GameBlast is almost here once again and Jagex is teaming up with SpecialEffect to help bring more accessibility to gaming. This year on the weekend of February 26th there will be a Double XP weekend in RuneScape. Along with the Double XP weekend, the Well of Goodwill will be back and Jagex will have its Just Giving page up for anyone who would like to donate directly. I've stated in the past that these kind of things really make Jagex stand out among game developers, and companies in general. I still believe this, however this year I want to talk about some changes that could be made to RuneScape that could greatly improve the accessibility of the game for the visually impaired. The areas of the game that could be more accessible fall into three main categories: questing, combat, and quality of life. The changes I'm proposing would make the game more accessible for the visually impaired, however most of the changes would have a positive effect on the game as a whole.
Those of you who know me or have watched my streams know that I'm legally blind. I have played RuneScape for many years and helped other disabled students learn different tools and technologies when I was in college. Accessibility is something I know because accessibility is something that effects me everyday. This article is not about me though, its about trying to help an under represented community be able to enjoy RuneScape to the fullest of their potential. Its about taking SpecialEffect's message to heart and making improvements in our own backyard. Now let us begin with one of the most challenging aspects of the game for me, questing.
Questing is a core pillar of RuneScape. Its where you get the lore and the story-line of the game. You can't fully understand the history of Gielinor without doing quests. One of the challenges for visually impaired people is constantly being taken out of the immersion of the story to read dialogue boxes. I know this is a sticky subject for Jagex and I understand. Voice acting is expensive and many players don't seem to care anyway. I'm not advocating for voice acting itself, but it would be nice to have audible dialogue boxes. There's nothing more frustrating then having to stop in the middle of the quest to turn a magnifier up to see a dialogue box which then can take a very long time to read and on top of that you might not even read it correctly. The reason I often mistake words for other words in quest is simple and probably not known by many people. Your brain doesn't just leave your eyes hanging, oh no it jumps in to help. It fills in the gaps that you don't actually see all the while making you believe you did see it. Overall having audible dialogue boxes would solve that problem and keep the player immersed in the quest and who wouldn't love to hear a quest narrated by one of our beloved JMods?
Now lets look at two quests in particular that are very difficult for visually impaired people. These are by no means the only problem quests out there but they are good examples of some common challenges. "Dishonor Among Thieves" should have been a great quest and for many people it was. I have a love hate relationship with it though. The part of the quest where you open the vault is impossible to do with a magnifier on, now here's the fun part - if the magnifier is off you can't see anything at all. Why is this you ask? Well its due to the nature of magnifying something. What you are looking at is much more visible, however it cuts down the field of vision you can see. So with something like the vault puzzle where the field of vision is extremely important, you can't complete it. Another problem quest is "The Light Within". Now don't get me wrong I loved the quest all except for the part where you have to click on things that are randomly scrolling across the screen to keep awake. There are two good examples in this one. First the field of vision comes into play again, second its timed. I know timing something is an easy way to make something that isn't challenging for a normal person a little more challenging, however its a killer for someone who has low vision. I can sometimes get around timing through memorization but I couldn't do that and deal with limited field of vision at the same time. I know that not every challenge can be completely avoided, but I ask that at some point in the planning process someone asks the question "Is this quest doable for certain people?". There are many ways to get to the same outcomes if you need to scratch a certain puzzle there will be a different way to present the same challenge in a more accessible way.
Combat is actually much more accessible than it used to be. The movable interface, revolution, and ability queuing have all made the combat experience much better for the visually impaired. That being said there are ways to further improve the combat. One improvement would be to incorporate the keyboard much more than it is now. I know that EOC brought us hot-keys and there has been some added since then, however the more the keyboard can be utilized the better. The reason for this is the field of vision problem I spoke of above. Having to click on something in a boss fight often means taking your eye off the boss which can have deadly consequences. I can do a lot with the ability bar by putting supplies, quick prayers, etc. in it, but it does come at the price of abilities that could be being used to kill the boss. Simply put, the more keyboard controls the better.
The second improvement I want to propose to combat is audible cues. Many of the bosses in the game have special animations or text that come up in the chat box. That's sufficient for a normal person but for someone who doesn't have good vision its a challenge. Also the sounds that do exist in this context need to be much more prevalent and distinct. Along with this, bosses that have chat box warnings need sounds to go with them. Queen Black Dragon is a perfect example of this. Here's the thing, it doesn't have to be fancy just functional. Jagex doesn't have to put enormous amounts of time and money in this just put me on an even playing field and that's enough.
Quality Of Life
Some changes would just make playing RuneScape more comfortable and inclusive. One of these changes would be to make the text font re-sizable. Many people like myself don't socialize as much as we'd like because of the small font in the chat box. I know this has been talked about but it is constantly relegated to the back burner at Jagex. However, it isn't a back burner issue for a lot of people. The social aspect of an MMO is baked in and when that is strained because of tiny little font it limits what people can get out of the game. Greater light/dark contrast would be another nice quality of life update for us. For example I have a friend with a similar condition as mine that is struggling with Invention because the blueprint puzzle doesn't give her enough contrast to see it. There are also still rooms in dungeoneering that color blind people have tremendous difficulty with because a mouse over description of its color is missing. Two examples of this is the potions in the pillar room and some of the ferret rooms. Changes like these are literally ninja fixes.
Why Should They Put Time And Money Making Changes That Affect So Few?
Obviously it's the right thing to do. Jagex has shown that they do care or they wouldn't be working with SpecialEffect. They have done many charitable things in the past which makes them stand out among game developers in my book. They are a company with a heart and that's something we just don't see much of anymore. These changes I've proposed would benefit people with low vision the most, however I think the players as a whole would also benefit from these changes. The visually impaired community is small no doubt about that but just think about this, RuneScape is celebrating its fifteenth birthday this year. That means if you started playing when RuneScape came out in your twenties you're now in your late thirties early forties. Sight diminishes with age and if RuneScape is here for another fifteen years, more players could suffer from vision loss. My experience has been that there are more older players than Jagex realizes. I think this is due to the fact older people are more reluctant to check that over thirty five box.
I can't wait for GameBlast. Its always an exciting time and lots of fun. I commend Jagex for what they do and encourage them to go even further by adopting some of these changes. We all benefit from having a more accessible game. More people that can play equal more subscriptions for the bottom line as well as adding more people to interact with. Before I leave you I want to let everyone know that if your curious about what its like to play like I do, come by my stream sometime http://www.twitch.tv/tanis79
. Also I've issued a challenge to all players to get into the spirit of GameBlast and try to play like I do, to find out more see Tanis79's GameBlast "Zoom In" Challenge
. I want to thank all of you for taking the time to read this and hope that you have a wonderful GameBlast/ Double XP weekend, until next time Happy RuneScaping.