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LEVY: Designing for Accessibility_01

My name is Dan St. Germain and while in undergrad, I worked with four other students on creating a blind/deaf accessible video game called LEVY. These blog posts will be dedicated to explaining the different UI, UX, and design decisions that were made.

Disclaimer: When the term accessibility is mentioned in these blogs, it is primarily referring to blind and/or deaf accessibility. Games in their modern form are highly audio/visual experiences and we hope to discuss how to approach the task of making modern games more available to a larger and more varied audience.

 

01: The Problem

For context, LEVY is a Clue-style murder mystery game in which the player takes on the role of a sentient elevator that is tasked with solving a series of murders with the backdrop of Chicago during the 1933 World’s Fair. The game features a fun cast of colorful characters, campy humor, and is fully audio described (spoken narration of visual information), allowing blind players to play the game as well. The game also includes dialogue text and visual cues for all sound effects, allowing the game to also be deaf accessible.

Isometric view of hotel lobby with multiple characters. Dialogue box of cop speaking to elevator.

To preface these blogs, it's important to first understand why the issue of accessibility is inherently different in video games as opposed to more traditional media like film, TV, or books. These other media are first and foremost rather passive. Of course, you have to pick up a book to read it or look at a movie to watch it, and a book with vocabulary beyond your knowledge or a movie in a foreign language can gate themselves off from the average user. But these issues can generally be overcome with one or two relatively common accessibility solutions, e.g. audio descriptions or braille for the blind, and subtitles/closed captions for the deaf. Even electronic reading devices have overcome the vocabulary issue by allowing readers to look up definitions of words on the fly using the same device.

It should also be said that the issue of accessibility in videogames is far larger than what is addressed here. These blogs are not meant to solve the problem of accessibility in games, nor to even advocate for only using the features we implemented. The purpose of these blogs is to highlight the methods we used to try and add specific types of accessibility to our game and to get people to start thinking about accessibility in their own game designs by adding to the discourse surrounding the idea of accessibility in games.

View of lobby with characters. Dialogue box of reporter talking to elevator. Elevator themed UI

Now traditional media can have these solutions because their problem is a matter of scripted information needing to reach the user. Video games, however, need to not only transfer visual and auditory information to the user; but they also need to allow for input and interaction back from the user all in real time. A game is arguably not truly finished until there is a player interacting with it - in a similar way to a book not being finished until someone picks it up to read it. That said, when there is a barrier between the player and the game, that barrier blocks the interactive nature of the experience – sometimes entirely. From a developer perspective this may be barrier of difficulty, or a puzzle with a missing piece. For a deaf player or a blind player, that barrier may be physical and, if not addressed by the developers, impassable. On an instinctual level, I imagine most designers and developers understand some of the core reasons why accessibility within games is so daunting. Do you implement accessibility as some kind of handicap? How do you balance the experience? How do you convey complex information? How do you retrofit a game to be accessible? Is this even feasible from a cost perspective to implement? Over the course of these blogs, I hope to answer those questions and more while providing specific examples from our game, LEVY.

LEVY, at the time of writing, is in a public beta state. It is available for free to download and play from https://razzledazzlegames.wixsite.com/levy Thanks for the support!

Blog entry 02: Finding a Solution - https://ubm.io/2OUzE1d

Blog entry 03: Balancing the Game - https://ubm.io/2PuXy2Y

Blog entry 04: Conveying Information - https://ubm.io/2PzUumw

Blog entry 05: Setting the Scene - https://ubm.io/2PuXy2Y

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