Now let’s examine the other helix of the game’s DNA, accessibility. Over the last several years, hundreds of hours and thousands of words have been spent on the topic of accessibility in gaming. Broadly defined, accessibility deals with how differently-abled individuals can interact with games. The conversation is often based around ways to help those individuals play games more easily, and enjoy them more.
Microsoft released an adaptive controller for the Xbox One in 2018, designed to deal with the need for greater accessibility. Accessible game devices are for sale everywhere on the internet. Largely though, accessibility has fallen to game developers to create within their games. Some have attempted to solve this conundrum with an “Easy” mode, which is often looked down upon in the industry as a wrong-footed effort, like putting a band-aid on a gunshot.
Enter Celeste, which I believe is the gold standard for designing accessibility into a game. This isn’t just for the sake of saying your game is accessible, or pandering to the masses for good press. This is a set of tools allowing anyone, not just those with physical limitations, to customize their gameplay experience.
The simplicity of the game’s controls gives the first nod toward true accessibility. Since there are only three commands used in the game, it is possible to assign each to a face button. Thus, someone who perhaps has reduced grip strength or arthritis could play the game without ever needing to hold the controller. With the gamepad on a flat surface, one hand would go for the analog stick and one for the face button presses.
The next facet of the design puzzle falls under the heading of Assist Mode, which can be toggled on or off at any point. This is truly where the customization aspects begin. The first option is Game Speed, which players can adjust from 50% to 100%. Reducing the speed allows a great deal more time to enter button presses and orient your analog stick to where you want to end up.
A key element in the game is the Air Dash, which zips your character from platforms to walls and everywhere else on a level. Most of the game is spent with the ability to dash once before returning to a standing position restores your ability to dash again. Assist Mode gives you the option of two dashes between landings, or even infinite dashes. This can also be combined with a Dash Assist toggle, allowing the game to effectively pause while you use an arrow to determine where the dash will take you.
Assist Mode features several other tweaks as well, including Infinite Stamina (allowing you to cling to walls indefinitely), Invincibility (rendering those level-covering spikes harmless), and the ability to skip any of the game’s nine chapters altogether if you so desire. Add in the exact-point saving system, where you never lose any progress, and it’s clear that Celeste has found a sweet spot between difficulty and accessibility.
It is my sincere hope that the game’s developer, Matt Makes Games, continues to grace us with their creations. Celeste is a sublime example of design speaking to the masses, inviting them to come in and sit a while, enjoying the game in whatever way they choose. Maybe they play, maybe they just skip to the end, like reading the last page of a book first. They have the choice, though, and that is what’s most refreshing about this experience.
For those of us who love games, who wish to see them grow and be widely accepted, isn’t this what we should want? Games that offer challenges to the most skilled among us, while still welcoming in non-gamers who will hopefully want to stick around when they’re done. Let us celebrate games like this, and hope they should encourage others to do the same.
Now more than ever, we need things to unite around, communities where all feel welcome regardless of age, ability or other immutable characteristics.
Stay safe, and long live gaming.