Accessibility in Online Larp

Accessibility in Online Larp

With the pandemic preventing us from larping in the flesh, more and more designers have been running games online. These experiences are not only highly immersive and engaging, but also have the tremendous potential to make games accessible for a wider variety of players who may be excluded from mainstream, face-to-face larps.

For example, the larp TANKERS by Sarah Cook is designed to be played while blindfolded and lying down – much easier for someone with chronic fatigue or migraines to engage with than an in-person game. Similarly, Plug In by Stephen Duxbury – as reimagined by Wrenna Robson and Nat Saunders – is played in real time completely via text, making it ideal for those of us who struggle with speech.

As the Bobbit Worm team, we’ve designed and run three online larps so far (The Nautical Trench, T67 Survival Night, and UPLOAD) and are working on a fourth. When we started running immersive games and larps online, it became clear that new and exciting accessibility challenges were emerging, despite the benefits of this medium. Although you won’t have to deal with a venue made entirely out of stairs, you may be adding a typing element that’s a nightmare for dyslexic participants.

In this article, we want to outline some of the methods we have included in our games to help make them more accessible.

Hazel and Erin sharing post-game icecreams (photo, Hazel Dixon)

Hazel and Erin sharing post-game icecreams (photo, Hazel Dixon)

Pre-Game

When running a game online, it’s still important to treat the physical and emotional wellbeing of your players with care. You should take responsibility for this the same way as you would for a game in a physical space – ask players about their disabilities, triggers, and what accommodations would help them to access your game, and make sure to keep that information somewhere secure but easily accessed. We find this blog post on Access: Larp on how to ask and how to tell to be quite useful.

However, using online platforms adds a layer of complexity. Make sure to clearly inform your players of how to use the technology you’ve chosen. It’s a great idea to include optional software testing beforehand, for anyone who is unsure or worried about using the tech involved in the game. Whilst playing the game, always have a way for players to contact you on a different platform – such as by email or over the phone – so that if they have technical issues they can still contact you to let you know.

If the game involves documents or files, these should be accessible in multiple formats should a player require them. For example, make sure to prepare transcripts of audio/video files, provide image descriptions, and remember that screenshots and some ways of formatting text files aren’t accessible to everyone.

Text-based considerations

When you’re including text-based elements in your game – whether that’s doing the game entirely via text or allowing players to message each other during your game – bear in mind that players may have problems processing text quickly, typing quickly or typing accurately.

We’ve found that a lot of people are anxious about taking part in games with typing elements, because they perceive themselves as having bad typing, or have disabilities such as chronic hand pain that make it difficult for them to type quickly. We mention in our code of conduct that no one should comment on or shame other players for incorrect grammar/spelling or slow response times.

In addition, if you are letting players upload videos or gifs, remind them to avoid uploading images that flash more than once per second, as these can trigger migraines or epileptic seizures.

Video-based considerations

Video calls, while a great substitute for being in a physical space together, can present their own specific accessibility challenges. For example, deaf people and autistic folks with auditory processing issues may find it difficult to participate if they can’t lip read or see the facial expressions of others; so making sure players have their video switched on and the camera facing them can help them to access video communications.

It’s important to keep in mind a few simple ways to keep video calls a welcoming space for everyone: background noise and feedback can be reduced by wearing headphones or using push to talk; hand gestures and other forms of body language can be made more visible with careful camera framing; players can avoid talking over each other by staying conscious of whether anyone is trying to speak. All of these can mitigate common issues if you bear them in mind, although it’s likely that you won’t be able to keep on top of them all the time. In general, aim for pairing a visual or auditory cue with something else. The word cut can be used in conjunction with crossing your arms across your chest, for example. Leave the option open for players to message each other if they need to communicate and calibrate or to post messages in an open channel.

In a lot of physically co-located games, we end up with natural breaks in action that allow us to collect ourselves and be alone to a certain extent. When it comes to online games, there is more of a feeling of being “always on” that can be overwhelming for some. You can help with this by managing the spaces in your platform. We try to ensure that we have enough separate rooms so people can split off into groups of 2–4 if they need to. As well as this, you can utilise an off game channel to allow players to take a break in a quieter space, and by making sure to stress that anyone is free to leave the space at any time for any reason.

Another consideration is that some video conferencing software, such as Google Meet, will allow you to have automatic live captioning which you may find helpful for people with auditory processing problems. Zoom has now added closed captioning which you can integrate with third-party captioning software and you can find out more about this process on the Zoom Help Centre.

Conclusion

Different games will have different requirements, and it’s important to both consider what you’re trying to do with your game and to work with the players to provide them with the best experience you can. We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of unanswered questions, such as how to make our games easier to play on an unstable internet connection and how to replace some of the physical cues that aren’t easy to communicate over video. Even so, we want to dare you to dream big on accessibility. Immersive experiences are pretty damn cool, and we want as many people as possible to have the opportunity to experience that.

Ludography

Bobbit Worm Games, T67:// Survival Night (2020)
Bobbit Worm Games, The Nautical Trench (2020)
Bobbit Worm Games, UPLOAD (2020)
Cook, Sarah, Tankers (2020)
Duxbury, Stephen, reimagined by Wrenna Robson and Nat Saunders, Plug In (2020)

Credits

Article republished from blog post here:
https://bobbitwormgames.wixsite.com/bobbitwormgames/post/accessibility-in-online-games
Originally edited by Rowan Pierce. You can contact them at @NotWrittenHere on Twitter or at rpiercefreelancing@gmail.com

Cover photo: Online activity, by Soumil Kumar on Pexels

Editing on NordicLarp.org by: Elina Gouliou and Mo Holkar

Authors

Erin Marsh
Erin Marsh is a games organiser and theatremaker based in Hull, UK, creating immersive and interactive experiences with a focus on innovative uses of digital platforms. Erin is part of the Bobbit Worm Games collective and interactive theatre company 1UPSTARTS.
Hazel Dixon
Hazel is a researcher and designer based in the UK. Their PhD research looks at the ways that we can use immersive design and embodiment for education and social change – particularly in the sex and relationships education field. They have built several games both for online and in real-life play. They are also part of the Bobbit Worm Games collective which has created The Nautical Trench, UPLOAD, and Survival Night.
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