Design Patterns

Design Patterns for APX

When designing games to be more accessible for players with disabilities, there are often problems that while they crop up in different places and in different ways, require solutions that have common elements. Design patterns are a way of capturing those common elements that can be applied to lots of different situations in lots of different contexts but without specifying exactly how to solve the problem. They are a commonly occurring pattern of solutions. Let’s have an example to make this clearer.

The pattern Second Channel is addressing the problem that some players have a sensory deficit, such as loss of hearing, which means that they cannot take in information from your game. The solution is to have a second channel that communicates the same information. For instance, if your game has characters that talk to the player to give instructions, a common solution is to have subtitles presenting the same words in the second channel of vision rather than audio. The beauty of this pattern is that you can use this whenever you have information presented in only one channel whether that’s audio, visuals, rumbling handsets or force feedback joysticks.

Patterns are not meant to exhaust all of the different instances where players might need a second channel but to illustrate the possibilities. We cannot know what information you are trying to convey in your game, how you are presenting it to players or even why you are presenting it. But thinking about Second Channel will help to find solutions for players that have some sensory disability but would still like to play your game.

Female game developer showing a male co-worker how to do something. She is pointing at the screen. He is looking intently
4 gamers in a row playing in an e-sports event

How to use Design Patterns for APX?

Patterns are tools for designers like you to help explore possible solutions to problems. There is no right or wrong way to use them just as there is no right or wrong way to design. Typically to use patterns well across your processes, you will need to get familiar with the patterns. To help you do this all of our patterns have several examples that are deliberately diverse to show you what is possible within the solution space of the problem but which also show you the common elements that the pattern captures.

The titles of the patterns are also intended to be short and memorable so that you can easily refer to them when communicating your designs to others and also to bring them to mind yourself when you are thinking about accessibility in your game.

Patterns do not sit alone. Some patterns work well together. Some patterns might clash. We have highlighted the connections between patterns and in doing so we have created a Pattern Language for APX that allows people to talk about different and related facets of accessible design.  For example above, if we add captioning as Second Channel, then we need to make sure that people can read them clearly, and the Clear Text pattern provides solutions for those design problems.

With time and practice, the patterns will become a way for you to talk about accessible design in games and, as you get fluent, you might start to find that you can add to the language. We’d love to hear from you with new examples of designs inspired by these patterns, or how you have adapted the pattern language in your own work.

What do patterns look like?

Design patterns existing in lots of different domains, and come in lots of forms, but ours have six components:

  1. Title: a short and memorable name that captures the core idea of the pattern
  2. Design problem: a type of problem that is encountered by players due to design choices that the pattern is addressing
  3. Design drivers: examples of the situations where the design problem may occur oriented around the players impacted by the design
  4. Design solution: a short description of how to solve the problem
  5. Related patterns: links through to other patterns that relate to this one as either working well with it or which might influence your solutions to other design problems.

Each pattern is then illustrated with several examples from existing commercial games to show not only how it is already being used to make accessible games but also to demonstrate the breadth of design problems that are solved with the same pattern.  

What Design Patterns for APX aren’t

The design patterns we have created have a focus on what players have told us are some of the most common barriers they encounter in games.   However, they are not an exhaustive list of all the possible barriers that players will encounter in games, nor should they be thought of like a checklist that you run through at the end of your design cycle.  The design patterns cover a wide variety of different design problems and solutions, and the examples provided within them show the diversity of solutions that clever designers have created in modern games. However, as games evolve and new technology becomes readily available there will be new solutions to barriers to people with disabilities and potentially some new barriers.  

The Design Patterns for APX are illustrative of the types of things you can do and are intended to support ideation and provide inspiration for your design of the experiences you want players to have in your games.  

Bearded dude looking at a screen with a pen pointing at it