Accessibility in video games: the most underrated mechanic

Why do accessibility and easy mode exist?

Today we talk about the evolution of accessibility in video games, from the early days of challenging arcade titles to modern inclusive design, learning why easy modes and accessibility features are essential for a wider audience and discovering how the gaming industry balances difficulty and fun to create unforgettable experiences.

As the gaming industry first came out, when the titles were really short and most of them were arcades, the only way to create a long-lived game was  increasingly raise the game’s difficulty and, primarily, to monetize as much as they could.
Between the 80s and 90s, thanking the massive diffusion of home consoles such as the iconic Nintendo, Atari, Sega and Sony, people’s necessities radically changed and the difficulty mechanics took a new form: the necessity to enhance game’s longevity and life, because of technical reasons. Some of those are grinding, used in role play games (Final Fantasy and other jrpgs), complex riddles (Tomb Raider, Soul Reaver), almost impossible enemies and, sometimes, extremely difficult platform sections.

Ever since the PlayStation 2 generation, the tendency has changed: some game designers, parallel to many development researches, changed their vision, leaning towards a new way of looking at the trade, keeping an eye on providing a complete and unforgettable experience to as many players as they could, thanking an extremely important input in the medium: the easy/story mode. Creating a nice balance between difficulty and fun is essential in order to keep a game immortal.


The Mechanisms of Arcades

Arcade halls have introduced some of the most iconic and original titles to the gaming scene over the years: the Metal Slug series, Time Crisis, The House of the Dead, Police 911, Silent Hill: The Arcade, and Silent Scope. However, it’s essential to consider that in order to profit decently, an arcade must have a fine selection of excellent arcade games to maintain a steady clientele.

Creating a good arcade is thus very complex, because it requires balancing fun, gameplay, and various methods to generate as many game overs as possible and therefore insert more coins.
The best way to create this type of title is to provide a goal/record for the patrons to achieve: in Time Crisis, for example, overcoming three increasingly difficult stages, while in newer and less structured arcades, the aim is to achieve the highest score possible.

Through this system, the player will be committed and, over time, become more experienced and finish the arcade, using an average amount of coins ranging from two to six. At this point, the manager can raise the difficulty to limit potential losses. Great examples of using these techniques are: Time Crisis II and 3; The House of the Dead 2 and 3; Outrun 2; Virtua Cop 3; and Jurassic Park: The Lost World, while other arcades prioritize revenue, becoming a perfect trap for uninformed and/or casual players.

In particular, Raw Thrills titles utilize high-speed combat or “bullet absorber” enemies, requiring perfect coordination between players to be defeated. The repetitiveness of these scenes tires the players so much that they lose responsiveness over time, being led to use more coins; notably, after the first level, the difficulty will start to rise: we can observe this scheme in games like The Walking Dead, Jurassic Park Arcade, and Halo: Fireteam Raven.

Accessibility Jurassic World

The techniques used to increase difficulty in old console games

As the early home consoles started to take root, a significant challenge arose: the average duration of games at that time, ranging from 30 minutes to 2/3 hours. To overcome this problem, development studios began adding a high level of challenge to their titles, which in some cases tended towards the impossible.

On the other hand, various types of games (such as RPGs, JRPGs, survival horror, and the early action-adventure titles like Tomb Raider) utilized backtracking, complex bosses, and puzzles to temporarily halt players’ progress. These techniques have been modified and refined over the years to make games increasingly easier and accessible to complete, due to advancements in technology. In some cases, to boost sales, the inability to lose or reach a game over were introduced.

Ninja Gaiden Black

Ninja Gaiden Black remains an extremely complex and technical title even today.

Prince of Persia

The 2008’s release of Prince of Persia is a good game, yet it faces controversial ideas such as the paywall for the true ending and Elika’s assistance in saving the player during platforming sections, preventing the game over.

Perspective’s shift as the videogame sector opened to masse,

Since 2007, the video game industry has undergone a complete transformation. With the advent of the Nintendo Wii, the audience has grown rapidly, welcoming new types of players and dedicated titles. During this era, major companies created many games with a “cinematic style,” shifting the focus from player skill to providing an unforgettable experience film-alike: titles such as The Last Of Us or the Uncharted saga serve as perfect examples. That historical period witnessed numerous experiments but also some significant failures. Among the successful launches were BioShock, Halo 3, Dead Space, Crysis, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, and the impressive Heavy Rain.

Nonetheless, there have been some setbacks, such as Too Human, a highly underrated title featuring an intriguing atmosphere and world, marred by gameplay choices and confusing communication, tarnishing both the studio’s and the game’s reputation. Other major titles that faced setbacks and never saw the light of day include Tiberium, an experimental FPS/real-time strategy with innovative design, canceled by EA after significant overhauls that altered its essence; Sony’s exclusive Eight Days, shelved due to its ambitious scope; and Rockstar’s Agent, for reasons that still remain unknown.

Over time, many efforts have been done to make games more accessible through new ideas, such as incorporating user interface elements to enhance orientation (a compass, the navigator in Dead Space, objective markers) or aiding puzzle-solving (constant hints in Uncharted or visual cues like Lara’s instinct in Tomb Raider). Recently, there has been a notable trend of introducing various difficulty and experience modifications, accessible through dedicated menus, to maximize customization for each player. However, over the years, some older players have begun to voice complaints about certain design choices aimed at simplifying gaming experiences.

Accessibility Heavy Rain

Why does the audience complain about some of the designers’ choices?

Upon the release of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, the elitist audience found a new enemy: “the yellow paint,” anything that could make a game easier or completable (something not to be taken for granted). The introduction of paint on boxes in the Resident Evil 4 remake or the climbing areas in the Final Fantasy VII remake has been a design choice made after numerous gameplay tests to achieve a challenging and complex goal: to avoid player’s frustration.

Every game designer should understand that we are facing a new important element: adding as many options as possible to customize the experience in many aspects is essential because it exponentially increases the number of players who will have access to that title. Artistic style and gameplay choices are important, as seen in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice or Sifu, but  in the customization point, relies the future: great examples of this concept are The Last Of Us Part 2, Control, and God of War Ragnarok, which offer a vast array of options to make the two titles accessible to many categories of players, from the most experienced to the novice.


You can create an impressive game, but if it can’t be completed, it becomes useless…

“When everybody plays, we all win” – Phil Spencer.

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Hello I’m luke, I’m a gamer of 27 years old and I live in Brescia. Always at the research of new experiences in gaming and cinema sectors