In the western world, we are slowly becoming more considerate of people, often providing alternatives that ease the difficulties of living with various disabilities. Now consider technology and how far we’ve come, have we really maximised such efforts when it comes to the consideration of disabled people and their interactions with VR?
Why does it matter?
Of course, there are some areas that require more urgent attention when it comes to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities. However, VR is one of the areas that I believe designers should pay more focus, as it is not just a tool for entertainment purposes but one that has the power to transform lives and provide moments of valuable escapism and identity tourism for people limited by their disability.
VR is undoubtedly a complicated area when it comes to design. It’s also relatively new considering its somewhat recent commercial exposure. Designers are still trying to figure out solutions for various technical issues, whether it be related to hardware or games themselves. However, some considerate design choices that could make a difference in user experience have already been employed by many designers. Here are some stand out moments in which games have either showed awareness or directly addressed problems experienced by some people with disabilities when playing VR games.
#5 Crystal Rift – Players with Visual Impairments
VR headsets are evidently central to our experience of VR games. Unfortunately, most headsets make it difficult/uncomfortable to use glasses while engaging with VR games. Many users who are short-sighted or are affected by low vision may experience difficulties in VR spaces, particularly when navigating menus, as text can be too small or fonts used may not appear clear at the fixed viewpoint.
VR games give players the option to physically move and navigate in VR spaces, but it appears that menus are exempt from this design choice. Crystal Rift is a great example of ways in which we can design menus that are considerate of players who are affected by low vision or are short-sighted. The menu is physically present in the VR space and head tracking is used as soon as the game begins. This allows players to lean in physically and take a closer look at a menu, helping those who experience difficulties in reading text. For a clearer understanding, above is an example of a user affected by low vision, giving insight into his experience with Crystal rift (6 minute mark to 7 minute mark).
4# The Persistence – Use of Indicators
Players with hearing disabilities experience a significant disadvantage when engaging with VR games as understandably, designers of VR spaces opt to use sound as a significant factor when trying to achieve a high-level immersive experience for users. Often, we are able to use sound cues to progress in games, especially those focusing on combat and awareness of where enemies may be positioned. The inability to detect audio cues could result in an unfair gaming experience for users with hearing disabilities.Taking such information into consideration, designers may implement a variety of solutions that prevent such users from participating in a disadvantaged VR experience.
Game director for PlayStation VR game The Persistence, Stu Tilley, provides options that are considerate of players with hearing disabilities. The skull in the image above indicates the direction as to where enemies are. However, the indicator appears only when enemies make noises, essentially keeping players on their toes while giving some indication as to where the danger may be coming from.
#3 Moss -- Sign language
Moss on PSVR - Accessibility for Deaf gamers
A game that features a design choice that’s more on the creative side is Moss. Moss is a VR game in which players must aid Quill, an adorable mouse in an adventure to save Quill’s uncle from danger. Alongside it’s subtitle options to aid players, Quill is not only lovable but is helpful to players, using American sign language when communicating, particularly when giving hints to puzzles.
#2 Arca’s Path VR -- Control of Movement
Many people experience difficulties using controllers for various reasons. In essence, controllers have been a central part of video games in terms of how we manoeuvre and make decisions. This may be problematic for players with mobility disabilities, as individuals may have restricted movement or control of their muscles and limbs. Evidently, VR games do require demanding physical activity which makes many games inaccessible to users with mobility disabilities.
Arca’s Path VR has incorporated a considerate design choice in which players dictate the movement of a ball with simple head-movements. I really admire this implementation as is it helpful to who struggle when using controllers, those who are uncomfortable moving in VR spaces, and is inviting to anyone with any level of familiarity with games.
1# Island 359 -- Users in wheelchairs
Users in wheelchairs often face uncomfortable experiences with VR, ranging from discomfort in reaching for items to their point of view (POV) being much lower than someone who is not seated. Island 359 incorporates a “Seated Mode” alongside the “Bump Turns” option which addresses the difficulties people in wheelchairs may experience. These options allow players to be at a head-height for someone who was standing and the option to turn with a controller, as opposed to potential awkward manoeuvres while remaining seated. A stand out option is the “Reach Assist” option in which players can aim the controller towards an object that is slightly out of reach in order to interact with it. This option is not only one that seems simple to implement but one that could be used as an example by many other designers of VR games.
To sum up, it’s worth stating that addressing disabilities in VR games isn’t an easy task. In some cases, certain implementations may aid someone who experiences a specific form of disability but may be problematic for someone experiencing another. It’s difficult to construct a single game with a mode that covers all accessibility issues. However, the idea is to strive to be considerate of options/modes that can cater to as many needs as possible.