Making Games More Accessible With Accessibility Specialist Ian Hamilton by@jackboreham
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Making Games More Accessible With Accessibility Specialist Ian Hamilton

by Jack BorehamOctober 27th, 2021
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Ian is an accessibility specialist within the games industry. He has worked with countless game developers, and hardware manufactures to improve the accessibility of their games. In this AMA, Ian talks about his role in the gaming industry, what games he has worked on and how he sees the future of accessibility in gaming.

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It is a pleasure to announce our next Slogging AMA guest Ian Hamilton.

Ian is an accessibility specialist within the games industry. He has worked with countless game developers, and hardware manufactures to improve the accessibility of their games. In this AMA, Ian talks about his role in the gaming industry, what games he has worked on and how he sees the future of accessibility in gaming.

This Slogging thread by Jack Boreham, Ian Hamilton, Amy Shah, Mónica Freitas, Blake Cram and Limarc Ambalina occurred in slogging's official #gaming channel, and has been edited for readability.

Jack BorehamOct 21, 2021, 8:57 AM

Hey @channel, please join me in welcoming our next AMA guest, an accessibility specialist in the gaming industry. Ian has worked on many video game projects, working with developers and hardware manufacturers to make their hardware and games more accessible for gamers with disabilities.

Please feel free to ask Ian anything about:

  1. His role in the gaming industry 
  2. How he works with game developers and hardware manufacturers to improve accessibility.
  3. What games he has worked on (well, the ones he can talk about) and his experiences.
  4. How he views accessibility in gaming and what the industry can do in the future to improve it.
  5.  Questions about gaming in general and other burning questions.
Jack BorehamOct 21, 2021, 9:04 AM

Hi, thank you for joining us today; it's a pleasure to have you. To start, can you explain a bit about yourself and your role in the gaming industry.

Amy ShahOct 21, 2021, 9:17 AM

I would love to know more about your views on accessibility in gaming.

Ian HamiltonOct 21, 2021, 9:22 AM

Jack Boreham I'm an accessibility specialist, which means specialising in how to avoid unnecessary barriers that get between disabled gamers and the kind of experiences that developers want their players to have. I've been working in this field for about 16 years, initially alongside design & UX. Now it's all I do.

Some of my time is spent on advocacy, so things like speaking, teaching, writing, running a conference. And the rest of my time is on consulting, studios bringing me in to help if they either need some expertise on the topic or have expertise but not enough resources.

The things I'm brought in to consult on are pretty varied. I do everything from hands-on design work to audits of builds, production of guidelines, guidance on strategy, recruitment and objectives for user research - it's never dull :)

Ian HamiltonOct 21, 2021, 9:22 AM

Amy Shah, what would you like to know?

Amy ShahOct 21, 2021, 9:49 AM

What has been your efforts in the area of accessibility? I recently spoke with a blind developer who helped me understand the problems he was facing because of his disability. He is an extremely resilient, brave person, and this interview shows some of the struggles he was facing.

Amy ShahOct 21, 2021, 9:52 AM

I found that people, like myself, really are not aware of the advances in technology that make it possible for people with disabilities to do more things. I would like to learn more about what the gaming industry can do to improve accessibility.

Jack BorehamOct 21, 2021, 10:07 AM

That must be incredibly rewarding and interesting. It also must be gratifying with the variation of work. Can you give an example of how you've helped a game company make a particular video game more accessible? You also mentioned hands-on design work; what kind of projects? 😄

Ian HamiltonOct 21, 2021, 10:27 AM

They're mostly under super strict NDA, but I can talk about a couple. Minecraft was hands-on design work that was designing wireframes (ie.. rough digital sketches that represent functionality rather than look and feel) of how to implement a subtitling system Destiny 2 was more ongoing, that involved a series of reviews of documents and wireframes (their wireframes) of an advanced and complex.

Button remapping system. There's a talk about that here -

Ian HamiltonOct 21, 2021, 10:31 AM

A few examples of work that can't be named

  • Game 1 - ongoing support throughout the whole of development, answering questions and reviewing builds as we went along
  • Game 2 - sourcing disabled gamers to take part in a workshop, a whole day session for developers to get to know their audience and how disability fits in with gaming and their lives in general
  • Game 3 - feeding back on their strategy documents and internally producing accessibility guidelines. I hope that gives a little bit of a flavour of the different kinds of things involved.
Amy ShahOct 21, 2021, 10:51 AM

Thanks so much. Another question. How do you build teams and increase teamwork when building a game?

Ian HamiltonOct 21, 2021, 10:54 AM

A big chunk of games is built by individuals or a couple of friends. Larger games, like Destiny, can be built by huge teams of several hundred people, divided up according to what kind of discipline they are (e.g. artist, designer, programmer) and what part of the game they're working on. Some are bigger still. A game like Assassins Creed can be made by a dozen or more studios all over the world.

👍 1
Ian HamiltonOct 21, 2021, 11:01 AM

Fostering teamwork is a bit outside of my wheelhouse. But game development is a very iterative process, experimenting, seeing the results, going back to designing again based on what you've learned, repeat. So it's a natural fit for agile development (, that's how most game development is done, with variations on scrum (see the 1-minute video on this page: specifically. And that is in itself a way of working that is based entirely on collaboration and communication.

Jack BorehamOct 21, 2021, 1:19 PM

That's very interesting and does. Thank you for that summary. Destiny 2 and Minecraft are two very different games. Was a particular game easier to work on, or does it depend on what needs to be done? Are specific genres easier at being made more accessible?

Mónica FreitasOct 21, 2021, 2:53 PM

Hi, thank you for joining us! Have you ever worked with accessibility in educational games? I find that could open a world of opportunities and represent an extra tool and help for students with disabilities.

