Difficulty settings, adaptive controllers, subtitles. All of these things have one thing in common, and that is their purpose: to broaden the audience of the game and console. There has been a strange debate over the necessity of accessibility.
With the advent of Virtual Reality (VR), a debatably inaccessible piece of hardware, it’s tough to say where the industry will go considering some game critics like Zero Punctuation’s Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw once said he believes that VR is a natural step in the progression of gaming, but then his thoughts on the matter gradually shifted to that of VR being a much more niche idea due to its limitations and lack of general audience appeal.
Some argue that the usage of VR and other products that struggle to be accessible are still better due to their evolution of the medium, and that people who can’t use the products should simply ignore the “future” of gaming. This statement completely misses the truth that normal everyday people use accessibility tools, even if they don’t need to use them, simply because they’re more convenient.
Subtitles would still exist even if everyone could hear and understand every language because, regardless of whether people need them, quite a number of people want them. It allows people who are struggling to hear what certain characters are saying in a scene; even individuals with good hearing who can’t understand everything being said due to background noise and music can finally comprehend what the actors are trying to say and convey.
Now, despite that claim regarding the positive impact of considering accessibility, there is a fine line between making a product more accessible and dumbing it down. Some games benefit from their complexity, complicated moves, etc. giving the game depth.
VR isn’t the only thing being criticized for its lack of accessibility with the masses. Even whole genres of games can and have been criticized by people with one of the most noteworthy and hotly debated genres being fighting games.
Fighting games have a supremely long legacy of struggling to accommodate those who struggle with the game’s mechanics. The debate was briefly brought back to the surface again when an individual on Twitter made the claim that the entire genre of fighting games was bad due to its lack of accessibility and awful tutorials.
While her rant is appropriately labelled as a rant, it is a decent point to be made about the issues regarding the difficulty within certain genres to perform certain moves and mechanics. Fighting games are famous for their movement execution and the difficulty of performing those moves consistently. So why do I believe that this particular aspect of fighting games should not be changed?
My response is simple. Accessibility comes from the need to allow more people to play a game. It doesn’t mean to fundamentally change whatever it is to accommodate the people who wish to play and enjoy it. With people like Brolylegs and BlindWarriorSven playing these games competitively, it shows that the level of changes needed in fighting games is smaller. Fighting games accept the adaptive controllers and, in fact, embrace the fact that people will often use the strangest ways to play their games. I can’t think of a fighting game that doesn’t have subtitles as an option, and BlindWarriorSven (as his name implies) is able to proficiently play the game due to the excellent audio from “Street Fighter Five.”
What movement execution allows the creators of fighting games to do is create a wide variety of moves alongside the more basic moves that the character can do. Many seem to forget that not every move requires one to do a wacky motion in order to do it, and often these moves, while essential to improving your gameplay, are not the most important part of the game. Often, the neutral (i.e. the part that is not combos) is more important depending on the series. It creates depth in the way they create the motions as well and is core to a game’s design philosophy. We have seen what happens when a game doesn’t have movement execution. While the game is easier to play (obviously), the popularity of these games often plateaus, like “Fantasy Strike,” whose gameplay is serviceable and gives everyone the accessibility that they desire; it is nowhere near as successful as fighting games like “Tekken 7,” which to this day is widely played and adored.
To blindly throw around the word accessibility is to degrade what it actually means. Subtitles, unique controllers and better audio all enhance the media while simply asking for the developers to change the game due to a belief that making the game easier will make it better is myopic and, according to data, statistically untrue. Hopefully, the topic of accessibility will change for the better to increase the audience for gaming and allow people to play what they wish to.
Edward Park is a third year student with a BsED writings track. EP909767@wcupa.edu