A Long And Vaguely-Formed Rant About Video Game Accessibility

I ran into an interesting article over the weekend, in which the author talks about wanting to play Skyrim but being held back by the controls.

It struck a chord with me, because I had many of the same problems when I tried to come back to console gaming in the mid 2000s, and it’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable.

The vast majority of games these days take their control schemes from earlier games in the same genre or from the same console, which is a great boon if you’re familiar with those earlier games. It means that someone who has played any of the Halo titles can pick up the majority of first person shooters and probably play them without a ton of  tutorial required. The leftmost button will be “reload”, top button “switch weapons”, bottom “jump”, the right trigger will shoot whatever weapon you’re holding, and those controls will probably get you through the entire game if you’re playing on a lower difficulty setting. The other buttons are seldom as universal, but at the worst you are learning half a controller, not the entire thing.

It took me a VERY long time to figure this out, because I didn’t play any of the Halo games until 2007, when Halo 3 came out, and then I played through the entire trilogy over the course of a few weeks. I didn’t realize that I was being taught how to control other games in the process until I went back to games that I had previously put aside as impossibly hard.

It took me a few more years to realize that there were quite a few other standard control schemes, though it’s harder for me to pin down the genesis of some of them. The near-universal third-person action scheme of “leftmost and top are light and heavy attacks, rightmost button is a ranged attack, bottom button is an evade or jump” probably came from a PS2 title, but I didn’t start to realize it was a THING until I followed up a Ninja Gaiden Sigma binge with a play-through of Remember Me and realized they used the same basic controls. I’m likewise not sure exactly where WASD+Mouselook came from as a standard for PC gaming, but getting used to it took a lot of trial and error.

Anyway, nine years after my little epiphany, I feel pretty confident in my ability to adjust to whatever control scheme a game throws at me these days, and my new hurdle is learning “progression philosophies”, particularly with open-world games where you’re given a fair degree of freedom in how you get from opening logo to ending credits.

For example, I’m playing “Gravity Rush Remastered”, a PS4 game that is a remake of a Vita game I finished a couple of years back, and I’m having a much easier time on this play-through. Some of the boss fights on the Vita were absolutely grueling tests of endurance, and I particularly wasn’t looking forward to the final boss, which comes with a countdown timer of the “when this hits zero, you lose” variety, but I barely noticed the boss fights on the PS4 version, and the last boss took its final dirt nap with more than half of the clock remaining.

It turns out that what made the game so much more difficult the first time was my habit of avoiding challenge missions, which unlock as you play through the game’s main story but which can be completely ignored. I didn’t do any of them when I played the game on the Vita, electing instead to stick to story missions, and it turns out that this was exactly the wrong way to go about things. Even very poor showings in the challenge missions mean that your character is showered with the currency you use to purchase upgrades, and you wind up being hilariously overpowered after a few of them.

The irony of “challenge” missions making the game easier should be lost on nobody.

Of course, I know NOW to do the challenge missions because I had great success playing the side missions in Rise of the Tomb Raider, and I did a ton of messing around in Rise of the Tomb Raider because doing side content in Skyrim was so rewarding, and it took Disney Infinity’s playsets to really bring home the difference between required story missions and optional side missions, and all of those are games that I played in the last 12 months. Considering how long “open-world” has been a THING, I took a long time to catch on to how it’s supposed to work.

And, to be fair, I’m not 100% sure I understand Disney Infinity.

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this rant, so it might be best if I make some vague comments here about gosh wouldn’t it be nice if more developers put in proper how-to-navigate-in-3D-space tutorials and then kind of stopped abruptly.

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