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Whether it's the Assassin's Creed series or Bethezda's newest IP, Dishonored, I personally tend to gravitate towards games with heavy stealth mechanics. More than a matter of preference, I'm convinced that games that include stealth are more accessible for certain gamers than other titles on the market.
But why does the inclusion of a stealth mechanic aid the accessibility of a game? The answer to this question is found in the very definition of what it means for a game to include stealth. If a game includes stealth, the designers are necessarily admitting a couple of realities for that particular game. The first is that they expect players who are using the stealth mechanic to plan through their moves before they make them. This in turn removes a barrier that is found across all games, whether they be first person shooters or hack and slash RPGs: If a game uses stealth, developers must necessarily relax the time requirements to complete actions within the game. After all, you can’t focus on being quiet while you eliminate the guards on a busy Dunwall street if you are worried about a door closing at one end of the alley before you reach it. For these reasons it seems that when a game includes stealth mechanics, the game tends to naturally eliminate certain barriers and become more accessible.
However, there is one area in which games that include stealth actually create more barriers, if stealth is the only option. This is the area of hearing disabilities. When the original Assassin’s Creed came out, there was a lot of disappointment from the disabled gaming community because the game had no subtitles. As a result, not only was the main story line inaccessible for the hearing impaired, but also the entire rest of the game. All of the side quests and open world features were inaccessible because the stealth mechanic, like all other stealth mechanics, relied heavily on the ambient noises that surrounded the player. For instance, in the Thief games a player was more likely to be noticed if they were walking on a hard surface than if walking on a soft surface like a carpet. But if there is no way of sharing this information apart from the sound itself, these games are completely inaccessible to those with auditory disabilities.
As Dishonored has recently illustrated, this is not a pitfall of the concept of stealth games, rather it is a problem with the way stealth is implemented in most games. If more games had graphical representations for a guard’s awareness level, then sound would not be as integral to the stealth mechanic and games like these would become even more accessible. Nevertheless, stealth is already a great way of overcoming barriers for gamers with both fine-motor and sight disabilities, since it allows the player time to plan and limits the impact of slow gameplay.
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Metal Gear Solid was my first official stealth game and my first Xbox stealth title would be Splintercell. Splintercell will always be one of my favorite games of all time just for that aspect. It slows the game down, makes the campaign longer, and creates a more engaging experience.
Visual representation of sound in gaming is a game changer when executed properly for me at least as a deaf gamer. Currently, Mark of the Ninja does a stellar job with this but certainly could still use some tweaks such as when the guard's position is visually unknown and the sound of their footsteps or muttering is a clue to their location. Also, I wish Ubisoft would re-release the original Assassin's Creed with captions, that moment of realizing the game wasn't captioned was absolutely crushing. Neat blog!
Dihonored was my 2012 GOTY