability to understand the information which is being communicated. The language should be simple and concise and not a mixture of different languages. If necessary one can use several language forms; concise, descriptive, slang,... .

Priorities:
P1: Aud (Deafness) and Cog
P2: all others
P3: none

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2.7 Inline tutorials

Inline tutorials and automatic help should be available in the game.

Priorities:
P1: none
P2: all
P3: none

AuthorComment
Matthew T. Atkinson Though a lot of time can be spent on producing accessible documentation ( http://www.agdev.org/InterestGroupDocumentation ), it is also helpful to create tutorials like this, as they reinforce what the gamer (should have) learnt by reading the manual. Providing a series of levels with increasing difficulty and/or focusing on specific topics can be useful. Also, allowing the game to give feedback to the player on how they are doing or what the goals for a given tutorials are, is very important.
Roland BP/CS: Inline-tutorials could work on different levels: one kind of help can be started manually by the gamer (e.g. pressing the key \'h\'), an other kind of help gives the gamer automaticaly hints during the game. The amount of hints can be configurated by the gamer and/or can be switched off or can automaticaly changed by the game, depending on the experience of the gamer.

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2.8 Special navigation help

Try to find special navigation help for the different kind of users, e.g. sonar and sound compass for blind gamers.

Priorities:
P1: all
P2: none
P3: none

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2.9 Meta information

To every scene, meta information should be available. This information can e.g. used by a screen reader.

Priorities:
P1: none
P2: all, may P1 if no special navigation help is available (see 2.9)
P3: none

AuthorComment
Roland BP/CS: Meta information could be a description of all objects in a scene. Description means: location, direction, size, color, reason for being there, ...

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3 Input

3.1 Allow for alternative controls

Handicapped persons have very different assumptions for controlling computers. There are many different aids, for example: mouse, switches, pointer screens, control panels, keyboards and scanners.

It is important that software is designed with the different input devices in mind. In addition to the various pointing equipment it should also be possible to control programs by means of the keyboard (which will to a greater degree allow the use of switches).

Priorities:
P1: Mob
P2: Vis, Aud and Cog
P3: none

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3.2 Allow for the use of several different input and output devices simultaneously

A handicapped user may not necessarily be able to use all the functions in a program (even allowing for keyboard control etc.). But if several control systems can be used at the same time, then a group of handicapped users can work together. This can be fun, instructive and increase the user range for the product. Furthermore a single user should be able to use the same input configuration (of different devices), he/she uses outside the game.

Priorities:
P1: Vis, Aud and Mob
P2: Cog
P3: none

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3.3 Adjustable sensitivity/error tolerance

Properties for the keyboard and other input devices should be adjustable. Examples from Microsoft Windows for the mouse and keyboard are:

It is an advantage if software uses the standard settings in the operative system and/or contains possibilities for adjusting the input devices.

Choices should be saved.

Priorities:
P1: Mob
P2: none
P3: all others

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3.4 Adjustable speed and size of pointers and markers

It should be possible to adjust the size and speed of the pointers and markers. Color and contrast are also important properties and should also be adjustable. Increasing the size of pointeers and markers also means, decreasing the accuracy needed by the gamer.

It is an advantage if software uses the standard settings in the operative system and/or contains possibilities for adjusting pointers and markers.

Choices should be saved.

Priorities:
P1: Vis (Low Vision and Color Blindness), Mob and Cog
P2: none
P3: all others

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3.5 Feedback after input

The game should give immediate feedback to all (or configurated by the gamer) used output devices (e.g. sound and graphic) after an input.

Priorities:
P1: all
P2: none
P3: none

AuthorComment
Roland BP/CS: Immediat feedback could be the output of the last input (e.g. a key on the keyboard), but it also should be the position of a pointing device (e.g. mouse or the finger over a touch screen). The output could be just the pressed key, like \'r\', but it also could be the output of the started action, like \'rocket was startet\'. The gamer must have the option to switch the feedback on/off.

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3.6 Deactivate special keys/functions

Special keys or input functions (e.g. the Windows Keys) should be deactivated during the game, because if they were pressed unintentionally, they stop the game or the game flow.

