127: Gaming Ability

Gaming Ability

"With their proprietary designs, consoles seem to hinder universal accessibility development. It was difficult to find features like Peggle's in console games. These options, when they do exist, are not always so high profile."

Christina Gonzalez looks at the increasing opportunities for gamers with disabilities.

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I read this and not surprisingly leave a little bit saddened. There was was a time, when simply getting a version of a game that did what the mainstream needed was pretty difficult to come by. Now, there is are well established elements that need to be included or available to consumers.

I'm not surprised that the disabled are mis/under-represented. Sadly, at least in America, people largely don't care about the disabled, they are the subject of ridicule and hatred. I'm glad some effort to accommodate the disabled is taking place, and yes it should be a well established element of the games creation, and consoles and computers really. But I'm not surprised by their having limited resources devoted to their plight. The disabled tend to be poor, and are really only cared for/about by their families. Few others give much of a damn. At least corporations are forced, via bad pr, to accommodate them. And politicians who provide lip service. But you won't find much sympathy, not amongst the general populace. They are seldom reflected upon, and basically uncared for.

Has this been published before?

I'm sure I've read it before and commented on it...

Anyway, will add to this comment later - got an interesting anecdote to add :)

Really interesting article. Never took in realization the amount of people with disabilities trying to play games made fit for mainstream needs.

But you don't even have to go that far nowadays. For some reason, a certain number of companies are bit by bit leaning away from the capabilities of physically normal people and betting on some kind of "super powered" gamers. Two things I find the most:

- Lack of captions.

I don't have problems with the English language, even though I'm a foreigner, nor I have hearing incapabilities but I find it so eerie when I buy a game only to find it has 30 hours of FMVs and not a single one has subtitles. This is even why I can't see movies in my own language without subtitles. Games are pretty and most of the times when people are talking, something else is going around them. It's impossible to have 100% focus on what people are saying and 100% focus to what's happening when I suddenly hear something explode 20 feet away.
Plus, in real life you can ask them to repeat what they just said. You can do the same by pressing A on your control pad if it's not a FMV (in risk of doing the equivalent of "Ok ok, let's just skip to the violence." instead) but what you hear always ends up being a redundant version of an intriguing plot device. This is even why I always found anime, movies and TV series to be false, no matter how realistic they try to be. Everyone in them always perfectly hear what the other just said. It's extremely rare to hear someone say "Come again?" unless they're being sarcastic, in a drama.

- The need for every button in a keyboard to represent a (necessary) game function.

I'm looking at you TES: Oblivion. I'd very much appreciate that when I play a game I don't have so many important keys to use that I only have the illusion of being able to customize my keyboard. If I have a hard time reaching CTRL to combine with P while at the same time pressing W,A,S,D to move my character then rearranging the CTRL key will only switch it with another key already in use that'll now be in an uncomfortable position. It's switching an ugly neon pinkish green with an ugly violet blue.

You don't have to have a disability. Nobody has the same kind of hands or the same kind of thought processing. I know they usually play test the games they make but do they really do it with the goal to see if the game doesn't have too many bugs or badly thought levels or do they actually go like "So Mark can actually play this game well. Let's try with Cindy, she has smaller hands so maybe the buttons schematics won't work well with her. And then don't forget Jorge, he usually isn't good with whipping key combinations, let's see if he's actually able to perform several button combos to beat up these 30 bad guys or if we have to make a more accessible system."

For me, this makes it seem that the more to the future we go into, the more game developer's are expecting us to either have a good number of experience with difficult controls, high attention capabilities or already be born with skill in our DNA.

I don't want games to be dumbed down, I rather enjoy play troughs that demand the best of me. But I'd prefer that a game didn't feel like piloting an airline plane. Unless...you know, I was playing a flight simulator.

you see, games are made to sell. if the most are not disabled, why waste money and time on making feutres for disabled people? it isnt right, but its the way it goes.

While Figure09's being a bit... curt over the subject, they raise an interesting point. Most of the target base for mainstream games aren't just white men between 14 and 26. They're white men with fully functioning limbs and vocal chords (for screaming at other people over XBox Live...)

