A look at a few accessibility issues with open world games
Hello! Welcome to the first in a series of pieces celebrating Disability History Month. Today, Vivek returns to the streets of Los Santos.
A few weeks back, the shocking news of the GTA 6 leaks drove me to revisit the incredible city of Los Santos in GTA 5. I thought that my initial opinions of the game would have changed after a decade, but it remains one of the best open world games out there. The reasons behind my bold statement are left for you to explore – after all, you have the freedom to play with the sandbox and immerse yourself in the beauty of Los Santos.
It also makes me think. I’ve been trying to think of an eloquent phrase to replace “lack of accessibility settings” when it comes to gaming. I think the perfect term is “immersion switches”. Imagine a player who demands high stick sensitivity and reduced dead zones, but they are faced with a game that does not allow adjustment of these settings. The gaming experience would be frustrating as you would constantly die in firefights. This match would break the immersion, due to an unnecessary barrier.
Now, with GTA 6 in development, it’s time for some constructive thinking around the issue of the entire open world genre. After all, it’s not perfect, especially when it comes to accessibility. Rockstar’s team makes some of the best open-world games out there, but the accessibility settings are pretty limited. It would be great to see these teams develop their accessibility design.
Due to the nature of the open world genre, controls can be complex and often have to change depending on whether you’re on foot, driving a car, or flying an airplane. It will benefit players to be able to map controls individually for each situation. So GTA 6 and the Cyberpunk 2077 sequel should follow the remapping standard set by Saints Row, Watch Dogs Legion and Horizon Forbidden West. Customizable controls would remove the immersion switch of struggling with a control scheme that doesn’t meet your needs as a disabled player. You don’t feel like a bad stealthy netrunner if you get spotted or killed by an enemy before you can overload their synapses as you fumble to select that hack ability using the d-pad. Blam! The snip of an immersion switch.
Assisted aiming is another important accessibility feature when enemies can attack you from any direction. But assisted aiming is not always perfect either. For example, Saints Row has a strong aim lock, so the reticle does not easily allow for manual adjustments to the aim. This means that precise headshots are difficult. The line between assisted aiming and restrictive aiming is a delicate balancing act: I use the lock-on to find the enemy and instinctively move the reticle up to get a headshot, for example.
Another issue around aiming is this: games should enable assisted aiming while driving, especially if you’ve already enabled it on foot. Watch Dogs Legion lets your car automatically drive you to a destination, and you can still wreak havoc by hacking other cars along the way. It would be a fantastic feature in GTA 6, which satirizes the self-driving car while giving you the freedom to unleash gratuitous mayhem.
Since Ghost Of Tsushima, I’ve had conflicting opinions about waypoint navigation, specifically with the game’s Guiding Wind mechanic. It’s an elegant implementation of fusing game mechanics with captivating environmental design. This progression of immersion allows you to naturally discover the world and use the environment and wildlife to guide you to important points. However, constantly activating the guided wind pulse with a swipe of the touchpad is not only tiring, but also an accessibility barrier. If future developers want to use this waypoint navigation mechanic, players should be able to enable it through the map screen so that it constantly directs you in-game, like traditional waypoint navigation. Developers shouldn’t make games with a single game mechanic that prevents players like me from experiencing an epic samurai tale.
I can’t discuss map density without humorously bringing up the old Ubisoft method, painting the entire world with endless icons, quests, side quests, collectibles, towers to climb, etc. I’ve had wonderful open-world memories with Assassin’s Creed 2, visiting every only icon with a smile on his face due to the parkour system. I had a similar grin on my face swinging through New York City as Spider-Man. I can’t wait for Assassin’s Creed Mirage so I can jump back into the franchise again in the iconic city of Baghdad.
That said, recently, when he played Horizon Forbidden West, the post-apocalypse city of San Francisco was saturated with icons. This overload can be stressful and negatively affect players with cognitive disabilities, who may find it difficult to choose what to focus on first. Instead of enriching the world, icon density takes away the fun of accidentally discovering something incredible for yourself. Players want to enjoy the world they’ve been transported to instead of being reminded that they’re playing a game. For this reason, I couldn’t finish Horizon Forbidden West: the story was great, but the world wasn’t particularly exciting.
Finally, hearing about the Cyberpunk 2077 sequel brought me back to dreaming about the cyberpunk genre’s connection with disability representation, which was sadly lacking in the current game. Saints Row let you customize your character with prosthetics, which was pretty awesome. However, the cyberpunk genre will unite theme, gameplay and aesthetics together: your prosthesis will change depending on the abilities you prefer in your playstyle. I really hope that games in the future further increase disability representation. Characters with disabilities would create greater immersion in an open world game because disabled people exist in reality.
Immersion breakers are deadly traps that open world games should definitely avoid, disabled players know where to step so our voice is crucial throughout the design phase of a game. I have seen a huge change in removing accessibility barriers in recent years, but there will always be a need for development.
And now? Time to return to Los Santos in the form of Chaos Lord, Trevor Philips.