Getting Into Gaming: Top Tips for Accessible Gameplay

This guest blog post was authored by Tara Voelker, Program Manager on Microsoft’s Mixer team and Community Lead for Gaming for Everyone.

As many long-time gamers know, video games are an amazing way to be entertained, have a moment of escapism, and hang out with your friends. Today, as the world faces the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than ever are turning to video games as a way to have fun, learn and stay connected with their friends and family whilst staying at home and safe. While leaving your home can be a challenge, there are always plenty of digital worlds to explore.

Of course, this means plenty of options and choices to make, which can be overwhelming when you’re new to gaming and trying to navigate what to play and how best to play it. This is especially true if you’re a gamer with a disability.

To help you get the most out of your gaming journey, we put a few tips together.

Know who you’re shopping for

We’ve fielded a lot of questions from parents looking for where to start when picking games out for their family. This is an easy answer – the content rating. Just like movies have a rating system of G to R, all video games on Xbox or the Microsoft store have a content rating.

By referencing this rating, you’ll get to know if the title is age appropriate for you or who you’re shopping for. As an example, here is a breakdown of the ESRB ratings used in North America.

• Everyone (E) – suitable for all ages

• Everyone + 10 (E+10) – suitable for ages 10 and up.

• Teen (T) – suitable for ages 13 and up

• Mature (M) – suitable for ages 17 and up

Picking the right game

Deciding what game to buy can be incredibly difficult, especially if your household is split over what type of game they want to play. For many, what we decide to play might even depend on our mood. After a long, stressful day, you might be less in the mood for Alien: Isolation and more into Human Fall Flat.

If you are looking for inspiration, Microsoft offers a huge variety of games in Xbox Game Pass. It’s literally got something for everyone with over a hundred quality games in its library with titles for both Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. The library features games that suitable for all ages and skill levels, couch co-op titles, and those compatible with online play when paired with Xbox Live.

For gamers with disabilities, this expansive game library will allow you to test out many different games to find the game that works for you and your needs without breaking the bank.

If you need some help on where to start, I recommend the following:

• Forza Motorsport 7: This racing game has a ton of ways to customize. With a variety of control options and assists, you can tailor this to just about anything, including one handed gaming. Plus, with low pressure mode options and the ability to rewind, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice and get perfect.

• Gears 5: If you’re looking for a little more action, Gears 5 offers a variety of controller customizations, including single stick movement and other settings implemented at the request specifically of gamers with disabilities. This includes Fabricator Ping, in which the Fabricator — a box players must find to buy weapons and defenses — emits a ping that increases in volume and frequency as you approach and multiple subtitle options including include the name of speaker, whether or not a character is speaking on the radio, emotional context, key sound effects and backplate for contrast. It also features the ability to increase the text size and the subtitles tell you when the music gets louder with action and quiet after a battle.

• HyperDot: HyperDot is a minimalist action arcade masterpiece with one rule: dodge everything. In this game, flexibility is one of the core pillars. This is a uniquely accessible title, suitable for a wide range of players. In game, you can enable high contrast, disable screen shake and other animations, as well as enable gameplay options for a more than 1 million enemy, arena, and modifier combinations.

Check out the accessibility features on Xbox One

Nothing should come between you and the games you love. That’s why at Xbox, we strive to eliminate barriers and empower you to play the way you want to play. With that goal in mind, we’ve built the following features directly into the Xbox One:

• Custom button mapping for when a game’s control scheme just won’t work for you

• Mouse and keyboard support to help you get around select games and apps

• Magnifier for when you need to zoom in to see text and images better

• High contrast mode to help you better distinguish between items and text while navigating Xbox’s built-in apps and experiences

• Game Transcription, on select titles, so you can communicate with your friends by converting in-game player speech to text that you can read on the screen or reading chat text that you type to other players aloud

• Voice Commands so you can complete frequently used actions via Cortana and Alexa-enabled devices

• Narrator, the screen reader on Xbox One, to let you hear audio descriptions for elements on the screen

Xbox One also offers Co-pilot, which links two controllers so that you can use them as if they were single controller. This feature is perfect for a parent playing with a child who needs a little help or making yourself a custom controller set up. And let’s be real…co-pilot is also perfect when parents needs a little help playing with their savvy teen!

Find the right controller

We know that everyone has different wants and needs to get the most out of gaming, which is why Xbox offers three different controllers that you can choose from. Each offers varying levels of customization, so you can pick the one has exactly what.

• The Xbox Wireless Controller offers a sleek, streamlined design and textured grip.

• The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 features over 30 new ways to play how you want, including adjustable-tension thumbsticks, interchangeable components including the D-Pad, thumbsticks and paddles on the back of the controller, 40 hours of rechargeable battery life, and limitless customization with the Xbox Accessories app on Xbox One and Windows 10.

• The Xbox Adaptive Controller is here for when you need to create a custom controller experience that is uniquely yours. Designed primarily to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility, the Xbox Adaptive Controller features large programmable buttons and connects to external switches, buttons, mounts, and joysticks to help make gaming more accessible on Xbox One consoles and Windows 10 PCs. The best part is it will already work with the 3.5mm jack devices you already have!

We hope these tips are useful as you get started. If you’re looking for more information on any of the features listed here, be sure to check out our Xbox Accessibility page where you can also find info on how to contact further support if you need it.

Game on!


Header image: Cherry Thompson (right), game accessibility specialist and developer, plays Gears 5 with Otto Ottosson, former accessibility lead for Gears 5. Photo by Dan DeLong.