NEWS God of War Ragnarök breaks new ground for accessible games — our research explains what more developers can do

God of War Ragnarök breaks new ground for accessible games — our research explains what more developers can do

Numbers games are part of our culture more than ever. In the UK, Europe and US, more than 50% of people now play games regularly, regardless of age or gender. However, it’s only recently that developers have consistently designed game options for players with disabilities.

This has been an important topic following the release of God of War, Ragnarok. As the ninth entry in the God of War series, it claims to be the most accessible game to date and is pushing the bar for accessibility for high-budget, high-profile titles.

But what does accessibility mean for digital games? Is the narrative surrounding Ragnarök not just about standing out in a competitive market?

combo battle puzzle

Ragnarök is a “combo fighting” game, which means the player (as Kratos the Godslayer) must slaughter enemies to progress through a series of levels. This is accomplished through high-paced combat that often relies on quick combinations of button presses and carefully timed movements of characters and camera viewpoints.

High-speed combat in God of War Ragnarök.
SIE Santa Monica Studio

It’s not hard to imagine that for players with physical disabilities such as tremors in the hands or impaired vision, progress would be next to impossible. In some cases, accessibility barriers to gameplay combine, as as many as two-thirds of gamers who identify as having a disability actually have multiple disabilities.

None of this should stop someone from playing the numbers game, but some adjustments are needed to address the mismatch between player ability and game design.

break new ground

Our accessible player experience research reformulates accessibility to focus on delivering great player experiences to the most diverse player audiences.

The first step is to make sure players have access to a “game feedback loop”. This means they can activate controls that allow them to take actions, and then sense and interpret the game’s reactions to those actions.

Next is making sure the game’s challenges — adapted to the average player — can also be adjusted so they don’t depend on specific abilities, like quick reflexes or keen vision. When these accessibility stages are reached, players can enjoy what we call an “accessible player experience.”

To claim ease of access, modern games should offer players a range of options for control, presentation, and gameplay. This allows players with disabilities to craft games that provide the best possible experience for accessible players.

Playstation’s explanation of Ragnarok accessibility features.

Ragnarök offers over 60 different options for every aspect of the game and its interface. This includes increasing the font size of in-game text and automatic movement controls so players don’t have to press buttons to climb, jump, and run.

In this way, Ragnarök is building on the accessibility of other recent hits, such as The Last of Us 2 (2020), but is also innovating to offer more functionality in cluster options settings.

Developer Challenges

A major challenge for accessible game developers is anticipating the diverse and sometimes unique needs of players, while crafting a game experience that meets their creative vision.

Steven Spohn in a tuxedo in a wheelchair on the Game Developers Conference red carpet
AbleGamers COO Steven Spohn at the 2022 Game Developers Conference.
Game Developers Conference, CC BY

To facilitate the creative and generative process of game design, our research treats accessibility as a configuration problem.

From our work in architecture and software engineering, we have learned that the types of options accessible to games broadly fall into recognizable patterns, although the options required for some particular games are specific.

For example, some players will struggle to progress because their abilities do not match the level of challenge they encounter in the game. In this case, they may need what we call a “helping hand” mode, where the game offers the player assistance to successfully tackle the obstacle. What that looks like depends on the game and the obstacle in question.

For some games, helper means providing an assist mode for aiming or steering. For others, it’s an in-game character that provides helpful hints. In our partnership with AbleGamers Charity, patterns like the Helping Hand have been included in our easily accessible player experience design platform, which is now part of the toolkit for hundreds of game developers around the world.

A bright future for accessible games?

When a game is made accessible, gamers with disabilities can access major parts of modern culture in ways that are not possible in other fields. They compete on a level playing field with their peers, friends and family without disabilities. Players report a strong feeling when the game is accessible.

Ragnarök can definitely claim to have solved the accessibility problem in a significant and important way. It has made innovations and is keen to adopt them if other games are deemed useful.

It might not have everything right for everyone–only players can tell–but what it does do is try to give as many people as possible the chance to pick up the Leviathan ax and become a god.

Related posts

NEWS 3 home games to start


NEWS Why the Bears won’t shut down Justin Fields for the final two games of the season


NEWS LeBron James after Lakers’ fifth loss in six games: ‘I don’t want to end my career at this level’