A team of us at Queerly Represent Me have spent the last two months making our website more accessible to people using screen readers. A huge part of this was adding alt text to game screenshots.
This got me thinking about the importance of talking about the fuzzy, undefined space between “gaming” and “not gaming” when we explore accessibility—in this case, for folks who are blind or vision-impaired. You know, those things we do that won’t count towards our hours played or number of achievements unlocked, but that are essential to the experience of gaming or even knowing about a game in the first place. Many of us take these steps for granted, but these often come with greater challenges for blind or vision-impaired folks.
Think about the people accessing the fan wiki, the game’s store page after an update, or the Twitterstorm after its release. Are there excessive emojis or unconventional symbols used, interfering with a screen reader’s ability to navigate and read out the usernames and messages?
You only have to look towards the current sign bunny tweet craze—where Twitter users use a collection of characters to create an image of a rabbit holding a signpost, and then fill the sign with text—to see examples of inaccessible tweets. Twitter user Eli (@Eli16350785) created @bunnyaccess in response to the signbunny tweets. This twitter bot provides a readout of the text within a signbunny tweet, enabling a screen reader to more easily translate the content within the sign.
Twitter also has an accessibility setting, allowing users to type image descriptions for their non-text posts. How cool would it be if every time a player posted a screenshot of an epic boss battle, a beautiful landscape, or a tricky platformer level, it was described so a person using a screen reader could access that world too?
Think about the person searching for a step-by-step walkthrough of how to solve a puzzle, or looking for fan theories about what happened after the final climatic event. Do these pages have images and diagrams with appropriate alt text or text captions?
Think about the person who wants to mod the game, or the person going to a convention who wants to know where the booth for that game is located. Are the tools for modding able to be used effectively by someone using only a screen reader and keyboard? Are the maps and signage provided at conventions available in large print, audio or Braille formats?
Most probably, no. And we need to make these worlds accessible.
Games don’t begin when a person presses start, and they doesn’t end when the credits roll or the final boss is slain. We—players, developers, streamers and communities—need to think about the experience of gaming as a whole if we truly want to make gaming inclusive and accessible for folks who are blind or vision-impaired.
If you’d like to know more about how to use alt text effectively and how to write it well, check out the QRM accessible images guide.