Playing games on the computer has a whole different set of issues for Clinton. Keyboard use is especially tricky. "I use my mouse hand and just try to be quick about it," he said. "I also have Ctrl bound to forward movement for lots of games and just use my left stump arm to hit that."
"What about strafing and backing up?" I asked.
"Can't do it really," he answered. "I play Global Agenda at the moment and use jump and jetpack to make up for no strafing."
I sat back, humbled. This sounded like an insane challenge that a "hardcore" gamer would set for him or herself once the thrill was gone. To think that someone would go through that just to play the game struck me as incredible. Had I ever been that dedicated?
Each of the gamers I spoke to went to fantastic lengths just to play their favorite games. Mike Myers bought an arcade-style controller, complete with giant joystick and large buttons, just to play GoldenEye. ("Worth every penny?" "Yeah, definitely.") RenderB, a gamer with impaired vision, sets up macros and uses physical and software magnifiers to deal with buttons and text that is too small to read. As Steve Spohn's muscular dystrophy has progressed, he's had to set his mouse sensitivity extremely high, higher than some games allow, in order to play. "Fortunately, there are usually hidden XML files that can be edited," Spohn said. He hacks the configuration files to play the games that he loves.
Configuration. That word popped up again and again. Just about every irritant that disabled gamers had towards game developers stemmed from not having the option to change something. It's extremely frustrating not being able to completely reconfigure the keys, not being able to set the mouse sensitivity high or low enough, not being able to change the text color or increase the text size, or not having a subtitles option. To play these games, these gamers were willing to dive into the guts of a game's files or buy custom reconfigurable controllers. That effort could have been saved if their $60 game had a few more options. Barlet has a single request for game developers: "Just make the game flexible. Have your out-of-the-box settings that 80 percent of people will never go into, but for that 20 percent that are going into those detailed settings, they are there for a reason."
Disabled gamers want flexibility because they grasp something fundamental: It doesn't matter whether you hit a button with your thumb, tap a pedal with your foot, or have your pupil's motion traced by an eye tracker. Any input can be converted into any output. It doesn't matter if your muscles are deteriorating, you don't have all your fingers, or you're missing a hand. If you can make an input, Mario can still jump, the space marine can still shoot, and you can still play with the best of them.
Still don't believe me? Then let me introduce you to Randy "N0m4d" Fitzgerald. He's a professional gamer with underdeveloped arms and legs from arthrogryposis. He competitively plays Street Fighter IV and Rainbow Six Vegas by manipulating a custom Xbox 360 controller with his face. Can you get any more hardcore than that?
Jeff Groves realizes his excuses for sucking at games pale in comparison.