Posted On February 19, 2021

Accessibility In Gaming: Is Gaming For Everyone?

By Beyond

There are many things in this community that motivate, intrigue and inspire us. And this week we’re focussing on how video games help to enrich the lives of those who adopt the spirit of – “gaming is for everyone”

Switching on your PC or console to settle into a session, is routine for many of us and perhaps we’re staying on a little longer through this lockdown… but take a moment and question: ‘what if my situation was different?’ Is there enough accessibility in gaming?

The immersive experience of gaming is definitely something that has always captured me. The superhuman strength, the ability to push that joystick forward and see my character move without fatigue for hours. The colours, the sounds, the tactility and satisfaction of button mashing an opponent into submission…We’re lucky to experience this wonderful sense of escapism, teamwork and adventure. But not everyone has the freedom to enjoy these experiences.

“Accessibility in gaming = removing unnecessary barriers that block people from playing video games”

I recently tuned in to a BBC4 podcast called – Unplayable: Disability and the Gaming Revolution. It’s 28 minutes long and has completely revolutionised how I see gaming, especially during a time where we should be counting our blessings.

“The way that controllers are designed make a lot of assumptions about people’s bodies, how they’re configured, what they’re capabilities are; and those assumptions are often…incorrect.”

I’d never questioned the ergonomics of controllers. Why would I? I wouldn’t consider myself the most coordinated on two legs, but I’ve always been able to seamlessly operate all manner of console and PC apparatus with my hands. I’ve also done my fair share of 3D printing and laser cutting and have often felt like these technologies are incredibly inclusive for people who may need something custom. So, when I familiarised myself with the website of ‘Worldwide Non-profit AbleGamers’ – seeing that a custom controller for a person with disabilities can cost upwards of $1200, and some as high as $2000, it rocked me.

At the same time, my discovery of this organisation made me feel joy for many reasons. AbleGamers offer those in need a grant. However after looking at their site and seeing they already have a queue-based system, it’s evident that there are many individuals out there in need of such specialist equipment.

Mark Barlet, the founder of AbleGamers has used his veteran level of experience in technology and assertive technology to help prevent the exclusion of accessibility in the global multi-billion gaming industry. Started in 2004, after seeing the effects of multiple Sclerosis attack one of his closest friends Stephanie Walker. “His vision was to ensure that no one with a disability would ever be without answers on how to conquer disabilities and continue enjoying one of the world’s largest past times.”

Steve Spohn, COO of AbleGamers who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, commented on the relevance of how adaptation with technology can, when given the full support of developers, improve and enrich the quality of lives for those that don’t want to give up something that brings them pleasure and happiness. When commenting on his own ventilator machine he uses on a daily basis to keep him alive…

 “That’s the beauty of technology. Some keeps us alive physically…and some keep us alive mentally, like video games do.”

Playstation Controller - Accessibility in Gaming
MÁLAGA – SPAIN – FEBRUARY 16, 2020: Playstation 4 Gamepad on black background with color lights. Sony PS4 Dualshock V2. Studio Shot.

Mike ‘BrolyLegs‘ Begum is an opponent you wouldn’t want to underestimate. His love for Street Fighter, and his extraordinary talent, knowledge and coordination with favourite character Chun-Li puts him up there as a force to be reckoned with. His adaptation of a controller and commitment to the grind is a testament that with the support, determination and refusal to let a disability get in the way of life; gaming can still be an enjoyable experience.

“I use my cheek to use the analogue stick, and then I use my mouth area, pressing the buttons with my tongue”

Social media and streaming platforms have allowed people with disabilities to connect with other disabled players, but also to show off their skills to a worldwide audience where it doesn’t matter your circumstance, anyone can compete and showcase their mastery.

Even before platforms like Twitch, Mike was uploading videos onto his YouTube channel to demonstrate his technique and awesome fighting skills. At this point, I’d encourage all of you to check out his content, my words couldn’t do it justice. His reputation and achievements are astounding. My love for certain games is based on the characters. Whilst some of us select the ones tactfully for damage and particular advantages, his favourite Street Fighter character Chun-Li fits with his ability to perform the moves to his advantage, over years of practice and refinement.

“She fit my disability the most, I can do a lot of the moves. It took me a couple of years, I had to grind it out.”

With a spectrum of challenges accessibility can overcome, Steve Saylor is also a prominent figure in this topic. “I’m blind and I play video games.” He has a condition called nystagmus. With respect to visual acuity, with glasses on his vision is 20:200 – glasses off, 20:1700. Whilst severe vision impairment may raise questions on inclusion within games, his advocacy within the community for accessibility has changed his life and many others.

Long gone are the times when he would have had to have his nose touching the screen to be able to view the text. Anything is possible! He has been hired as a consultant to provide feedback on games, most notably on ‘The Last of Us – Part 2.” Definitely someone to check out the next time you’re on YouTube!

Last Of Us Game - Accessibility in Gaming

Courtney Craven is another influential individual I want to celebrate in this article. With numerous degrees, a long-standing history of involvement in advocacy – the website ‘Can I Play That?’ initially started back in 2014 as a deaf accessibility video game review site.

As co-founder and editor-in-chief, this evolved over four years of dedication and now is one of her legacies in this community. She calls it “a media outlet for all things game accessibility”. An incredibly relevant contribution, because if you were about to spend your hard-earned money on the latest release…you’d want to know how playable it is for your conditions am I right? You can catch videos of Courtney and Steve walking through ‘The Last of Us – Part II’ that goes into the huge array of accessibility enhancements in the game. Useful links for other conversations with Courtney are at the end of this article.

“Where we want to be… anyone can pick up any game and have a reasonable expectation that they’re going to be able to play it… the pace of change is accelerating”

With a spectrum of conditions, cognitive, physical, visual, invisible disabilities, ADHD or PTSD to name a few – it’s undoubtedly clear that accessibility in gaming is a huge driving force in ensuring that video games really are here for everyone. If you’ve found the article this week informative or would like to pass on your own comments or experiences, we’d love to hear from you and continue the education of this topic in future Beyond NRG articles.

*Content from this article has been sourced from both audio and written content from the links below.

This week’s Link Vault:

Author: Bobby Duncan

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