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May 15, 2007



Michelle, I'm not certain what you're arguing for here: greater accessibility in virtual worlds for those who are sight and hearing impaired, or that rating sexual content as Mature or Adults Only is somehow a violation of someone's freedom of speech? The latter seems closer to the mark in your last paragraph, but that makes no sense to me. You seem to be conflating at least two separate issues.

I think accessibility in games is a difficult issue (perhaps insurmountable for game-based virtual worlds), and something that should be considered carefully. I'm glad to see you and others talking about it here. But I'm also realistic; as much as I hate to say it, given the long list of difficult issues that have to be confronted to get a game completed at all, accessibility for the disabled is way down on the list. This is a market reality as much as anything else.

I sure don't think this is any sort of cover for those who don't want sexual content in games: developers who don't want sexual content in their games just won't put it in there.

As I said above, linking sexual content in games with accessibility is conflating two entirely separate issues. I'm not sure that this serves the interests of those who would like to see more sexual content in games or greater accessibility.

The industry cries "censorship!" each time a game is about to cross that line [to AO status]

It does? Outside of a few small vocal groups, I can't think of a single time that's happened. If nothing else, developers and publishers try to stay away from the AO rating because compared to anything else, it doesn't sell.


Hi Mike,

Yeah, perhaps I am reaching a bit with this post but basically I'm speaking about how we often don't think about (1) the alternatives to visual information in games (sexual or not...but in this case, sexual) and (2) see that there's groups of people who would rather not have games be accessible because of sexual (and violent, etc, etc) content.

To address the first point (alternatives to visual information), audio in games in general is way behind the visual -- online MMOGs like Second Life are good examples. The blind just cannot access SL. And with user-created content? Well, let's not go there right now -- it doesn't make sense to talk about accessible user created content that exists solely in an environment that is not accessible. So I've pointed out some examples of audio-only games, which a lot of people don't know exist.

To address the second point...my point, and perhaps a murky one at that, was to say let's take just sound that represents sexual themes as an example -- sex in games being a fringe group within the industry. Then let's take game accessibility -- yet another fringe group in the industry (would Steven Colbert say "fringier?"). Two very passionate groups that *could* be on the same side but often are seen as mutually exclusive by those who would advocate against sex in games but also by those who would advocate for the "protection" of gamers with disabilities from certain topics.

So in my weird way, I was trying to be a bit provocative and over the top with the freedom of speech bit and say "Hey...what if two fringe groups got together...What would happen?" I'm not suggesting that accessibility is an easy thing but neither is getting a sex game funded.

And, yes, I have witnessed the censorship cry -- both in sessions at the GDC and amongst colleagues at various game companies. So maybe it's not the "whole" of the industry but it is part of the industry. Substitute the word "violence" for "sex" and perhaps my point would be more clear.


These are tricky times, my friends.
Times are not so tricky as much as facist. If I tell you a story and you listen it, how can it be a crime?


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This book is good in exploring this issues...


"But there's always a darker side, isn't there? Richard also pointed out another recent news item about a blind South African man who is facing prosecution for "listening" to child pornography. If convicted, he would be the first person in the world to be charged for accessing child pornography on the Internet without being able to access it visually."

I missed that. Sounds very related to a comment I made over on Clickable Culture:

What I'm wondering is how will Linden Lab react when a country that, say, has the death penalty for "virtual" child porn (now or in the future) asks for names? Imagine if someone were executed for this? Or castrated? Or tortured? for a crime against children with no children involved? And after it happens once, will Linden Lab withhold the information to prevent what we, in the U.S. consider unacceptable punishment?

I need to go read some previous posts here. Thanks for calling my attention to that story.


