Long before the Family Video Game Database was a twinkle in the eye, I had read the GameCritics accessibility sections with great interest. These have quietly offered advice on how accessible games are for different players.

This, along with fundraising for Special Effect, meant that when I created my resource for parents I knew it was important to include advice on how accessible games were. What I hadn’t anticipated was the size of the task of offering a meaningful way to search games with accessibility features.

The Family Video Game Database aims to complement my Taming Gaming book to aid parents and guardians keen to play a guiding role with their children’s game playing. The thesis of the book and ethos of the database is that all parents and guardians need for children’s healthy gaming is information in a form they can understand to power informed decisions and engagement.

I had originally expected the database to include 60-100 of the games that were included as suggestions in the book. However, almost as soon as launching we ended up on BBC Breakfast for the unusual lists of games we provided parents:

This moment in the spotlight not only affirmed the need for this kind of resource but brought all manner of connections and proposals of how to develop and grow the database. One of these was from the Playability Initiative, an organization led by Numinous Games who were creating an amazing title you could play with one button.

Within a matter of weeks, we had hatched a plan. Their project was to be a gateway into the wide world of gaming for parents, guardians and advocates of players often excluded from play because of a disability. The database would be where they would send players to find more suitable games after enjoying their one-button experience.

After six months of consultation with accessibility experts and the accessibility community we put together a list of key features that people might search for when looking for a game. This was about identifying the useful features that games offered rather than documenting every setting.

Similar to being able to search by ESRB or PEGI rating, console system, cost, number of players, the presence of loot boxes and so on, the aim was to aid discovery of amazing games and then send people on to specialists sites for in-depth reviews. 

Still, it was a mountain to climb — not only the volume of data to cover, but the critical importance of accuracy of each and every flag in the database. It’s not a matter of checking a game to see if it had a setting to turn on subtitles, for instance, but also to see what those subtitles looked like, whether you could change the size, color and contrast. Did the game also include captioning of who was speaking, their tone, other environmental sounds?

With the help of some amazing people from the accessibility community and committing our own time and effort through the support of the Playability Initiative, we made a start. 

Progress was slow, but rewarding. It soon became apparent that the database could play a role of raising awareness of accessibility as well as aiding discovery of accessible games. We would get in touch with developers ahead of release to double check particular aspects of a game’s accessibility, and those conversation would often lead to them adding settings or features they hadn’t thought of adding previously.

Some examples:

Had a wonderful #accessibility chat with @TamingGamingDB. All our confirmed settings are recorded in their page, and we’ve got some great ideas of a11y we could add to @Smalland.

Yay, @GeekDadGamer added Get Together to the database @TamingGamingDB. His accessibility review uncovered some handy things we’ll be adding like making screenshake optional.

So now, 12 months or so later, we have over 8000 accessibility tags in the database across (about) 500 games. We are making real progress, although I want to be honest that it’s not always smooth sailing as there have been occasions where a tag has slipped through and offered inaccurate advice. 

Where this has happened, we take it seriously and work to rectify the data as soon as possible. This often leads to further improvements in how we identify accessibility features and enhance the data. 

Contributing positively to the world of accessibility means you need to be here for the long haul, do a lot of listening and know that you won’t always get everything right the first time. That long-term view means that we can improve over time and with generous (and more frequently of late, paid) expertise, we’re getting better week by week.

We now have two main ways of using the data on the database:

  • Accessibility Search: The accessibility data can be used to discover games with specific features in the Accessibility Search. This enables you to select a range of accessibility criteria in addition to age rating, system, genre and costs.
  • Accessibility Report: The accessibility information is also presented on each game’s Accessibility Report to highlight the features that the game offers. This page also suggests similar games with more accessibility features in each area.

I’m proud of how far the database has come in its first year, but even more excited about where it will be five years from now. Much of my day-to-day work is about building partnerships and support to ensure that its future is secure to become the best it can be.

If you are reading this and want to get involved then do get in touch with us on Twitter at @TamingGamingDB. Or, if you think there’s a flag we should offer or a game we should add, do let us know. We look forward to hearing from you and making the database better day by day.

— Andy Robertson, @GeekDadGamer

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