The Games We Play: Access This
The so-called destruction of hardcore gaming has been the dawn of accessibility for a broader range of gamers spilling into the market, if you ask me. Since I've been granted space to blog here, I am going to work under the assumption that someone did ask me, and say that yes, opening the door for more gamers to feel welcomed in the world of gaming is a good thing. More people gaming means more people understanding and enjoying gaming culture, and that is a step to lifting the stigma from video games and the people who love them.
More importantly, however, advances in gaming technology and the way that game devs have looked at making and marketing games have allowed people to access games that were previously inaccessible. Whether it is small improvements, like a commitment from a company like Ubisoft to always include subtitles in their games, or updating the way a game is played overall since you are overhauling your world due to some Cataclysm or other, these things add up to noticeable improvements that matter to disabled gamers.
People with disabilities have long had difficulty accessing video games for various reasons and with varying degrees of limited accommodations. Game play details ranging from color schemes in darker settings to story lines and fight scenes that can overwhelm cognitive understanding have left many games out of the question. Controllers have been too difficult or impossible to use, and the mechanics too fast or the quest chains too long and tangled. The canyon of hardcore games almost seemed, at times, to bar disabled gamers from their guild. Sometimes literally. Hardcore gaming seemed to be an elite club.
Now, however, new "gimmicks," as some call them, that are scoffed by self-proclaimed hardcore gamers, have left doors open for disabled gamers. While often pricey, independent companies create custom controllers (pdf) that allow gamers to engage in game play where they were inhibited before. Always looking for a challenge to make things better, electronics geeks are tinkering with ways to make controllers easier to use for people with mobility impairments and chronic pain issues in order to give them better gaming experiences. The Nintendo Wii gave gamers a new option that integrated movement and didn't fully rely on holding a limiting controller, though it still had its drawbacks. The balance board brought the options of sports games to people who may otherwise never have enjoyed one before and perhaps even, like me, small amounts of accessible exercise for folks who have trouble leaving the house some days.
Now, other consoles have scrambled to catch up with this motion-based technology, with the PS3 putting out the Move, and XBox releasing the Kinect. Both platforms come with reviews of pros and cons from people who have experienced them, some lauding how the freedom from a controller has welcomed gamers who could not have played before.
Game development is making progress, including bits and bobs like colorblindness modes to help outline things that some players would otherwise miss, adding glowing outlines so that gamers don't have to rely on verbal cues, and adding pause features or “mouse only” to allow a player to grasp control of a situation. None of these things interfere with the game play for players who don't require the extra assistance, but they greatly enhance the experience of the disabled gamer.
I love seeing how the gaming industry is changing to include more gamers; the way it's adapting to include disabled gamers encourages me. I have never wanted gaming to be an exclusive club, and it seems that the future of gaming may finally be open to more than those select dedicated, able-bodied gamers of the chosen demographic.
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