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No limits for Shishi Studios

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Since his youth, the young designer has been marked by video games leaving aside followers with physical, cognitive or visual abilities different from the average.

For people like me, some games are difficult or even impossible to play, says Frédéric McNamara. There are games that don’t think about accessibility.

Duchenne’s disease leads to the degeneration of his muscles. Quick movements on a controller are increasingly difficult for him to perform.

If a game is playable right now for me, I wouldn’t say it will be years from now. he drops.

A green-haired avatar in a shrine.

Shishi Studios released their first game, “Shishi: Timeless Prelude,” at the end of May.

Photo: Submitted by Shishi Studios

The birth of Shishi Studios

Frédéric McNamara never wanted to let Duchenne’s disease deprive him of the world of video games.

Determined to develop his own titles, he studied video game creation at university and launched an independent studio in 2019, Shishi Studios, with three partners respectively providing art direction, animation and music for the games.

Their first game Shishi: Timeless Prelude (2022), follows the adventures of Elia, a young mage training to become an oracle by exploring a sacred sanctuary. A second title Shishi: Ballad of the Oracle, is in preparation. The series is available on the Nintendo Switch console.

In order for the title to be accessible to a wide audience, Shishi Studios have made sure that it requires few quick actions. The battles take place in turns, a mechanism well known to fans of classic games.

The title also offers several difficulty levels and great freedom in the control settings. It is possible to choose to assign a specific button for an action and the sensitivity of the joysticks (joysticks) can be adjusted.

Some of these tweaks might seem mundane, but when it’s not included in games, it makes all the difference, insists Frédéric McNamara. He himself knows this reality well: Sometimes it can be difficult to manipulate the controller or press certain buttons .

Shishi Studios plans to add new accessibility features to Shishi: Timeless Prelude. It’s our first game. We did our best to make it accessible, but our goal is to make it even more accessible.explains the founder.

The race for accessibility

Accessibility is gradually carving out a place in the titles of major studios, in particular thanks to the work of pioneering independent studios, according to Sarah Stang, professor of video game studies at Brock University, in Ontario.

Choice of colors for color blind people; subtitled dialogues available in several fonts for the hearing impaired and dyslexic people; aim assist (aim-assist) for those with motor impairments are some examples of features found in the most popular games of recent years.

Major studios, like Ubisoft, even have a dedicated accessibility department.

A disabled person plays video games in his living room with adapted equipment.

Many fans like Shunya Hatakeyama, who plays Street Fighters with his chin, don’t let their disabilities stop them from enjoying video games.

Photo: afp via getty images / PHILIP FONG

More and more competitions reward games that accommodate people with disabilities. Last March, it was Forza Horizon 5the first game in history to feature sign language support, which was crowned in the second edition of the Video Games Accessibility Awards.

There is definitely a culture shift. This is important because the interactive nature of video games makes them exciting and fun, but can also become a hindrance. »

A quote from Sarah Stang, professor of video game studies at Brock University

According to her, change is slowly taking place in the industry, in particular thanks to the mobilization of players on social media.

The professor adds that the arrival of staff with disabilities in major studios and the observation that a significant proportion of video game enthusiasts live with motor, cognitive or visual challenges are leading to a small revolution in the video game world.

A blue car in a video game.

Forza Horizon 5 stood out for its accessibility at the Video Games Accessibility Awards.

Photo: Playground Games

More challenges

However, the game is far from over for video game enthusiasts living with a disability. Controllers adapted to players with reduced mobility, for example, are still rare and expensive, recalls Sarah Stang.

The famous Sun player Ewoke Wheeler, a member of esports organization FaZe, says his deafness prevents him from following conversations with his team due to a lack of auto-generated captions.

And Frédéric McNamara, who moves in a wheelchair, wonders if he will find his account in the rapidly expanding field of virtual reality games and the metaverse.

Most VR games require a lot of movement. This is a big limitation, and I think [les personnes en situation de handicap] is an audience that would be really interested in enjoying virtual reality.

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