Excitement soured, however, when non-disabled gamers invaded the Twitter conversation to complain about the $70 price of the game (a complaint that has resurfaced over and over since the price was announced earlier this year). Critics claimed the remake is unnecessary as the game has already been remastered, and that the graphical improvements aren’t pronounced enough to justify a price tag equivalent to many new PlayStation 5 releases. “The Last of Us Part I” remake also doesn’t include the popular Factions multiplayer mode of previous iterations.
But for disabled players, the price is fine, reflecting the cost of what is essentially a completely new experience now that accessibility features have made it playable.
As a disabled gamer and journalist, it was hard to watch the conversation devolve into haggling over features and pricing. So, let’s take a moment to recenter the narrative — to understand the misconceptions driving so much backlash against “The Last of Us Part I” and why the game is important to both the disabled gaming community and the video game industry.
Some non-disabled gamers have labeled “The Last of Us Part I’s” price tag as a “disability tax.” The game’s new accessibility features could have been a free patch for “The Last of Us Remastered,” they argue. This belies a flawed understanding of game development, experts say.
“The [accessibility] features don’t exist in isolation,” Ian Hamilton, an accessibility specialist, told The Washington Post. “The price is for the game. The game just happens to be accessible.”
The engine behind the original “The Last of Us” is over a decade old; its remaster isn’t much younger.
“Trying to hack accessibility into existing codebases and systems later on just multiplies the cost and effort,” Hamilton said.
It’s also worth noting: “The Last of Us Part II’s” engine, built with accessibility in mind, is right there. The engine allowed “Part II” a level of accessibility unprecedented before in triple-A games, with more than 60 different features ranging from motor options to turn melee combos into holds, navigational assistance and high contrast displays, to various vibration settings and input remapping. It was considered a groundbreaking achievement for accessibility in the industry, and many of these options are being carried over into the “The Last of Us Part I” remake. Sony recently announced the full slate of accessibility options on offer in the remake. In that same blog post, the developer called “The Last of Us Part II’s” accessibility features a “baseline” on which it built the remake.
Despite a more cooperative engine, the process still takes time, effort and resources — obviously — and this is reflected in “The Last of Us Part I’s” MSRP resembling most new PlayStation 5 releases. But for some players, that price is also reflective of being able to play the game for the first time.
“I won’t be paying $70 for accessibility. I’ll be paying $70 for a new game I’ve never played,” Sherry Toh, a disabled journalist, said.
It’s also the first time audio description has been implemented in a triple-A game — despite audio description being available in some form for decades. The feature, which narrates in detail what’s happening in cutscenes to give a better idea of what is happening on screen, allows blind and low-vision players to better engage with the cinematic nature of the franchise’s narrative.
There’s room, of course, to debate whether remakes constitute new, full releases. Objectively, however, “The Last of Us Part I″ remake represents the partial satisfaction of something disabled players have been begging for since the cycle of remakes began.
“There has been a continual call from the community for developers to take the opportunity of remakes as a way to increase accessibility over the originals,” Hamilton said. However, it’s only recently, with games like “The Stanley Parable” and “Diablo II,” that remakes and remasters featuring that improved accessibility have started to emerge.
If that’s not worth $70 to you, that’s okay. “But there are also people for whom it does have enough value to justify buying it,” Hamilton said. “Especially the subset of people for whom it feels like a brand new game.”
“[I] cannot understate how important it is that this remake exists,” said SightlessKombat, an accessible gaming and immersive technologies research officer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People in the U.K. who uses the moniker professionally. “Having a game go from unplayable without constant sighted assistance to (potentially) completely playable on the hardest difficulty levels is, in a word, fantastic.
It goes “from a completely unplayable experience into a fully playable one,” SightlessKombat said. “It’s basically an entirely new release.”
The remake is also coming to PC. This is important as, excellent as the PlayStation 5’s accessibility features are, the DualSense controller has proved to be a major obstacle to disabled players. More accessible hardware is unusable on PS5, and workarounds are promptly patched out by Sony. (Sony did not respond to a request for comment on the matter, but one explanation could be anti-cheating measures; removing the ability for players to use external hardware altogether prevents them from using hardware associated with cheating.) The PS4 controller may have been designed for better accessibility, but even that can’t be used on PS5 games. The move to PC offers a little more room for alternative, more accessible, input options.
The disabled gaming community isn’t exactly a minority. Roughly 15 percent of the global population lives with disability, according to the World Health Organization — that’s about 1 billion people. Attacking disabled gamers isn’t just an attack on a large proportion of gamers; it’s a narrow-minded slight aimed at a community to which we may all belong at some point.
There are a variety of scenarios in which players may find themselves suddenly dependent on these features to play their favorite games, said SightlessKombat, such as if they break their arm or suffer from vision loss. “These scenarios shouldn’t leave people unable to enjoy the pastime they love,” he said.
Accessibility should be celebrated. Yet, I worry these attacks may have a lasting effect — if not on games themselves, then on the community that wants and needs them.
“I don’t think the social media shenanigans would discourage similar projects in the future,” Hamilton said. “But discouraging disabled people from celebrating accessibility publicly — yes, I think there’s an element of that.”
For SightlessKombat, it’s a warning “of the need for greater education [about] accessibility and its worth to absolutely every gamer, regardless of whether they realize it or not.”
There will always be ableists in any community; people who can look at something as groundbreaking as “The Last of Us Part I’s” accessibility options and be dissatisfied. That’s sad — and ironic — because disabled gamers are some of the most welcoming people in the gaming space.
While gatekeeping and entitlement do animate some corners of this industry, the aforementioned spirit of graciousness and welcoming is spreading. An accessible remake of a landmark narrative triple-A title — one that has spawned DLC, a sequel, an HBO show and more — is just further proof: Gaming is for everyone.
Geoffrey Bunting is a disabled freelance journalist, author and book designer. He writes on a range of subjects including entertainment, gaming, accessibility and history for WIRED, The Daily Beast, IGN, Polygon and others.