I met Erin Hawley via her Twitter feed and have enjoyed following her posts and podcasts. Erin has Muscular Dystrophy, scoliosis, and a trach, along with a passion for geekdom and tabletop games. She has a beautiful personality and is an amazing advocate for disability in geek culture. With my wife’s Multiple Sclerosis causing her mobility and dexterity to slowly decline, I have a strong personal interest in the need for accessibility awareness in game design. Today, you get a glimpse of Erin’s passion in a heartfelt letter to game publishers regarding accessibility in their games. Thanks, Erin!
Dear tabletop game designers,
I need help with most of your creations. With the way my hands and arms are contracted, I have limited range of motion; it’s difficult to hold more than three cards at once, and impossible to reach across the board to move wooden cubes or meeples. Whoever I play assists me with the actions I can’t do myself, and I use adaptive accessories like dice trays or card holders whenever I can. I don’t view any of this, including the Muscular Dystrophy itself, negatively – it’s just a different way of playing and being, and one that ultimately works for me and the groups I game with.
Despite my adaptability, there are still games I can’t play. Dexterity and real-time games, for example, will never work. Titles like Curse of the Temple, Alchemists, or Zombie 15 are intriguing, but there is no way to successfully enjoy them with the amount of help I would need. My inability to play these games is not an isolated incident; it extends well beyond my disability and access requirements, and well beyond certain mechanics. There are thousands of other gamers out there who are blind, D/deaf, have an intellectual disability, or any other way of being that affects the way they interact with the world. I don’t speak for all of us, but I’m hoping my experiences and ideas will further the conversation on what it means to play games as a disabled person.
Inaccessibility is a problem, and there is no one solution. Everyone’s needs are different – it would be impossible to make every part of a game accessible to every disability – I am aware of that. But there are steps you can take to ensure your product is accessible to the broadest audience possible, while maintaining your unique art style or game mechanics. In pure Erin fashion, I am providing you with a list of ideas, because lists are always the best. I’m including barriers I have faced, as well as barriers that people with other disabilities have encountered. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point to get you thinking about us in your design process. Without further ado:
- Contain your mechanics to a fairly small space so players don’t have to reach too much. A game that does this well is Alhambra. The marketplace is on a small board that can be moved easily to a side table or closer to the disabled gamer. The tiles are in a bag, and the cards can be placed anywhere. Modular/shifting game spaces like this are fantastic.
- Don’t convey important information through color alone, as color-blind players will have trouble with it. Alhambra, again, does this nicely – the different-colored cards also have unique symbols to tell them apart. I’ve noticed this issue is gaining more awareness, which is awesome!
- Make sure the text in your game is not miniscule, or is available in a readable PDF – including the rules! You can also make a how-to video (with captions) for people more tuned to visual learning. Similarly, make sure your rules are easy to follow and organized.
- If you’re publishing a dexterity game, create a role within it that does not require dexterity. I like watching other people play them, and it would be cool if I could participate in some way. If I knew a game had this option, I’d be more inclined to buy it! I think this is especially important in kid’s games, too, as children with disabilities shouldn’t be excluded from play activities.
- For timed games, make an untimed turn-based option – like having to complete your mission in x-amount of turns rather than x-amount of minutes.
- Consider going braille! 64 oz. Games (http://www.64ouncegames.com/) is a company that produces braille options of existing games for blind players. Check out their website for more info!
- Have player aids available, outlining the steps for more complex games. Viticulture, one of my family’s favorite titles, has a player aide on the board itself. Also, include explanations and a cheat sheet for any iconography used.
- Think about dexterity access when designing your components. Smaller cards might look cool, but are they hard to shuffle? Are the miniscule cubes you need to place on exact spots on the board workable for someone with Cerebral Palsy? Are the components hard to stack, keep in one place, or pick up?
- Limit the amount of shuffling, searching through decks of cards, and rolling dice. Yes, these are hard – if not impossible – for deck builders, but try to eliminate unnecessary steps.
- Finally, diversity is awesome – why not include disabled characters in your game? While not an access issue, seeing ourselves portrayed in descriptions or on card art, and having abled peers see it as well, transforms the way we view disability. With 10% of the world’s population living with some form of disability, it is important that we are not segregated or considered on the fringe. We’re here and we play games!
I hope this list helps you. Many people assume game accessibility is not an issue worthy of change, but for me and thousands of other gamers, it is. Having fun and accessing ways to relax or engage with our community enables us to lead more fulfilling lives. For me, it’s a significant portion of the dialogue on ableism and accessibility, and one we should continue discussing.
If you want to chat about your ideas, read some reviews that mention accessibility, or have any questions, just visit my blog at geekygimp.com!
All the best,