The gaming industry’s strides and struggles with accessibility
After starting to lose his vision in 2010, gaming journalist Victor Dima has approached gaming experiences from a new perspective — and developments are improving rapidly.
October 25, 2023
Victor Dima is a blind gaming-, technology-, and entertainment- journalist who offers a unique perspective on his fields of interest. He is also an ambassador for universal design, an accessibility consultant, and tester. Dima was born in Romania, and has been living in Oslo for two and a half years.
He has covered the gaming industry’s advances and challenges with accessibility for over 13 years, on his own blog and website victordima.net.
What does gaming mean to you?
— I would say that gaming has significantly shaped who I am today. I’ve been covering games since 2010 and have played them for virtually my entire life. My gaming journey began in the late 80s when I would sneak into my father’s office to play Tetris. I continued playing throughout my teenage and adulthood years, and even when I began losing my sight around 2010. Now I still enjoy gaming, although I’ve had to adapt and completely rewire my brain to focus more on sounds or haptics, and not on graphics.
— But what’s most important of all is that gaming has been a way for me to meet many of my friends, including my wonderful, remarkable, and supportive wife, Alina. She’s always encouraged me to stand up for my beliefs and has consistently been a positive influence in my life. Her continued and steadfast support over the 11 years we’ve known each other has empowered me to accept my blindness and feel good about myself.
— Alina is always there for me, whether guiding me outdoors by holding my hand or assisting me in a video game using the copilot functionality. While going blind is an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (though I sincerely hope I don’t have one), having Alina by my side has made this journey feel less debilitating.
Do you have a list of criteria when you test a game, and what makes good accessible gameplay according to you?
— I believe that any game can be made accessible. The fact that blind gamers can enjoy experiences in almost all genres shows that when a developer makes accessibility a priority and hires the right disabled consultants to assist, everything is possible.
— When it comes to accessibility for blind people, we need text-to-speech, narration, sound cues, navigation assist, target lock, and audio descriptions. Of course, as a journalist, I also cover other impairments, not only mine. My reviews are written in a way that benefits both regular gamers and those who cannot play without the ease of access features. According to the latest industry reports, out of the three billion gamers in the world, it is estimated that 429 million identify as impaired. Disability happens when accessibility doesn’t, so if a game is accessible it will absolutely sell more units because our community is eager for all sorts of experiences. Universal design is good game design, and I truly believe that the future of the gaming industry will be accessible to everyone.
Can you name a standout game in terms of accessibility? Perhaps a recent example, or a historically important one?
— The accessibility revolution, historically speaking, started in 2020 when Naughty Dog released The Last of Us, Part II. That was the game that made me realize that there is still gaming after going blind.
— Another remarkable example is the revolutionary Forza Motorsport racing title from Xbox and Turn 10 Studios. With Forza Motorsport, the fantastic people at Turn 10 Studios and Brandon Cole, the blind award-winning accessibility consultant, put accessibility at the forefront of the experience and thus from the start screen, the narrator is automatically enabled. Forza Motorsport comes with a revolutionary accessibility feature set called Blind Driving Assist. BDA is built for players who are blind or have low vision and took years of research and direct feedback from Brandon Cole and others from the Gaming & Disability community to perfect it.
— Forza deserves many awards for innovations in accessibility and I hope that the excellent work done by the developers and the consultants will be recognized properly.
Throughout your years of testing the accessibility of games, have you noticed a change at all?
— Yes, absolutely. Every day, week, month, and year, a lot of games are released. Since the turn of this decade, I’ve seen an increased interest in accessibility, — yes, pun intended! I believe that our industry got a delayed wakeup call and since then, disabled gamers from all walks of life are speaking openly about the need for accessible experiences, and even better is that publishers and developers are listening and taking action.
— My perspective on games has fundamentally changed since I lost my vision. I decided that I could do better as a journalist focusing on accessibility, and also using my experience of playing games for over 30 years as an advocate and consultant.
What has the industry got right and what has left you wishing for more?
— Having a feature in the game does not ensure that it will actually work. Developers need to include disabled players from the early stages of a project, consult with them, and test these dedicated options. This year, we’ve seen many developers trying to improve accessibility in their titles but sadly, there have also been a few disappointments.
— Also, our community demands transparency. We want to know before the release if a game has been created with impaired and disabled players in mind and what the accessibility features are.
What do you think is the next step for accessibility within the gaming industry?
— I firmly believe that everyone working in this industry aims to create accessible experiences. Furthermore, I believe that our community should educate developers, helping them understand that it’s possible to make games for everyone.
— I hope for a future where anyone can pick up any game and play it without barriers, limitations, or frustrations, simply enjoying it. I long for the day when a game’s release is delayed because the developer needs extra time to include all the accessibility options right from the start. I don’t think this is too much to ask, especially considering that they wouldn’t release the game if it lacked graphics or sound. Accessibility needs to be at the core of everything we do.
— The gaming industry needs to evolve and surpass its misconceptions about what games can be. We are all gamers, games should be fun for everyone and there is no place in our community for hatred, fanboys, or console wars. As the Xbox tagline goes, ’When everybody plays, we all win.’
Interview conducted and edited by Erik Sedin and Aylin Franzon.