Priorities:
P1: Mob
P2: all others
P3: none

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3.7 No simultaneously button pressing

It should be possible to play a game by not pressing more than one button simultaneously. This means e.g. instead of drag and drop an object, it should be possible to pic it up and release it by pressing a button.

Priorities:
P1: Mob
P2: none
P3: all others

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3.8 Reduce the number of different inputs to a minimum

It should be possible to reduce the number of different inputs to a minimum. This means that there should be the option that the game make some inputs automatically. E.g. a racing game accelerate and break automatically, the gamer just control left of right. An other example: at a TicTacToe game, the game preselect the fields automatically, the gamer just need one button to confirm the selection (input scanning).

Priorities:
P1: Mob
P2: none
P3: all others

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4 Graphics

4.1 Offer choices for resolution, size and detail

People with extensive brain damage often have visual impairments, and orientation sense may sometimes be restricted due to spasms and involuntarily movements. Identification of an object requires differentiation between the object and the background in the picture. It is therefore important that software used by people with visual perception problems has distinct graphics without too many disturbing background elements.

It is an advantage if software uses the standard settings in the operative system and and/or contains possibilities for adjusting the graphic elements e.g. resolution, number of colors, size and detail of the various objects, ... .

Choices should be saved.

Priorities:
P1: Vis and Cog
P2: Mob
P3: none

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4.2 Adjustable color and contrast (buttons, menus, background, text etc.)

For people with visual perception problems, it is important to provide distinct contrast. This groups of users may also have very different requirements for color combination and contrast.

The option to increase the contrast e.g. with white borders around objects or labeling them by pressing a button would also help.

It is an advantage if software uses the standard settings in the operative system and/or contains possibilities for adjusting color/contrast for various elements e.g. buttons and other controls, background, menus, frames, ... .

Choices should be saved.

Priorities:
P1: Vis
P2: all others
P3: none

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4.3 Graphic elements that can be switched off/on

It is difficult for people with multiple learning disabilities (with visual impairment/perception problems) to interpret a visual display with many details. For people with concentration problems too many icons and choices in a visual display may make it difficult to understand the task/information.

It is therefore an advantage if graphic elements can be switched on/off. This may result in reduced functionality which is also beneficial.

Choices should be saved.

Priorities:
P1: Vis and Cog
P2: none
P3: all others

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4.4 Possible to control animations and video

Some people with multiple learning disabilities will have problems interpreting video/animation that is moving too quickly. It is therefore an advantage to be able to adjust the speed of video/animation in a data program. For people with great concentration problems (e.g. people with cognitive difficulties) it is important that a program response in the form of video/animation lasts long enough for them to understand what is happening on the screen.

It should be possible to stop/pause/rewind/replay the animations and videos.

Choices should be saved.

Priorities:
P1: all, especially the repeat function
P2: none
P3: none

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4.5 Use explicit visual rewards

For people with extensive multiple learning disabilities it is very important to provide explicit visual/auditory rewards (for example animation or video) as motivation to maintain a dialog with the program. As skills increase the result of the users own actions will be motivating in itself, and the value of response from the application will, to a greater degree, be associated with informative feedback.

Priorities:
P1: Cog
P2: none
P3: Vis, Aud and Mob

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5 Sound

5.1 Offer choices for speed, duration, voices and volume for different auditory information etc.

The speed at which sound/speech is played should be adjustable without noticeable reduction in the sound quality. A choice between a male or female voice may be an advantage.

The possibility of recording speech would motivate interaction. This function would also allow helpers to add extra information/help.

Auditory information is used in different ways: for messages, effects (not necessarily important for the game itself), interaction with the user, ...It is an advantage if the various types of auditory information can be adjusted individually.

Priorities:
P1: Aud and Cog
P2: none
P3: all others

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5.2 Sounds e.g. background music and alarms that can be switched off/on

Sound can motivate, but may also be very distracting. It should be possible to switch off/on different sounds, especially if the sounds are not essential for progression in the game. Background music is an example of sound which can be "removed".

It may be an advantage to use synthetic speech in games which use a lot of text. The games should allow for this functionality, but need not necessarily contain the speech driver itself. It is simpler for many users to use voices they are familiar with. MSSAPI is probably the most relevant interface for Windows based PCs.

