The Magazine of the Usability Professionals' Association
By Dimitris Grammenos
You’ve been playing this RPG for more than a year. You’re just about to make it to the highest level. But, it’s time for school. The day’s chilly. The rain has turned into ice. You’re late. You run. You slip. Everything fades to black… You wake up in a hospital bed. You are alive! You can breathe. You can see. You can hear. You can smell. You can even speak. But you can’t move. Spinal cord injury—that’s what the doctor said. Tough luck my friend. Game over!
You just love multiplayer games. You have hundreds of online friends and you meet them everyday! You fight, you chat, you flirt. You’re practically famous. As you lean on the table to blow out the candles of your thirty-fifth birthday cake, you feel your wrists burning. Sorry to tell you the bad news on such a special day, but after being a programmer for twenty years, the carpal tunnel syndrome has finally got you. You are not allowed to use the keyboard or the mouse anymore. Guess what? Game over!
You’re the game junkie. You have the super PC, you have the consoles, you have the gear, and, oh yes, you have the games. But wait—does the world seem a little blurry? Oh, no! You’ve just been diagnosed with macular degeneration. What does that mean? You’re gradually going blind. Maybe you should start selling your stuff, since—believe me—you’re not going be using it for long. Game over!
So, what would you do if you woke up one morning only to find out that you can’t play your favorite games anymore just because some designer did not consider something as simple as allowing redefining the game controls or altering the game speed? Would you like to spit in their coffee? Well, take a good look in the mirror because that designer might be you.
It is so absurd, but it seems that most people believe that disability is something like a strange, rare disease that happens to others, not to themselves. Unfortunately, disability is not something that you can predict or avoid, no matter what you do. It can be either a temporary annoyance—like a broken arm or an eye infection—or a companion for a lifetime. But one thing is for sure; it is definitely going to change your capability of playing games. Not because it has to; just because game developers seem to be unaware of this simple fact.
You see, it finally boils down to a matter of awareness and proper education—not bad intentions. I honestly do not believe that there is anyone out there who thinks that a person who is able to use both hands is entitled to have more fun than a person who can use only one.
And, yes, I know that the “industry” requires numbers, hard facts, pie charts, and endless market data printouts in order to care. However, most of the time the only thing required to turn a totally inaccessible game into a fairly accessible one is nothing more than design knowledge—no extra developments, time, or money are required. It’s more a matter of personal responsibility than of a global market strategy. And, by the way, you should be aware that designing for accessibility always results in much improved usability.
So, what can I do about it? I hope you’ll be wondering by now. You can do at least a few things:
Meet people with disabilities. They’re everywhere. Talk to them. Ask them if they play games. If they don’t, ask them why. If they do, ask them how. In the recent past, some believed that all we needed was to have “crippled games for the crippled.” Fortunately, times are changing. People with physical disabilities want, demand, and deserve to play as good (or bad) games as anybody else. So, let’s make games more accessible because we can. Not just for them, but for ourselves. Who knows, tomorrow we could be “them”. And, hopefully, someday, there will be just “us”.
Note: This article is an edited version of “Game Accessibility: Why Bother?”, originally published at gamasutra.com on April 24, 2007. See http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=13650
Dimitris Grammenos is the lead interaction and game designer of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory of the Institute of Computer Science of the Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH). He is also leading the lab’s Universally Accessible Games (UA-Games) Activity (http://ua-games.gr). He has a B.Sc. in Computer Science, an M.Sc. and a Ph.D. in Electronic Engineering. He has suggested the Theory of Parallel Game Universes as a means for achieving multiplayer game accessibility and has been involved in shaping novel methods for designing Universally Accessible Games.
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User Experience Magazine is by and about usability professionals, featuring significant and unique articles dealing with the broad field of usability and the user experience.
This article was originally printed in User Experience Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 3, 2007.
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