Accessibility: The Defining Feature of the Next Generation

April 12, 2011 Posted by zachary

The accessibility wave has begun, it is just a matter of the console companies continuing to ride it. The Wave started with Nintendo it will be driven by Nintendo and the other companies will ride in their shadow to the finish.

When most people talk about accessibility, they seem to conjure up images of simplified, or dumbed down, gameplay. What they don’t really understand is that accessibility is about making something approachable by someone not familiar with it while still leaving the ability for aficionados can master it.

Take the game of Chess. The rules are pretty simple. Every type of piece moves in its own way and the goal is to position the opposing player’s king in so much that they cannot make a move without leaving their king vulnerable. Simple enough that a kid can learn to play it. Yet at the same time entire clubs of aficionados have risen up and we have world wide Chess championships.

This is an example of accessibility in game design that we can currently fulfill but is not the focus of my arguments. I am talking about accessibility of technology.

Nintendo brought accessibility in controls. Did they reduce the number of buttons on the controller? No. The Game Cube had 3 shoulder buttons, four face buttons, two analog sticks and a D-pad. The Wii has 3 shoulder buttons, five face buttons, one analog stick, one D-pad, an IR sensor and two motion controllers. If they didn’t reduce the number of buttons, how is it more accessible? Two main reasons. One, the form factor was design to allow those familiar with a normal tv remote control to pick the Wii controller up and hold it. Two, the motion controls allows for controls that mimick real life movements depicted in the game. This advance in accessibility was so effective at expanding the market for video games that the Wii is the best selling console ever, Sony copied the controls, and Microsoft took it to the next level.

Nintendo also made 3d technology accessible to the masses with the 3DS. Sony is trying to push 3D on their PS3, but it requires the player to buy a special TV and wear the stupid glasses. But the 3DS requires none of that. You buy the system and boom you have 3D. The people watching you play see the 3D as well. That is accessibility.

So what advances will be made to make gaming more accessible in the future? I guess we could look at what is currently happening in the game industry. Apple has made digital distribution accessible and expected by the masses. Apple and Google have made touch controls accessible and ubiquitous in the mobile industry that Sony’s NGP will have touch screens and the 3DS continues to use the DS touch screen.

While I don’t see a new generation of home consoles coming for another couple of years, I do see the advances that have been made toward accessibility this generation to continue and be expanded upon and improved in the next generation. What those exact advances might be, I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.

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