As one of the biggest games of the year, God of War and Ragnarok will undoubtedly be on plenty of Christmas lists.
After critical acclaim and a huge launch sale, it’s on Game Awards – it has won more categories than any other title – no surprise.
But regardless of its storytelling and graphic prowess, Ragnarok – the latest in a series dating back 17 years – is perhaps most notable for its success in innovation in the accessibility category.
It acknowledges how it allows a whole new community of players to experience it to its fullest for the first time, discovering an audience accustomed to compromising or missing out entirely.
“I never had any vision and didn’t know how games or any related technology worked at first,” said Ben, who goes by the moniker SightlessKombat.
“When I say I’m a gamer without sight, the term I use is ‘legally blind’, often shortened to ‘blind’.
“But it can and often does include usable and/or residual vision, which I never had.”
Disability meant that in the early days of his hobby Ben relied on audio games designed for people with impaired or low vision.
Once he started using the more traditional console experience, he needed help from other people to play games, but he often had trouble with people translating the color-coded button inputs and other commands into anything meaningful.
‘I’ve had to play by guesswork – until now’
“I’m still mostly stuck on the mashing until the desired result is on the screen,” he explains.
“It was all about audio and educated guesswork, a tactic that persists to this day in titles that don’t have enough accessibility.
“All of this combined means I can’t play classic games like the original Halo trilogy, the Call of Duty series, or other iconic titles, and that wouldn’t be possible without a ton of help.”
How Ragnarok Changed the Game
God Of War is one of the mainstays of such an industry – it’s appeared on every PlayStation generation since the PlayStation 2, and is known for its intense combat and massive sense of scale.
Before Ragnarok, Ben couldn’t enjoy the games “without constant visual aid.”
In the case of the 2018 release, he completed the game by streaming his gameplay streams online with the help of sighted collaborators in the United States. It’s a big step up from previous entries, but an indie game is still a dream.
While the series has matured in recent iterations, transforming protagonist Kratos from one of gaming’s most two-dimensional goofs into a touching depiction of fatherhood, it’s still a tough action game.
But after Ben’s livestream footage caught the attention of developer Sony Santa Monica, he was asked to show the team how he played and suggest features they could add to make it easier to use.
These options include a Motor Assistance setting, which automates tasks to reduce fatigue and button input complexity; a Visual Accessibility setting, which changes camera angles and improves contrast to make characters and prompts stand out; and a complete remapping of controllers. ability.
“A wonderful free experience”
“All of this combined means that, aside from puzzles and some menu navigation or other workarounds that require visual assistance, I can play most of the game without secondary input,” Ben said. “It was a very liberating experience.”
For a blockbuster like Ragnarok, flying the flag for an accessibility option feels like a watershed moment.
Other major releases such as Sea Of Thieves and The Last Of Us also offer impressive features, but the vast majority of games fall short of what players like Ben want.
He hopes his role as Accessible Games Officer at the Royal National Institute for the Blind will help him raise awareness of how the industry can develop further.
If he said, “There’s still a lot to do.”