February is always one of my favorite months to play RuneScape. There's always some great updates for the players to enjoy. The highlight for me this month is Gameblast. Gameblast is an awesome charity event to help raise money for Special Effect and is always accompanied with a double XP weekend. Along with that, Jagex always puts on some special streams and it's great to see the J Mods' lighter sides having fun and raising money for charity. What makes Special Effect such a great charity is what they do. As gamers, we all love gaming and want as many people as possible to be able to enjoy video games and that is exactly what Special Effect does; they help disabled people be able to play video games. They do this through a variety of means including designing controllers that disabled people can use and even developing special projects like Stargaze that allow a completely paralyzed person to play using only their eyes. The truly inspiring thing is Stargaze has been used for much more than that and has helped people communicate that couldn't before, thus helping the public at large. Special Effect even puts out an accessibility wish list for game developers and the public to use as a reference. The first thing I thought when I read it as a disabled RuneScape player was, "Wow we could really use some of these suggestions". The second thing I thought was, "Wow, RuneScape incorporates many of these suggestions already!" This month, lets take a look at this wish list and praise Jagex for what they have already incorporated while also looking at what more they can do and continue on the road to accessibility.
This examination only applies to RS3 and not OSRS. Frankly many of the accessibility features came in with RS3 and it would be the better choice for a disabled person to play. The wish list is broken up into four categories of accessibility, cognitive, hearing, input, and sight. There are five wishes per category and they cover a broad range of features.
First, up let's look at number one in the cognitive category, "Openly describe accessibility features: Supply easy access to a help file that can be read out loud by a PC screen reader. Make this clearly and publicly available in advance of purchasing or downloading your game, either online or by request" (Special Effect, n.d.). This is probably the easiest wish to incorporate. RuneScape doesn't have this at this time but it would be a greatly beneficial addition to their website. It is number one for a reason. Not only is it the easiest and cheapest wish a company can incorporate, it is fair. I know first-hand what it's like to anticipate a new game coming out and then buying it on day one only to find that I couldn't play it because of my disability. This way consumers can make an educated decision before they buy. Number one can also apply to all categories by including information on cognitive, hearing, input, and sight related accessibility.
Second on the wish list is, "Game menu accessibility: Can menus be easily navigated with a simple control scheme" (Special Effect, n.d.). Number two in the cognitive section is something that RuneScape does a decent job with, notwithstanding some of this issues that have been discussed on the podcast about the interface, for the most part, it is accessible. Namely, most menus are accessible through a click or one of the 'F' or function keys. There is always room for improvement though and as the interfaces and menus change over time this is something to keep in mind.
Numbers 3, 4, and 5 are all similar in regards to what they help a player do. Third, "Broad difficulty level adjustment: Offer a way to meaningfully adjust the difficulty level of a game to suit the player" (Special Effect, n.d.). This is a tricky one. There are places in the game where these changes would be helpful, namely in quests. I don't know how many times I've been foiled by a quest puzzle for no other reason than my sight just couldn't deal with it. On top of that, the tools I use to make it possible to play can attribute to difficulty with puzzles as well. The magnifier I use is a great at making things bigger but it does reduce my field of view. That becomes a real problem in a quest like Dishonor Among Thieves where you need to see a wide view while you are working on many things at once.
This brings us to number four, "Speed control: Give consideration to people with slower reactions" (Special Effect, n.d.). This is one thing that RuneScape doesn't do well. Once again, this would be very useful in a quest sense. Another quest I struggled with in the past was The Light Within quest. There is a puzzle in that quest where you are talking to a tree and it goes into this little mini game where you have to click on certain things while the screen is filled with things that look like them and are moving very quickly. It gives the average gamer no trouble at all but for a disabled person it can end your adventure in a hurry. Another place where this would help would be the Rush of Blood. I still do not have a comp cape and this is one of the reasons. I can kill and stay alive but doing it in the amount of time needed is virtually impossible because of my field of view restrictions.
Finally we can wrap up the cognitive section with number five, "Training, playground/sandbox and experimental modes: Trainer levels can help people become more proficient at areas they are struggling in, as well as giving easier access to favorite areas of a game" (Special Effect, n.d.). RuneScape does a version of this with boss practice mode. While the difficulty is the same, it at least makes failing less punishing. I can't see other parts of the game that would benefit from this other than what we already have, but boss practice mode could be added to help players isolate certain mechanics.
Next, let's talk about hearing related accessibility. Number one is the same for hearing accessibility as it is for cognitive and the other categories so we'll start with number two, "Include individual volume controls if beneficial: If your game plays music and sound effects simultaneously, offer a way to adjust the volume of each separately, down to silence. Give thought to making essential sounds and spoken dialogue as clear as you can otherwise parts of a story, rules or events may be lost on hearing impaired players. This option can also be considered a cognitive related accessibility feature as it can help improve players to comprehend what is going on" (Special Effect, n.d.). This is something RuneScape has done from day one of my time playing. I can't say if it's always been that way but as long as I've played, it has. The volume controls are fairly easy to find and separate out music, effects, ambient sound and voice. You really couldn't ask for more on this one.