First thank you for the great post. I would like to chime in as a member of the game development community and say a couple of things. Firstly I make games for an audience. That audience is never chosen by me, but by the upper management of my particular software firm. So if they say make it for children, I make it for children, if they say make it for 25-35 males, I make it for the them, etc.
I have had the pleasure to work on different games for mixed audiences, this round, I just finished working on a children's game, but previously I worked on more mature player oriented games (Stealth Action Shooters).
Now, as far as ratings go, the only reason we restrict content on our side is to pass a certain ratings level. We want to go no higher then ESRB's 'T' when creating an Shooter type game. And of course E for children's games. Not because we don't think parents will not buy them for their children, but because Wal-Mart will not put the boxes of M games on middle-centre shelf. The defining line of ratings and morals is about as wide in games, as it is in Film where a distant organization with very little knowledge of what actually impacts the audience makes decisions on our sales. And it all comes down to sales. An example of this was a song that we chosen to put in our game was deemed too inappropriate for the audience and bumped our rating from E to T by the ESRB, needless to say, we removed the some from the game, to keep the rating down, even though the song was chosen to match the feeling of our game.
Now, as far as making accessible games' we really have two big issues that are stopping this from being a mainstream reality. The first being the cost of production for this new generation of games is becoming a HUGE issue. To create a game we're looking at an eight figure cost for anything remotely close to "AAA quality". And multiple times larger for an MMORPG of that quality. When you start dealing with this sort of money, the bean counters are much less likely to spend cash on features that are not aimed towards the majority of the audience. Lets say for example, I added Accessibility features into World of Warcraft, how much market share would I gain from this feature? How much impact would it have over say, Player Housing? Which would you pick if you only had the funding for one? The next issue is the size of market, as the industry gets more competitive and expensive, breaking into an unexplored market is a risky affair, so the big players are less likely to spend cash to break into it. It's unfortunate, but I don't see accessibility features in mainstream games coming for a long time. I would like to note, quickly, that subtitling is usually only done because it is a requirement by the 1st party checklists that we must comply too, and I'm pretty sure we would gladly ditch those costs too our management teams were given the choice.


"If I tell you a story and you listen it, how can it be a crime?"

I suppose it depends on whether the "story" includes recordings taken directly from a real life crime. I expect this extends not just to relatively common visual images and sound recordings, but imagine if someone sold data taken from other inputs like medical devices that record heart rate or blood flow (things which record, in some way, distress in the individual).

And there's the rub: we now have laws that extend this to "virtual" recordings where there is no traditional victim. What if someone were listening to a person faking the real thing? Meg Ryan did a famous job of faking an orgasm in a movie. What if the sound files being listened to by the blind man were fake? Is he still guilty?


Hi Jesse,

I continue the conversation today with another blog posting on the trouble of even getting people into the room to hear about accessibility features. Many of the features just make good design sense. Closed captioning, of course, is more than just the text -- it also includes ambient sound. I'd be interested to find out what prompted some companies to go with closed captioning as a requirement -- was it for localization issues regarding languages other than English, for the gamer who is home multitasking (perhaps they need to listen for their child) and headphones are just not an option, or for the deaf community? I think for most companies, it's the first two. And that's a shame because there is some major money to be made by simply doing closed captioning...and more for doing it well. I'll post about Reid Kimball who created a mod for Doom3 that had full closed captioning in a later post to help make the case for that.

I spent some time working at Microsoft Game Studios so I'm aware of the development cycle, the cost of making games, what gets cut, etc. And, no, I don't see the mainstream getting anywhere close to "universal accessibility" (I have my problems with that term...as there is issue of "fun" being in the equation too, not just access) or even just taking one single accessibility feature and doing it well. I've been at this for over five years now so I do understand that 80 designers may want these features but if marketing and management says no...they are out. I'm here, we're here (the IGDA Game Accessibility SIG) to help people understand what can be done.

A few years ago at GDC I walked through the expo floor looking for middleware, controllers, anything that might be repurposed as an accessibility device/feature. Oh...the look of horror when I mentioned that their products could be used to help the disabled game: "Whoa...the last thing we want to be known as is an accessibility company because then we'll fall through the cracks as a niche company."

It's sometimes surprising, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad to be me walking around that expo floor. I'll disclose a little secret -- I'm also in that disabled population, which I'll talk more about in my final post of the month. But the two disabilities are the so-called "invisible" disabilities -- those that help me blend in and allow me to be privy to many a conversation about "disabled gamers" when people put down the pretty words and get un-PC. I don't "look" disabled (whatever that may mean) and depending on the context I'm in, I might not be "disabled" at all. But because of this, I've heard some very ugly things because the people around me don't "know" that about me and maybe at the end of the day, that's business. But my business is to make sure we don't keep keeping accessibility a big secret. And I'm a loud, obnoxious redhead. :)


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