Xbox Series X/S

Why Starfield is an Accessibility Embarrassment

Starfield, the highly anticipated game from Bethesda, has garnered attention for all the wrong reasons when it comes to accessibility. Disabled players have voiced their concerns about the lack of information regarding accessibility features, and unfortunately, their fears have turned out to be justified. From an accessibility standpoint, Starfield is a perplexing game, with a minuscule accessibility menu and locked-away inclusive designs. In this article, we will explore the flaws in Starfield’s accessibility, examine the author’s personal experience with previous Bethesda titles, and discuss why Xbox cannot solely be relied upon as the savior of accessibility.

Exploring the Stars: Flawed Accessibility Successes

Starfield introduces some noteworthy accessibility options, such as auto-movement and auto-sprinting, which are particularly useful when navigating vast planets. However, implementing these features can be a challenge due to conflicts with other button inputs. While it is commendable that Starfield separates keybinds into different menus, it becomes frustrating when specific inputs clash with essential gameplay mechanics. Moreover, disabled players often face limitations in terms of button reach, making it difficult to utilize the full range of available controls. Starfield’s accessibility could have been greatly improved if it had accounted for these challenges.

Trapped Accessibility Designs: Forced Puzzles and Missions

One of the most frustrating aspects of Starfield’s accessibility lies in the way key accessibility designs are locked behind forced puzzles and missions. For example, powers like High Contrast Vision, crucial for players with visual disabilities, need to be unlocked. Similarly, aiming assistance can only be accessed after completing specific missions. This design choice puts disabled players at a disadvantage, as they are unable to progress without these necessary features. Inclusive design should seamlessly incorporate accessibility into the gameplay, avoiding unnecessary barriers. Starfield, unfortunately, falls short in this regard.

The Old Bethesda: A Personal Journey

For the author of this article, their journey with Bethesda games began with The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. Being able to hold a standard controller at the time, they immersed themselves in the expansive world of that game and subsequent Bethesda titles like Fallout 3 and Skyrim. However, their experience changed with Fallout 4, as their neuromuscular disability progressed, making it impossible to use dual control sticks for movement. Fallout 4’s lack of accessibility features, especially in relation to base building mechanics, hindered their gameplay experience. This marked a realization that switching to PC gaming became necessary for certain games. Unfortunately, Starfield’s accessibility issues serve as a reminder that Bethesda has not significantly improved in this area over the years.

Xbox Cannot Save Everything: Studio-Level Responsibility

There is a common belief among some disabled players that Xbox’s past initiatives for accessibility would greatly benefit Starfield. However, it is important to note that when a studio acquires another, the original developers are still primarily responsible for implementing accessible features and designs. While Xbox can provide resources and guidance, it cannot force Bethesda to prioritize accessibility. Accessibility is a decision that happens at the studio level, and it involves various factors such as knowledge, willingness, and available resources. Starfield exemplifies how a parent company, in this case Xbox, cannot fix everything if the development team is not committed to creating an accessible game.

Starfield’s Accessibility Embarrassment: Falling Behind the Industry Standard

In 2023, Starfield’s lack of accessibility options is indeed embarrassing. While receiving praise from critics and players alike, its accessibility is rarely scrutinized. This highlights the outdated practices of a studio that has had ample time to learn from disabled individuals and improve their games. In a year when numerous AAA titles across various genres boast robust accessibility options and inclusive design, Starfield stands out as the black sheep. For able-bodied players, it offers a traditional and entertaining Bethesda experience. However, for disabled individuals, it serves as a stark reminder that the industry still has a long way to go in terms of making accessibility standard across all games.