Accessibility Jam Brings a New Challenge to Developers, and New Opportunities for Gamers

accessibility jam

Jonard La Rosa of nsomniart used to test games at Namco. One of the qualities he checked for was whether a game was a seizure risk – this included hours of staring at flickering lights, which left him with week-long headaches and helped fan the flames of an interest in accessible gaming that was sparked earlier in life through conversations with family members. With relatives working at the California School for the Blind, as well as the School for the Deaf, La Rosa had heard of many children who feel left out with certain games, as the visual or auditory experiences are so integral that the games are unplayable by those with hearing loss or visual impairment.

As someone with photosensitivity issues, I have taken an interest in games which strive to cater to those who are differently-abled. An example of such a game is the Tron-like, neon extravaganza Black Ice (seizure warning on the videos and maybe gifs of that site), where the developer, Garrett Cooper, decided to work on a photo-sensitive mode after learning that several people he personally knew were unable to play the game for very long. He said that the change wasn’t very difficult to make, it was just a matter of knowing that the change was needed. The point of GameJolt’s Acessibility Jam, which La Rosa is spearheading, is to make it known that these changes are needed (20% of gamers have some sort of impairment), and are very welcome.

From May 11 through June 1, developers have the opportunity to create games that appeal to a different audience than usual – those who have seizures or cognitive issues (including dyslexia), those who may need voice-activation due to limb difficulty, and those who are hearing or visually-impaired. The goal is inclusiveness, and no matter how they accomplish it, this is a great opportunity for developers to see just how far they can push themselves to come up with something outside their comfort zone. (A great example of a game working to include the visually-impaired is Grail to the Thief.)

Though not part of this game jam, Grail to the Thief is a great working example of an accessible game.

Though not part of this game jam, Grail to the Thief is a great working example of an accessible game.

The overall theme for this jam is “Trust,” and as with any jam, this theme is open to interpretation, and should spark some creativity when paired with the inclusion possibilities that should be in the final product. For inspiration, one may simply have to ask those around them what’s needed, as Cooper did for Black Ice, or as La Rosa did when coming up with the idea for the game jam. He polled on Twitter, became friends with a number of blind gamers, and asked them directly what they would like to see in games. Armed with this information, and with some help from developers like Devi Ever (her site is bright, as well), the Accessibility Jam was discovered (Ivano Palmentieri and 0x0961h were planning the event, and La Rosa joined them) and began to take shape.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is May 15th, and people are encouraged to spend time that day trying to experience life as someone with a limitation. This game jam is an extension of that wish.

The rules for the Accessibility Jam, for anyone interested in participating, can be found here. This is not a competition, and all are free to enter. Once again, it ends on June 1, and all submitted games are listed on the website.

For more information, please visit the Accessibility Jam on Game Jolt, contact Jonard La Rosa on Twitter, and if you’re participating, be sure to use the hashtag #accessibilityjam to have your tweets show up on the jam site.

Bonnie is a streamer, gamer, and word nerd who enjoys puzzle and horror games, and getting entirely too excited about both genres. She's been writing professionally for 18 years, but IGM is her first foray into gaming news. Bonnie's life outside of IGM involves massive amounts of hair dye, sewing, and being a cat lady. Feel free to contact her on Twitter!