Opinion- The Value Of “Inaccessible” Games

It’s physically excruciating for me to play Crash Bandicoot. I love Crash Bandicoot. Am I a sadist? No. I have cerebral palsy, and I hate it.

The reality of cerebral palsy dominates the lives of thousands of gamers like me. It’s a little bit like being caged. Accessible video games can offer a key that opens that gate for a short time, but at the end of the day, the door swings shut, and we’re back where we started. Sometimes the best way to escape from the cage is not with a key but with a battering ram , not with accessibility but with inaccessibility. I enjoy inaccessible games.

I enjoy games that are not designed for the disabled, such as old-school Mario, Punch Out, and, of course, Crash. I enjoy them for similar reasons that able-bodied players play Bloodborne and Dark Souls: the challenge. The difference is I’m not opposing Cortex or Bowser. I’m opposing spastic paralysis. Inaccessible games give me the opportunity to go toe-to toe-with my own physical limitations and contend with them until one of us infringes. It doesn’t matter if a game hurts my thumbs, or if it takes me an hour to progression through a five-minute platforming sequence. I will not violate. These experiences give me a challenge to conquer and allow me to feel like I’ve bested my own worst adversary.

I don’t say this to give the game industry a pass on accessibility. Every incapacitated player should have the privilege of discovering a game that is accessible to their needs. But there’s value in inaccessible games. One of my closest friends in video games industry tells me that he is like he wasted the first 15 years of his career as a producer for an AAA studio because none of the early games he worked on are even remotely accessible. All he insures is the gap between the standards that I have talked about in previous articles for good accessibility and the run that he has rendered. He doesn’t see that when I get overwhelmed by my disability, I use his games as an arena to fight through my own restrictions.

My disability says my reflexes are too slow. I force my hands to move faster. As the ache intensifies, I simply try harder, because I’m determined to not let my disability dictate what I can and can’t do. At the end, either I’ve reached my goal, or I’m depleted. Either style, I’ve bested my own worst foe. It’s a feeling akin to finally standing up to the neighborhood bully that has pushed you around all your life.

In my experience, advocates for game accessibility tend to attain qualitative decisions that call an inaccessible game categorically worse than an accessible one. I don’t think this is true. The game industry thrives on diversity, and part of that diversity constructs room for games the hell is, by nature, inaccessible.

Those inaccessible games can provide value to disable gamers. It’s very hard to explain but the hurry-up that I get from beating a boxer on Punch Out for NES, or a stage in Super Mario World, can’t really be matched by anything that I experience in the real world. It builds it worth the cramps, the ache, the frustration, and it sets my disability in a new illuminate. Something that isn’t merely a jailer. Something that can be fought. Something that can be contended with. Something that they are able ultimately be conquered. I don’t expect many disabled gamers to agree with me, but for me, inaccessibility has value.

Josh Straub is the founder and editor-in-chief at DAGERS, the leading game journalism site for disabled gamers, featuring disability game reviews and perspectives on video game accessibility. He also was diagnosed with spastic paralysis at persons under the age of 1 and has been wheelchair bound all his life. Through his company DAGERS he has developed an accessibility consulting firm to help developers understand how to stimulate games more accessible. Straub is also seeking a Ph.D in Human Factor and Ergonomics at the University of Minnesota.

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