15 Minutes With... Ian Hamilton
1. Describe Accessible/Inclusive Gaming in one word.
2. What does inclusivity in gaming mean to you?
It means avoidance of the unnecessary barriers that get between players and the developer's vision of what they want their players to experience. It differs from accessibility in other industries through that word "unnecessary". Games are by definition exclusionary pieces of inaccessibility, to get around that entirely you would need to remove all barriers, which would mean removing all challenge, which would mean your product would be a toy or narrative, not a game. And what's a totally reasonable thing to aim for in one game would completely break another.
Take for example avoiding any reliance on precise timing. For a turn based strategy game like Civilisation that's an entirely reasonable appropriate thing to aim for, but for a first person shooter like Call of Duty, not so much.
This makes it quite a unique and interesting field for accessibility. As it's not possible to have fixed bar of what constitutes a reasonable level of accessibility across games in general, it is always a design challenge and optimisation process, and can never be a box ticking exercise. Identifying opportunities to open up the core of what makes that particular game enjoyable to as many people as reasonably possible.
3. Why do you think accessibility in gaming is an important issue for disabled people?
Accessibility in gaming is important for a plethora of reasons, but most importantly the provision of access to recreation, culture and socialising. Having a purely digital means of accessing those things, and digital meaning great accessibility potential, puts the games industry in a really unique place of opportunity when it comes to people's quality of life.
Gaming is a huge industry, now over $100bn worldwide, with really deep cultural significance and impact. When you see something that all of your friends are doing and all of the media is talking about, and you're excluded from it for no good reason, that can be really big deal. So it really reaches into fundamental issues of societal inclusion too.
And there are all kinds of other reasons too. Doctors prescribing games as physiotherapy, using games to explore things not possible in day to day life, even using games as a form of pain relief; the intense concentration resulting in not noticing pain so much, in turn reducing reliance on side-effect laden medication. I've seen lives profoundly changed and saved by gaming, it can be a hugely powerful source of positive impact.
4. Where do you think the next big opportunity is for the development of inclusive technology in the games industry?
The battle for awareness is really getting there now, although there's still a way to go there are now ever growing numbers of developers who understand what accessibility is, why it matters, what's involved, and starting to dip their toe in the water, starting to implement some really nice things. The past year or so in particular has seen some really nice movement at the big budget / big name AAA end of the industry. There's still a great deal more awareness raising to be done, in particular around misconceptions about time, cost, market size and so on, but again, it is getting there, it is on a really clear trajectory now.
So for me really the next step is process and standardisation. Moving on from individual efforts on individual features to being able to pick up any game and be reasonably confident that, where, possible, a decent chunk of common accessibility features will have been considered. That can only really come about through cultural change, getting accessibility in the day to day fabric of working process, considered by more people in the team and at earlier stages of development.
For that cultural change to happen, for it to move away from being a novelty, an initiative, a one-off altruistic gesture, consistent pressure needs to come from three different directions; top down, from managment who care and want to encourage and enable their teams to make a difference. Bottom-up, from developers on the ground who also care, and understand what needs to be done and how to do it. And also externally, from consumers who need these considerations to keep the dialogue going, request things when they are needed, and praise things that are done well.
In the past couple of years in particular those three things have started to fall into place more and more, so the future is looking bright.