So how do you make truly inclusive games then, games that appeal to and are challenging and fun for players of different abilities – with and without learning difficulties for example?
How do you make a game that doesn’t fail because one player has a very different level of ability to the other, especially if it is a multiplayer game? Are there games which simply don’t work?
- You make the game relatively easy (and if multiplayer, hope that one side will be a good sport!)
- You make a game which depends more on chance than on skill
- You bring in supportive systems for players of lower ability
- You bring in adaptive systems which personalise the experience for all players of any ability
At Now Play This games festival (see previous blog 'Dreaming Big'!) we kept our eyes peeled for inclusive game models as we wandered around the rooms of Somerset House. A special find was Shiko-On by Miyu Hayashi, in which players used coloured pens to draw on strips of paper which they fed into a machine that read and then played their designs as music tracks. This was a beautiful example of a simple process which anyone could try, bringing to it as much imagination as they wanted, and we could really imagine some of the young people we work with enjoying it.
In terms of accessibility, this is a great set up – a low access route into a game with huge potential for players to interpret it as they want, making the game their own, and being rewarded for all efforts. It allows individuals of different abilities to engage with the same system as any other player, and enables diverse experiences of it.
Our first game Millie Moreorless is a learning game, so there are certain tasks we need players to perform, in order to improve their understanding of the central concept. We tried to counter the problematic ‘climbing frame’ structure (where players of high ability are at the top completing the game, and players of lower ability are stuck on the bottom rungs) in two ways. Firstly, by carefully structuring the difficulty of the tasks to lead in gently while players are getting the hang of what they are doing. Second, by putting in place a Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment (DDA) system which continues to minutely adjust the difficulty of each challenge as they progress. We’re interested in how we can go further in future games – and bring in a system which would allow players to interpret tasks creatively, drawing on their unique personal strengths. Gameplay would involve a mixture of learning new skills and using existing strengths to solve problems and win trophies.
Games can be a wonderful medium for expressing different personalities. In some games, this is made explicit, as in Goldeneye which famously dishes out awards to players after each round, ranging from ‘Most Honourable’ to more dubious accolades such as ‘Most Frantic’ and ‘Most Cowardly’.
In some cases it is more subtle. There is a blog we absolutely love by Edwin Evans-Thirwell who talks about playing video games with his brother Euan. It is an utterly delightful account of how Euan, who has Down’s Syndrome, makes the games his own in ways both charming and mischievous, and what this reveals about him: “Playing games with my brother has made me more conscious of his spontaneity, his guile and resourcefulness, his intellectual independence and irreverence. It’s one of many ways he reveals himself not as a “disabled” person but simply as his own person, as hell-bent on deciding his own destiny as anybody else.”
With this in mind, imagine a game that reads a gamer’s playing style and responds generously by adapting not only the level of difficulty but the type of challenge presented.
For example, recognising those players who would see a tree and climb it to get a better view of the landscape, those who would use it to hide from enemies and launch an ambush, and those who would chop it down to build a bridge over the nearby river - and enabling each of them to play their own way.
In this way, the player would not simply be playing the game, but actively making it, on their own terms.
Wouldn’t that be cool!