Priorities:
P1: Vis, Aud and Cog
P2: all others
P3: none

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5.3 Explanations of pictures and actions that can be switched off/on

Including auditory descriptions of pictures or actions is a useful function as an alternative choice. This is also the case for explanations using signs or speech for video. This function will provide special support for those with sight and hearing impairments, but may also be of more general use for interpreting graphic information.

It should be possible to switch on/off the explanations of pictures/actions. In some cases the explanations may be a redundancy that technical aids use automatically (e.g. products with a web interface).

Priorities:
P1: Vis, Aud and Cog
P2: all others
P3: none

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5.4 Possibility for repetition

It should be possible to repeat speech messages, either automatically when there is no response from the user, or the user may choose repetition. Repetition is helpful when a series of messages is difficult for the user to follow.

Priorities:
P1: all, if the message is important for the game
P2: none
P3: none

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5.5 Start/Stop should be available while text is being read

It should be possible to start/stop running commentary. Start/stop is important for the users to be able to pause, or perhaps repeat all or part of the commentary.

Priorities:
P1: Cog
P2: all others
P3: none

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5.6 Use explicit auditory feedback and rewards

Auditory feedback and rewards should be explicit and easy to understand.

Priorities:
P1: all
P2: none
P3: none

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5.7 Subtitles

All audio information should optionally displayed as (synchronized) subtitles.

Priorities:
P1: Aud
P2: none
P3: all others

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5.8 Alternate sound files

Alternate sound files could assist those who are deaf or hard of hearing. For example, providing sound files that use bass vibration from the subwoofer to give important feedback to deaf gamers.

Priorities:
P1: Aud
P2: none
P3: none

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6 Installation and Settings

6.1 Easy installation, preferably without changing system files

If installations can be avoided then everyone is happy! However this is not always possible. Installations should be as simple as possible, without unnecessary options. A wizard should be used for the options (see 6.2), when the product is installed.

Changing system files may cause the computer to be unstable. This should be avoided especially if the computer is also used as a technical aid (communication, school work etc.) as these aids may no longer function after the installation. For example a screen reader may not function after updating a screen driver.

Priorities:
P1: none
P2: all
P3: none

AuthorComment
Roland BP/CS: Before publishing the game, it has to be tested if it effects any assistent technologies (e.g. screenreaders, special input devices, ...)

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6.2 Use a wizard for product adaptations

Redundancy and various options for product setup are important elements in these guidelines. It should be easy to set up adaptations/choices using wizards or dialog boxes which are simple to use. The different options should be easy to understand and language usage is important here.

Priorities:
P1: all, an accessible game must have an accessible setup
P2: none
P3: none

AuthorComment
Roland BP/CS: The setting have to be changeable during the game, so that the gamer can try which settings fits best to him/her.
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6.3 Settings should be saved

It should be possible to save the program settings and so avoid having to choose the settings every time the product is used. The following are important:

In addition to the settings it should also be possible to save the status: how far you have come in the game. Here it should also be possible to save several statuses.

An other option should be the facility to choose different default profiles for e.g. blind or deaf gamers.

Priorities:
P1: all
P2: none
P3: none

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6.4 Easy to close the program

In some games there are special procedures for closing the game. This is unfortunate as both users and helpers should be able to close the game easily and use the computer for other tasks.

Alternatives for closing programs running under different versions of Microsoft Windows are shown below.

MethodDescription
MouseClick the icons in the top right hand corner of the program window for Minimize, Maximize, Restore and Close
Keyboard commandClose the program with the keyboard command (Alt+F4)
Menu choicePrograms with a menu bar usually have Close in the File menu
System menuOpen the system menu with the mouse or keyboard and choose Close
Shortcut menuOpen the shortcut menu with the mouse or keyboard. Close may be one of the choices
Buttons and toolbarsThere is a Close button in some programs, or this choice may be easily accessible in a toolbar

There should be a standard choice for closing the program in computer games. The procedure may vary from platform to platform. The game should follow the relevant standard. It may not be possible to use all the standard alternatives because of product design, but at least the keyboard command (Alt+F4) should be available.

Priorities:
P1: none
P2: all
P3: none

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Appendix

Appendix A: Input Devices

Input Devices

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Last update: 31.05.2006 by Roland Ossmann