(Disclosure: I am a Nintendo Ambassador and was provided one or more products mentioned in this article, but not for the purpose of this article. Words, opinions and ideas are mine.)
When we were kids, games were unforgiving and brutal. They taught us lessons about persistence and adaptation, but they also only catered to able-bodied people with lightning quick reflexes.
These days, games are different. One of the biggest criticisms I hear is that games are “soft” – that they’re not as punishing on folks and that some of the modes and options actually make games too easy. Well, I think some of these technologies and options are great.
Xbox One: Copilot mode
For example, the Xbox One now has a setting for “copilot mode.” Enabling this allows you to set two controllers to one player. Copilot mode allows folks with disabilities to use two controllers – maybe one in one hand and another with another body part like their foot or chin (or a player like BrolyLegs, who uses his mouth). Those two controllers can also be custom mapped (through other options) so that a disabled player can use the buttons and sticks that they’re comfortable using.
This is the super bland screen where you can turn on the Copilot option, found under Settings > All settings > Ease of Access > Controller:
Copilot mode is great for disability, but it also has merits in parenting. Parents may want to share a game with their kid but know that a game will be too overwhelming for their child. In that case, they can split movement and attacks between two controllers in an action game or split steering and gas/brake pedals between two controllers in a driving game. Admit it, you and your kid have tried to double-up on one controller before, putting way too many fingers in too small of a space. Copilot mode can give you both some maneuvering room while still sharing a character.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: Smart Steering, Auto-accelerate
One of the most anticipated games on the Nintendo Switch was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, an update of the WiiU’s Mario Kart 8 that added a couple of new characters, tracks, karts, weapons and a revamped Battle mode gave fans the winning equation with just enough new stuff. Also included are “smart steering” and “auto-accelerate” options. For the disabled, both options allow for someone to play one-handed; smart steering keeps your kart on course, stopping you from driving off-road and falling into drops, and auto-accelerate automatically maintains speed, allowing you to steer yourself.
Here’s what the pause screen looks like with the accessibility options up top:
For children wanting to play Mario Kart with their siblings or parents, this is a wonderful addition. At first, I thought of smart steering and auto-accelerate as “dumbing down” the game, but the more I thought about it as an accessibility option, the more I appreciated it. Let’s be honest: Mario Kart isn’t just a matter of simple steering and acceleration. The tracks are complicated (Rainbow Road?!) and the addition of folks hitting each other with turtle shells makes for an experience requiring reflexes and ability. Reddit is peppered with stories from thankful parents whose children (abled and disabled) can now play games with their siblings because of these options.
Injustice 2: AI loadouts
I love fighting games. I want my son to love fighting games. I want him to be able to play fighting games. But explaining hitboxes, combos and meter burning to an eight year old is impossible. Injustice 2, a superhero fighting game, is immediately appealing to my son. He couldn’t wait to play as Batman, Superman, The Flash and Bane. And being able to earn gear and change the look of your heroes is really attractive to my son’s customization generation. But man oh man. Injustice 2 is a very technical fighter riddled with counters, wake-up attacks and long combos. My son, frankly, wants to button mash. He pulls off some special moves here and there, but for the most part his tactic is to jump himself into a corner and hit every button until something lands.
Great news for parents: Injustice 2 has “AI loadouts” for your characters. In the Multiverse mode, you fight against a ladder of enemies under variable conditions. You might have to fight everyone without using special moves, or your super meters might recharge faster. Maybe you have to fight upside down (yeah, literally upside down. It’s not fun.), or maybe you’ll have to fight while icicles drop from the top of the screen and freeze you. Or, maybe the match conditions are normal, but the enemies ramp up in skill as you go. Whatever the condition, if your child (or you, I won’t judge) gets frustrated, you can set your character to use an AI loadout and the game will simply fight for you – oftentimes with success.
True, this isn’t as much rooted in accessibility for disabilities, but accessibility for all audiences is important for parents. Here’s what the AI loadout screen looks like when selecting a character:
I want my son to try to beat a foe himself. I want him to learn from his failures and try again. And I want him to feel like persistence is rewarding. But I also don’t want my son to hit a wall and lose interest in the game. For him, using an AI loadout on particularly tough levels helps him keep interest and not feel like he’s always got to come to me to beat an enemy for him.
As many as 8% of men and 0.5% of women (with Northern European ancestry) have a form of colorblindness. I’ve known a couple of gaming buddies who are colorblind. One of them let me know that he was having trouble discerning enemies from friendlies in Call of Duty because of his colorblindess. When I told him that Call of Duty has a colorblind mode, he was surprised. The game was now playable for him.
Some games employ a whole-screen filter – one that changes the whole game’s coloring in hopes that it solves the color issue. Some games use high-contrast modes that bump up the saturation and contrast of game colors in order to make elements on the screen stand out more.
You can see the multiple options Call of Duty: Black Ops III give you.
The most effective systems offer palette swaps and recoloring of individual elements, giving options for the three common kinds of colorblindness: protanopia, deuteranopia and tritanopia (see screens above). That way, things like enemy/friendly names that usually appear on red/blue spectrum are changed to, for example, magenta/green. Games like Destiny, Battlefield 4 and the Call of Duty franchise employ this type of change.
These aren’t all of the assistive modes and technologies being used in gaming, but these have stood out recently to me as helpful – in some cases for disabled people and in others for children. Do you utilize any assitive tech for yourself or your kids while you game? Tell us about it in the comments!