When Naughty Dog released The Last of Us in 2013 for the PlayStation 3 the game was going through the roof in gaming communities. While Uncharted (Naughty Dog’s other big franchise) had a way more light-hearted tone of story and a more action-oriented gameplay, The Last of Us was a departure from this with a very grim setting and nuanced story telling and direction. The infamous intro sequence of the game is still as impressive as it was on day one. Every time I revisit it on YouTube or watch streamers play it, it hits me again and I’m in tears when the starting credits roll in.
When I say nuanced storytelling that also includes character building within the story. For example there weren’t a lot of big game studios that were including LGBT+ characters in their games that were more than just tokens or weren’t either pretty one-dimensional or stereotypes. BioWare with their Mass Effect and Dragon Age series were already setting some good examples since 2007, but I remember how well it was done in The Last of Us regarding its time. Representation ultimately leads to more inclusion.
With The Last of Us: Part II inclusion now transcends into the real world and tackles the issue of who can actually play and enjoy the game. Gamers with disabilities have for years been publicly advocating for more accessibility in video games via their YouTube channels, Twitch streams and conference talks. The result: Naughty Dog hired a lot of these gamers as consultants during the last 3 years of development. It filled my heart with joy to read the tweets of some of the gamers that I’ve been following for a year now when the embargo was lifted and they could finally for the first time reveal that they actively worked on the game with Naughty Dog.
There is over 60 different accessibility features in the game ranging from settings that help with vision, hearing or motor disabilities, prevent nausea induced by elements of the game, provide nuanced difficulty settings and even a slow motion mode if the game is just too fast for you. I was originally planning to outline some of these features but I would recommend the official blog post and some of the awesome reviews of the disabled gaming community here instead. Go check them out if you are interested in the nitty gritty details:
- The Last of Us Part II: Accessibility features detailed shows all the detailed setting possibilities
- A Review of Accessibility for the Deaf and Heard of Hearing from caniplaythat.com
- A Review of Accessibility for the Blind and Low Vision Players on gameaccessibilitynexus.com
The mentioned reviews make it clear that the devs did a lot of things right here. Of course there is always something to improve. But if you start comparing these ratings to accessibility reviews of other games you will quickly realize that the range is huge, for some games that are almost non-accessible reaching down to scores like 40/100.
So why is this a big deal now?
As usual for AAA games this game has been in development for a long period. Making it accessible to as many players as possible at launch is first of all pretty amazing for everyone who worked on this game. Imagine how rewarding it must be to know that you were part of something big that is also very well received and that as many people as possible are able to play.
Second, having this degree of accessibility in big budget games shows that it is definitely possible. It sends a signal to the rest of the industry and to the players around the world.
But most important of all it just causes tears of joy:
I've been reluctant to post this.— Steve Saylor 🔜 PAX East (@stevesaylor) June 12, 2020
I recorded my reaction when I saw the #accessibility settings in #TheLastofUsPartII for the first time thinking it would be a fun video for posterity. I...did not expect this.
This is why we do what we do. 😢
Thank you @Naughty_Dog. pic.twitter.com/D5Or2B9Tfw
Gamers and advocates like the blind Steve Taylor who have been fighting for so long for accessible games are happy they can be part of this journey that will be The Last of Us: Part II.
I’m sure that this is just the beginning.