The games industry contains a broad spectrum of games that will appeal to a wide range of people, if you like puzzles that’s fine, shooters? More choice than you’ll ever need, narrative games? Taken some major steps forward and there are some gems out there. But for some people the games they can play are limited by factors outside their control.
I, like many gamers out there have a disability, whilst it predominately effects my mobility it has knock on effects with regards to my dexterity and coordination. Thus I’ve faced some games that have pushed me very close to the limits of what I can physically do (more on that later) but I’ve always overcome it, so what’s making me write this now?
Staring Into The Horizon
I have recently been playing the eagerly awaited, open world RPG set in a futuristic setting, Horizon Zero Dawn. At the time of writing I’ve spent about 10 hours in the game, and to be honest I can’t decide how I feel about it. The setting visuals and main story are all pretty interesting, however it falls down in other areas. It suffers terribly from the problem RPGs have in the early hours of your character being too weak, I have other problems with it too, which I may write about at a future date. So what does this all have to do with disability? Well the thing I dislike most about Horizon Zero Dawn is its combat, to explain why I need to tell a bit of a story.
To me, perhaps my greatest gaming achievement is completing the story mode of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. This is because it is a game that tested my gaming ability to its maximum. The Witcher is probably the closest I’ll come to playing a Dark Souls game. Before fans of both series point on the differences between the two games, let me explain. Both games have a combat system where the point is that you can’t just charge in and defeat bosses and tough enemies, you have to manage stamina, dodges and numerous other systems. Thus it requires a great deal of coordination, timing and spatial awareness. I feel the reason I was eventually able to overcome the later stages of The Witcher is that the majority of enemies are quite slow, with predictable attack patterns that you defeat by learning these patterns, long story short, speed is key. However my feeling with Horizon is that enemies are just a little bit too fast for me, I don’t have the reactions to defeat major enemies. This is further exacerbated by the fact that in the combat you’re having to use normally 3 buttons to fire a weapon. This can often require complex positioning of your fingers that I struggle with not so much because of a lack of skill, but because my fingers physically struggle to do that. I am hopeful that my skills will adapt as was the case with The Witcher, but I have a slight worry that my enjoyment of what could be a great game could be hampered by my condition.
The State of the Industry
This raises other questions about what can the games industry to do to better improve experiences for disabled games. Thus it becomes useful to look at some of the things games have done to aid or in some cases to the detriment of disabled gamers
Just Cause 2
Without spoiling the story (though there frankly isn’t much of one) the final fight of that game at one point requires you to input a sequence of 6-7 of the face buttons on your controller in order to progress and defeat the boss. This is perhaps one of the toughest things I’ve had to do. Simply because the stress of a boss fight is likely to make anyone slightly panicked and more prone to mistakes. However that is somewhat amplified in my case, furthermore my limited dexterity would often lead to my fingers slipping onto the wrong button causing me to fail. If this was slightly slowed down this wouldn’t be a major issue. Basically due consideration should be made to as broad a range of gamers as possible.
Peggle contains a very minor tool to aid players that might require it in a game of this type, at the very least it shows that some developers do consider a broad spectrum of gamers. Peggle requires you to hit blue and orange pegs with a ball to score points. Interestingly if you look in the game’s settings you’ll find a setting dubbed ‘colourblind mode’. This will change the games colours to more high contrast version allowing those who struggle to differentiate colours to better tell the different colours apart. I am actually partially colourblind, I was able to play Peggle in its normal mode with no real issue. Yet upon discovering this setting, I’ve kept it activated ever since as I found a very useful addition to my experience. Tools such as this mirror the ‘accessibility’ tools that have been built into computers for a number of years to aid people with disabilities, tools for high contrast colours or reading out text as well as the PC gamer’s bane Sticky keys.
So could games developers mirror this? I think in theory yes, tools could be created that would limit certain features that some gamers may struggle with i.e. remove some QTEs that require rapid button mashing that some people can struggle with. The key thing with this however would be how it’s presented, the worst option would be dubbing such tool ‘easy mode’ or similar. Doing this would likely make gamers such as myself feel rather inferior being forced to play the game on ‘easy’ because they physically cannot do it normally. The way around this would likely be to add such tools into the settings pages that in the majority of games contain options such as inversion of the y axis. So as to not draw unnecessary presence to their inclusion that could dishearten some gamers.
Switching It Up
Looking forward, I find the idea of the Nintendo Switch and disabled gamers an interesting prospect. I owned a Nintendo Wii, but immensely struggled with games that required the Wii Remote and Nunchuk such as Super Mario Galaxy. When a game requires me to use both hands in such a regard I often want to move my hands independently to find a comfortable position. However the fact the two Wii controllers were still tethered by a cable, meant that the amount of independent movement possible is limited. However the two Joy Con controllers of the Nintendo Switch are completely wireless and can be used one in each hand, allowing for a greater freedom of movement. Furthermore whilst their small size has concerned many, as I have quite small hands the Joy Cons would likely fit comfortably in my hand. Hopefully this would allow me to play games in a style that works for me, not hampered by my condition in any way. This is a possible application of the Nintendo Switch that very few people have commented on, quite simply because few people consider it as it doesn’t affect them directly. I have yet to play on a Switch but I have hopeful that its inherent flexibility in play styles will have a tangible benefit for gamers like myself.
If you enjoyed this you can follow me on Twitter @AnotherGmgBlog I’m also the host of the Gamers Without Borders podcast (@GWBPod) which is available on iTunes