Game accessibility:

How gaming is improving inclusivity


From greater representation for ethnicities & LGBTQ+ to better understanding of gaming and mental health, we look at how gaming accessibility is improving.

Ranking up representation


Representation in the games industry has come a long way. Gone are the days where games would only include women as victims and objects of desire, and where women’s contributions at development studios were overlooked. Aloy in Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn, and Ellie and Abby in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II, are all independent women in leading roles, with strong personalities and storylines that don’t revolve around romance or men– a notable step in the right direction.

“There’s a misconception that if you put a girl or a woman on the cover, the game will sell less,” series co-creator Neil Druckmann said on initial release. “I know I’ve been in discussions where we’ve been asked to push Ellie to the back and everyone at Naughty Dog just flat-out refused.” Meanwhile, The Last of Us sold six million copies in one year, Naughty Dog re-released it twice, and it inspired an HBO adaptation. Historically, people of colour have been underrepresented both as characters in video games and as workers in the industry. However, efforts are also being made to improve racial equity and visibility too. POC in Play is an independent organisation that aims to do just this, hosting events and initiatives to provide people of colour in the game development sector with more opportunities for representation.

With increasing visibility in lead character roles, as seen in Aerial Knight’s Never Yield and its starring character Wally, alongside blockbusters like Apex Legends, there is progress being made– but there’s still a long way to go.

LGBTQ+ representation in games has also improved in the last decade, and while queer topics in gaming remain rare at mainstream publications, individual writers and smaller organisations have taken up the task to increase genuine representation in the industry. One of those advocates is Aimee Hart, editor-in-chief of Gayming Magazine, who’s spent the last five years creating spaces for queer gamers, developers, and storytellers.

“Queer people deserve to see themselves and their stories in their favourite games,” Hart tells us. “You hardly ever see games coverage from a queer angle at mainstream publications, and it gives the impression that we don’t matter. We’re just as much part of the industry as anyone else, and we’re not going anywhere.”

Efforts from advocates such as Hart and other LGBTQ+ gaming communities have inspired queer creators to tell their stories through award-winning games, and even major studios take LGBTQ+ representation more seriously now as well.

Respawn, makers of the hit online game Apex Legends, created the first openly transgender character in a competitive game with Catalyst, and Nintendo even removed gender binaries in Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Splatoon 3.

“The industry has come a long way for sure,” Hart says. “But there’s still a lot of work to do to make it even better.”

Control for everyone


Some people fondly remember the 1990s as gaming’s golden age, but if you couldn’t hold or use an SNES or Sega controller, then the fantastical worlds of Super Mario, Sonic, and Final Fantasy were forever out of reach. Views and research on accessibility have progressed significantly since then in a bid to help everyone enjoy the game.

Microsoft is a pioneer in accessibility through its Xbox innovation. The Xbox Adaptive Controller lets you connect to external buttons and switches so you can customise the gamepad however you need it, and it works with all Xbox games.

That’s just the start. Xbox’s suite of accessibility options includes colour filters, speech-to-text modes and in-game transcriptions, magnifiers, keyboard support, and more. While not every game on the platform supports each option, most Xbox Game Studios games do. Something that can be included on most EE plans through the Xbox Game Pass.

Sony is developing its own adaptable PS5 controller with customisable layouts, and PlayStation Studios developers are at the forefront of designing with accessibility in mind – another area in which The Last of Us Part II deserves a mention, featuring colourblind and low-visibility options, alongside motor function assistance, and a suite of hearing and speech options.

Independent businesses such as Quad Stick are innovating even further. Quad Stick created a controller that lets players with quadriplegia and other mobility disorders use their tongue and mouth to play even fast-paced games like Fortnite.


Mental health and gaming


The industry is making strides in recognising the relationship between video games and mental health as well. Where video games were once considered time wasters that harmed the brain, psychologists now recognise their positive benefits in helping people cope with traumatic events. Researchers have shown that letting people explore difficult emotions and experience trauma via an in-game character helps them confront and deal with challenging memories that might stay locked away otherwise.

Another area of study gaining traction centres on video games and ADHD. Some studies found that video games help children and adults with ADHD manage symptoms without the negative effects of medicine, by targeting areas of the brain connected to focus and attention function. One studio even put that research into action and developed EndeavorOTC, the first game approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for help treating ADHD symptoms.

Scientists at the University of California pioneered research into how video games help children and young adults with autism learn social skills, improve motor skills, and even help with focus and attention tracking. Their goal, and the aim for other researchers working in this field, is for video game developers to use data from studies to help create experiences that nurture and heal in a safe, approachable way.

More articles from EE Game