Ian HamiltonOct 21, 2021, 3:17 PM

Mónica Freitas I have! It can be indeed. But there's a key thing to bear in mind, which is that no game can be fully accessible to everyone because to meet the definition of "game" (instead of something like a toy or a story), it must have an element of challenge, some state of opposition between the player and the rules, standing in the way of them meeting their goal. And any challenge will be exclusionary to someone somewhere. So while it's important to make educational games as accessible as they can be, it's also important to not rely solely on them, for it to still be possible to reach the same educational goals by other means too.

🔥 1
Ian HamiltonOct 21, 2021, 3:18 PM

That's something that separates accessibility in games from accessibility in other industries, that notion of necessary and intentional exclusion. IT means that instead of accessibility in games being a standardised checklist of things to tick off to meet a generally reasonable level of accommodation, it's rather an optimisation process. Working out for each game which of the many barriers it presents are a necessary part of what gives the experience any value, and which are not, and working to avoid the latter.

Ian HamiltonOct 21, 2021, 3:19 PM

It is nice because it means it's always a design exercise of figuring out how to reach as wide a range of your target audience as possible. It can't be just a box-ticking exercise.

🔥 1
Blake CramOct 21, 2021, 5:07 PM

Thanks for being here! Really appreciate the work you're doing! I think it's a really interesting problem to navigate the fact that games require some sort of challenge or barrier for entry, yet we want as many people to enjoy games as possible. Are there any challenges in accessibility currently that you or your colleagues are working on? Such as finding ways to make games available to folks with particular disabilities or further improving the quality of accessibility where it's lacking?

Ian HamiltonOct 21, 2021, 7:53 PM

Blake Cram, the challenges have shifted a bit. A few years ago, it was still about awareness, trying to educate and motivate people about the need. Now it's more about the how. Trying to get it to start earlier in development, integrated into workflows and processes, that kind of stuff.

There is still some educating and awareness needed but, now it's less about "this is what accessibility is and why it matters" and more about dispelling misconceptions around things like return on investment. Does that kind of answer it?

Limarc AmbalinaOct 21, 2021, 9:27 PM

I hope you're well, and thanks for joining us here on Slogging. I heard you worked on The Last of Us. Is everything you did there under NDA as well, or can you talk about it a bit? I'm a die-hard LOU fan so just talking to anyone who worked on that project is an honour. I'd love to hear about what you did to make the game more accessible.

Limarc AmbalinaOct 22, 2021, 1:24 AM

Secondly, I’m hardcore into VR these days and the experiences it provides to people with disabilities. People in wheelchairs can run around in Skyrim or fly a spaceship, etc. Have you been doing any work or consulting in the VR space?

Mónica FreitasOct 22, 2021, 1:56 PM

It makes complete sense! Thank you so much!

Ian HamiltonOct 22, 2021, 1:58 PM

Limarc Ambalina: Yeah, I'm allowed to say that I worked on it, but am not allowed to give any details, unfortunately 😆. Limarc Ambalina I used to do a lot of VR consulting, but not any more. It was too hard to have any professional association with VR because I felt too bitter towards the technology from the permanent harm it caused me. I don't think it is safe to be on the market. But here is some of my old VR work -

Limarc AmbalinaOct 22, 2021, 3:58 PM

Thanks, and that's super interesting, but I'm sorry to hear that! Care to tell us a little bit about what you feel is dangerous about VR? As someone who uses the Quest 2 every day, I'd love to hear if I'm unknowingly putting myself in harm's way.

Ian HamiltonOct 22, 2021, 9:18 PM

Limarc Ambalina, there's a bit about my situation in that article. It's simulation sickness, particularly what can happen if you try to just push on through. That's what I did as I was doing a limited time audit and was in a state for days. As a result, if I'd have had to drive a car or operate heavy machinery or something, the impact could have been severe. And I never fully recovered, meaning I now have bad car sickness, can't use VR at all, can't watch others playing games which in turn clocks off Twitch which has an impact on being able to work. The killer for me has been impacting childcare. I can't push my daughter in a swing or look after her while in the car.

It isn't very common, but I know a few other people in the same situation. So it's endlessly frustrating to see people talk about "VR legs" - that's a dangerous concept!

😮 1
Ian HamiltonOct 23, 2021, 8:41 AM

So the advice I'd give (and would like to see at the start, like epilepsy warnings) is that if you start to feel a bit out of sorts, not even as far as nausea but just things like clammy forehead, feeling hot or cold, a bit disoriented, stop immediately and don't play again until the next day. Don't try to push on through.

Jack BorehamOct 23, 2021, 8:59 AM

Well, that's a wrap for this AMA; thank you for joining us. It's been a pleasure to have you. We hope you have enjoyed it.

Ian HamiltonOct 23, 2021, 10:21 AM

Yes, thank you for having me! If you want to chat outside this AMA, you can reach me on Twitter at @ianhamilton_, and if you want to learn more about the topic, there are a ton of great resources and articles here -

💚 1
Limarc AmbalinaOct 24, 2021, 8:53 AM

Thanks for the personal story. I'm sorry to hear that. I've never heard of this issue before. I had heard the articles on VR legs and have tried the "go 2-3 minutes at a time approach" when I first got motion sickness. And for me, it did work, and I do now have VR legs. But it's scary that it could have impacted my life in that way

Ian HamiltonOct 24, 2021, 9:20 AM

Limarc Ambalina, yeah, the issue with that advice being given to people is that for some people, each repeated experience of simulation sickness makes them more prone to it in future rather than less prone.

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