I always found it amusing that the Internet now has to ascribe to Web Accessability (which is fun in my case as a Flash developer), but no one's been held accountable for some games being impossible to play one handed. Mind you, if we did Guitar Hero would be suddenly in so many violations it'd be a crime in the name of political correctness.

I do agree that subtitles should be in every game, as should options to make the visuals easier on the eyes (high contrast and colour blindness tools) as well as enforcing screen flashes to a maximum hertz to help prevent people with photosensitive epilepsy having seizures. Some disabilities will always be a problem to cater for (I can almost imagine someone screaming "what do you mean he can't play Halo 3 just because he's paraplegic, I'm suing Microsoft?!"), but there are still plenty of things people SHOULD do to help out people who can't see or hear as well as the rest of us.

We can't even get developers to provide full controller customization which incidentally would help with allowing disabled people to play games more easily. The problem is that developers of console games especially hold the players in contempt so even the most obvious accessibility options are almost completely ignored. Just look at simple things like motion controls, and games like Lair one of the dev team actually went around blaiming users for not liking his shitty motion controls! If you talk about playing Southpaw or Legacy you will also be told that you should "play the game the way it is supposed to be played." funny thing is on pc there is almost no game that does not allow one to create a southpaw or legacy layout if you feel like it...

I wonder if these morons who want you to play the game "correctly" realize that many of the games on consoles have broken default layouts that force you to do things like stop moving to give orders because the developers don't think about their layouts let alone respect the players enough to give them real control. Developers have to actually respect players before we can really start talking about any kind of accessibility.

KaynSlamdyke:
While Figure09's being a bit... curt over the subject, they raise an interesting point. Most of the target base for mainstream games aren't just white men between 14 and 26. They're white men with fully functioning limbs and vocal chords (for screaming at other people over XBox Live...)

23% if the US has some disability or other. Obviously some of which don't affect people's ability to play, but in many instances do. I don't know any statistics about other nations.

I wrote this article. I normally just lurk around here, but heck, I logged in.

figure09:
you see, games are made to sell. if the most are not disabled, why waste money and time on making feutres for disabled people? it isnt right, but its the way it goes.

If you increase your potential audience, you might sell more copies. It's not guaranteed, but most games aren't bestsellers anyway. There's also something that I didn't really get a chance to go into, and that is the sort of moral argument some take involved in accessibility (not just in gaming terms). This has been applied to private products before. But that's a whole other can of worms. :)

the_carrot:
23% if the US has some disability or other. Obviously some of which don't affect people's ability to play, but in many instances do. I don't know any statistics about other nations.

40% of Americans play computer games (arbitrary number that came up in the top few results when I typed the number into Google). Now if both of these are spread evenly distributed, this only means a 10% cut out of the entirity of America down to 30%.

That's even assuming the numbers are evenly distributed - if they're not the numbers at the extreme are either double the audience (where all disabled persons in America are also video game players, which while unlikely, but possible all things considered), or complete non-factors (because the blind and deaf have understandable problems playing HALO).

But assuming an equal spread (so that one in four gamers suffers a disability), and assuming that the publishers ideally want to have thier game played by everyone in the United States, is that extra 10% of the population of America marketable to? Considering the extra effort and consideration that must be taken to make a game caterable to everyone. I mean, could you imagine having to make your average first person shooter caterable to the non-correctably visually impaired, colour blind, hearing impaired or bodly disabled?

And the big question - is it profitable? Because that's what we're up against now. Making a profit. If it costs an extra thousand pounds to pay for the coders to overhaul the graphic engine so that there's a mode that raises the contrast for red-green colourblindness, and the game only sells an extra fifteen copies because of it, is that considered a success for the disabled, or pandering to political correctness?

Maybe they could just make sure no one ever puts the same saturation red on the same saturation green on signs in computer games...

Actually, it's not just about making money. It's been shown frequently that companies that take into consideration the 'human factor'-in this specific case people with disabilities- tend to reap other benefits, including things like consumer loyalty, which can eventually affect not only the company's bottom line, but their sustainability.

In addition, reaching out to that extra 23%-because the number of people around the world who are or will play videogames in the next 10 years say is probably in the billions, that 23% could mean a hell of a lot of money and sometimes for doing things as simple as adding subtitles. Hell, there are already cases where disabled people play MMO's and find a really supportive, awesome environment, because in that game they are judged on how they play, not on how they look, or their lack of physical abilities.

