Why accessible gaming is about more than games

We hear from RNIB’s Lorna Forbes and gaming critic and consultant Laura Dale about how the industry is rethinking its approach to making games playable for everyone, and why communication is key – even if it means admitting failures

When The Last of Us Part II – the sequel to Naughty Dog’s hugely popular apocalyptic game – landed in 2020, it was heralded as a watershed moment for gaming. Not only because of its gripping storyline and best-in-class character and environment design, but because it was a triple AAA title offering an unprecedented number of accessibility features, around 60 in total.

Its legacy goes beyond the game itself by setting a benchmark for more and more developers to live up to, according to games critic and accessibility consultant Laura Dale. “In the past four years in particular, since The Last of Us Part II made discussions of accessibility mainstream and showed that innovation in the space might garner positive PR and critical acclaim, there has been a notable uptick in developers actively listening to audiences about accessibility.”

Dale says it’s being taken more seriously industry-wide, with studios engaging focus groups and consultants far earlier in development stage. (Naughty Dog worked with seven consultants on The Last of Us Part II.) “I can personally attest that, as the past four years have passed, I’ve found a dramatic increase in the amount of work I get offered speaking directly with developers about accessibility in their titles.”

It has been a long road to get here, and the journey isn’t over, either. Having a wide range of well-designed accessibility features can dictate how people play games (autonomously versus having assistance from another person); what they play (with some people feeling unwelcomed in online competitive or team games); and whether they play at all. Many of the gamers who took part in a 2022 report by RNIB – a charity that supports people with sight loss – said they played games less than they would like, or had stopped playing games altogether, as a result of poor accessibility.