Accessibility in Video Games - Cognitive

19 November 2012

When people talk about accessibility, they often forget the cognitively disabled. This is a group that's become increasingly vocal in the web accessibility arena, especially as the Internet has become a fancier, busier place.

Most people think of the cognitively disabled as the ones that are labeled 'Severe and Profound': Someone with no (or little) language, with the mind of a toddler.

The truth is, you probably know someone who's cognitively disabled. Having a cognitive impairment isn't the same as not being smart. It means that the act of taking in information or actively thinking is somehow different for an individual. Some take in too much information, and need either training or medication to help them filter the world. Others might have issues taking in information visually, so either have to take their time or

Most of the people who are issues with cognition really have issues with information processing. They might need more time with information, or they might have issues parsing a specific kind of information. They may also get information overload quickly.

    The groups I normally worry about:
  • People with dyslexia
  • People with ADD/ADHD (Collectively known as AD/HD)
  • People with early on-set dementia or Alzheimer's
    Some subgroups that also benefit:
  • People on mind-numbing medication (remember my iguana story?)
  • Non-native speakers

So, what can you do, as a game developer?

Subtitles and voice-over

It's hard to tell what someone with a cognitive disability will find easier: Text they can read through, or subtitles they can listen to. My uncle, who's dyslexic, had to have his school books read to him. My son, who has Aspergers, has issues following verbal instructions, but does extremely well with written ones.

Since you don't know, if you have dialog, try to offer both a captions and voice. This is a nice benefit for people who can't stand voice acting, or are in an environment where they can't have their sound on.

Fonts

A diagram showing the difference between serif and sans-serif, with the serfis circled.

In general, sans-serif fonts are easier for someone with dyslexia to read. Why? Because many people with dyslexia recognize word shapes. Serifs mess with word shapes, making them more complicated to decipher.

You know what else is hard to decipher? All caps. Don't use them.

If your designer is absolutely married to some fancy font, at least add an option for the player to switch to another font.

Contrast

Most people assume (wrongly) that pure white against pure black is the most accessible contrast. It's actually one of the worst. People with dyslexia report preferring colors that are closer together in hue and value (that's color and lightness/darkness for you non-art people).

Picking the colors can be tricky. I usually go with a very dark grey and a slightly off white. This may not work for every dyslexic gamer, though. I knew one who could only read when the text was a medium blue on a deep blue background.

For these users, allowing them to set the background and foreground for their text areas is a huge help. It also helps users who prefer a lighter background, or users who prefer light text on a dark background.

Busy busy busy

In theory, everything is better with particle effects. They add interest, they make your game seem more real, they give a polished glean to your interface. Particle effects are great for most of the population.

They're not so great for the people who have issues with taking in too much information, and not being able to filter it. If you can, add an option to kill particle effects. The people with crap CPUs will thank you as well.

Quest logs and maps

There was a time, back in the glory days of the CRPG, when you had to write down everything worth remembering. Get a quest? Better get out your pencil and paper. Have a dungeon? Graph paper time!

While there is a certain charm to this, if you're someone who has trouble processing information the first go around, it can be problematic. Important details might be left behind as notes are made. And if you have trouble with spacial reasoning, making a map is no trivial task.

So, include a map and a quest log. Hell, give someone the ability to search through the quest log (I haven't seen that, yet), so they can quickly find out what the heck they were supposed to be doing with these raptor heads.

Next time!

Some final thoughts and some resources.

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