Third is "Include subtitles/closed-captions for all spoken dialogue: Use colored text to help denote different speakers, and ideally include captions for essential and mood setting sounds and music" (Special Effect, n.d.) This is also something RuneScape does well. All quest dialogue, even if voiced, is displayed in a written format and chat messages can be tailored to your taste by color. Fourth, "Synesthesia (sound alternatives): Use alternative sensory feedback such as visual effects, text or force feedback linked to your sound. Think about what is lost in the game experience with the sound muted or turned off, and then try to put it back via alternative output" (Special Effect, n.d.). The audio queues that RuneScape incorporates are very valuable for players with sight issues, however I can't think of anything in the game that would require you to absolutely have to listen. In fact, many players play with their sound turned off altogether making this one a non-issue for RuneScape. The fifth wish in the hearing related section requests that the game to be playable with no sound or microphone and, as mentioned above, RuneScape can and is played by people in this manner. As you can see, RuneScape excels in hearing related accessibility and is one of the best games for hearing impaired people.
Another area the accessibility wish list addresses is input related accessibility. This effects people with conditions that limit their mobility like Cerebral palsy, Muscular dystrophy, and Paralysis among others. Once again, the first step is to inform people of what accessibility features are in the game before purchase. Special Effect describes step two as, "Allow players to reconfigure their controls" (Special Effect, n.d.). RuneScape does as much as can be expected on this, given how you play the game. RuneScape is still a mouse-oriented point and click style MMORPG. There has been the addition of keybinds for certain actions and these can be remapped. If you have a gaming mouse or something similar, you can even set the keybinds and then program them into the mouse making it possible to play with one hand. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any way to move the pointer with anything other than a mouse, however maybe that is something that can be looked at in the future by allowing joystick control. The third wish in the input section is something that RuneScape has made advances in over the recent years, "Simplify controls. Seek to offer a control scheme for both menus and game play that does not over-complicate things, and ideally uses as few controls as necessary" (Special Effect, n.d.). I would never say RuneScape controls are simple. However, with that being said, there has been advances when you think about the addition of revolution and full revolution. This takes away a lot of unnecessary button pushing in combat and gives the user a more relaxed experience. The action bar could be expanded on by allowing more skilling items and actions to be placed in it but as things stand this is pretty good.
Finally, we come to the last wish in this section, "Provide alternative controller access: Give gamers a way to play using something completely different from the default controls" (Special Effect, n.d.). This may sound preposterous at first when you think about it in regards to RuneScape, however upon further examination it's not that far out there. People have talked about controller compatibility for years. It's usually in regards to the daydream of bringing RuneScape to the console. I do think a controller scheme would be difficult and problematic, but a joystick scheme on the other hand makes sense. The joystick could control the pointer and two buttons on the joystick could correspond to left click and right click. There is a fifth wish in this section but it is in regards to speed control and that has been covered in the previous section.
The last category in the wish list is something I know well and that is visual related accessibility. Most of our readers are aware that I am legally blind and this is my wheelhouse so to speak. This section starts off like the previous sections do by telling people what accessibility features can be found in the game before purchase. The second and third wishes are also things we've touched on earlier but for different reasons. Offering broad difficulty level adjustments for visually impaired people would help a lot. If you're like me and use a screen magnifier, it is just a fact of life that it takes longer to scan the screen than it does for a normally sighted person. In terms of RuneScape, this could apply to quest puzzles or bosses. Think of it as the opposite of hard mode and would be more meaningful than just showing off. Another one of the wishes would be to improve menu access. This is something that is mixed when it comes to RuneScape. Most menus can be accessed by the punch of a button, however once in the menu you have to rely on the pointer. Visually impaired people typically do better with buttons corresponding to different choices. Some menus in the game do this and some don't. Overall consistency would be of help here. The next two items are areas I know well.
The fourth and fifth wishes are things that I speak about frequently on the podcast, "Offer high contrast and high visibility graphics: Ideally offer these as optional features, or integrate them into your game design by default" (Special Effect, n.d.). This can be more helpful than you can imagine and RuneScape has made progress in the regard. One of the best-hidden accessibility updates thus far has been the addition of different skyboxes and filters. The skyboxes and filters actually accomplish giving visually impaired players higher contrast and graphics that are options that are more dynamic. That update is the most important accessibility update next to moveable interface that I have experienced in game thus far.
The next item in the list is probably the biggest improvement that could be made for visually impaired people. Unfortunately, another one is a mixed bag in RuneScape, "Use speech and audio to aid comprehension: Provide text-to-speech and clear sound effects for menu navigation. Attach unique identifying speech or sounds to essential game objects, elements and occurrences" (Special Effect, n.d.). Yes this mean go back to voiced quests. I understand that voice acting is expensive but it doesn't have to act, just merely read aloud. If that is a person, great but it could also be a form of text to speech and that would suffice as well. As for the sound queues it is something RuneScape has been including in content lately and go they are going in the right direction. One recent example is from the Mining and Smithing rework where you can actually hear the difference in the heat in which you are smithing. The hammer makes a different sound as the metal cools and it's a beautiful little touch that a normally sighted person might miss. There are also sound queues for when potions are about to run out to. Much more can be done in this regard and it's another one that probably would cost very little for a huge benefit to the visually impaired community.
RuneScape has had a long road to accessibility and its journey continues. I can't claim to know if the improvements to accessibility were for the benefit of disabled gamers or they just made sense and helped everyone. One thing is for sure though now there has been a light shined on the topic and hopefully more improvements will come in the future. The disabled gaming community is one of the most understanding communities there is and we understand that not every accessibility feature can be implemented. What we want more than anything is to just be thought of when developing new content. We want developers to take a moment and think about how their game design decisions could affect the community. If you would like to read more or would like to read the accessibility wish list in its entirety you can find it here
. I hope everyone has a great double XP weekend and raises a lot of money during Gameblast for Special Effect. Until next time, Happy RuneScaping.
Special Effect. (n.d.). Accessible gaming wish list. Retrieved from https://www.specialeffect.org.uk/accessible-gaming-wish-list