This article was published on: 3/7/2010
‘Accessibility’ has become quite a boring word in today’s world. Perhaps evoking a sense of dullness and over simplification, something done to ensure everyone can join in, but losing its spark in the process. I think this has occurred because accessibility has been misunderstood and wrongly applied.
Too often accessibility has become synonymous with uniformly flattening the whole experience on the part of the designer. This however misses the point it’s about the beginning, the access point and where and how you take it from there. As with a lot of game design, it is about the journey.
All great games have levels of depth and skill requirement, but the best games anyone can pick up and play. The best games should make people say “wow anyone can do this, what’s all the fuss about?!” A game with a low barrier to entry and instant hooks that new players can grasp onto and have fun with allow the designer to more easily lead players down a path which ultimately reveals the layers of depth, subtly and technical prowess. It’s about eliminating aspects of design that are likely to alienate or show up the player and providing levels of support that gradually and silently subside as the game progresses. The end game can be as complex as you like if the approach and execution has been done in such a way that has left no one behind.
I believe that Table Tennis is one of the best games in the world. Absolutely anyone can pick up a bat and ball and knock it over the net. The hook is a tangible natural sense of rhythm and connection between players that elegantly taps into a facet of our human nature that we simply just enjoy. It is only later where speed, spin, positioning and technical ability come into play revealing the many layers of depth and skill to the game.
At the start of an experience people are generally a total mixed bag of emotions, excited, willing and open but also apprehensive, suspicious and careful. It is a fragile state where people tend to be guided more by their base level emotions. In movies they often take advantage of this by starting with a bold or impactful shot or action sequence that satisfies these more basic emotions before leading us deeper.
Believe it or not supermarkets can also teach us a lot about the journey of accessibility in a more functional sense. They are laid out in such a way which begins with fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and bread starting with our basic needs and good intentions. A journey through a supermarket often resembles a good film or game. They reel you and make it really easy for you and once you’re invested in the experience then they hit you with the harder sells that challenge you that little bit more (or not as the case maybe!).
Dumbing down a whole experience uniformly or bluntly to achieve accessibility achieves nothing. Pliability leads to playability, as long as the journey of accessibility is crafted well with a managed ascent you can take them as high as you want, primed and willing to take on greater depth, emotional subtly or indeed harder sells. Ultimately good accessibility actually allows for a nobler, grander or more specific intention. It doesn’t mean including everyone, it means getting people to understanding what you are saying or selling better.