Not all games are or should be made for all people. But I think that encouraging the expansion of playability for people with disabilities not only increases the opportunities for them to interact with us, enriching our lives in non-fiscal related ways, but generating a kind of goodwill that can make this profitable to do so.

Smokescreen:
Actually, it's not just about making money. It's been shown frequently that companies that take into consideration the 'human factor'-in this specific case people with disabilities- tend to reap other benefits, including things like consumer loyalty, which can eventually affect not only the company's bottom line, but their sustainability.

I hate to pick that apart, but that IS making money...
I mean yeah, obviously my example's so simple it's insulting, but obviously getting the publicity about being a developer who makes games for everyone and loves everyone a big huggy bunch does wonders for some developers. Look at Nintendo... who ironically make two of the least disabled oriented consoles on the market which either demand a fully functioning body or the ability to grip small objects...

But I want to know whether that thing's profitable or not. Long or short term are both important, but more and more so it's turning into short term are more important than foresight.

Smokescreen:
Hell, there are already cases where disabled people play MMO's and find a really supportive, awesome environment, because in that game they are judged on how they play, not on how they look, or their lack of physical abilities.

Imagine how much of an asshole you'd look if over Vent you complained that the paladin couldn't tank well enough and then you get told he's actually only got one arm and is crippled from the neck down...

MMOs are a good example of games you can play easily no matter your disability. But I already know about these. I'm worried about things that are inherently more complex to bring to the disabled market and whether political correctness could mean for stupid things being forced to happen- like bringing puzzle games to those with visual problems, rhythm games to the hearing impaired and requiring the Nintendo DS to come with a gigantic pen because not providing a stylus people with poor motor-skills can hold is discriminatory.

Smokescreen:
Not all games are or should be made for all people. But I think that encouraging the expansion of playability for people with disabilities not only increases the opportunities for them to interact with us, enriching our lives in non-fiscal related ways, but generating a kind of goodwill that can make this profitable to do so.

The goodwill IS invaluable. I just hope people are doing it because it generates goodwill and are not looking at the bottom line.

Now that looks wierd if you're reading my post and wondering why I'm pointing out things like profits and publishers getting in the way of things, but in the ideal world I'd like to see people make the right games for the right people and not have to dodge things like financial security, the media, Jack Thompson or people bemoaning political correctness.

But come on. If a publisher demands that FPS License Sequel 72 should be playable by little Jimmy Quake tournament champion who was hit by a bus two years ago and hasn't been able to play his games since his life saving operation that left him quadroplegic, you can almost bet they're not doing it because of good will factor. More than likely they're hoping to shift more copies of the game by looking like they're an amazing company who cares even for those who can't play thier game hoping to drag extra space from magazines who wouldn't DARE argue with something that politically correct.

I agree with all your points and will support any motion to spread gaming to more people. But sometimes I feel people see this less as a problem to overcome and conquer in gaming and more as a PR angle for when people come up with a solution for it.

KaynSlamdyke, you're the only one talking about PC here. I could give two tugs of dead dogs cock about it. I can see where you'd want to bring it in, but to me it truly is irrelevant to the discussion.

However the mindset that you initially represent is, while pervasive in the West, one that is stupid. (not you, the attitude) You even say yourself:

"Long or short term are both important, but more and more so it's turning into short term are more important than foresight."
with a tone that implies that you don't think this perpetual short-term thinking is a positive.

The long and short of it is; generating goodwill and taking a loss on certain things in order to make them more accessible to more people will be better-both in terms of profits (the short term that most businesses look at) and in terms of improving the community and I daresay games at large, which most people who are part of the culture of gaming will at some point take a look at.

But one has to step back and be willing to see that long term view. It may not be profitable for years, which can seem like an eternity, but could also make all the difference.

And again; I don't think that all games should be for all people. But when one can (reasonably) make concessions to allow colorblind, hard of hearing, or people with some other disability able to play your game, then I'm all for it. When doing so means adding another 100 hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars, then I get it; it just can't be reasonably done.

But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be kept in mind for future efforts, when technology costs may decrease enough to mean that it's only 15 hours and a thousand dollars. You know?

 

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