Digital Accessibility in the gaming world has been and is at best clumsy. And perhaps because friends recently rekindled my interest in Dungeons & Dragons the article, “Chat Functionality in Games Released in 2019 Must be Accessible to Players with Disabilities” by Natalie Flores caught my attention; interests may be dormant, but are never forgotten.
But only recently, after losing my eyesight and having the entire gaming experience disabled to me, did I become acutely aware of just how popular gaming has become. By accessing the tech side of gaming in the 21st century, individuals of ALL abilities, even those of us with a disability, can escape the mundane and step into the realm of infinite possibilities, relationships, and life affirming experiences. Gaming is for everyone, and that must include people with disabilities who are reliant and dependent on assistive technologies to live and play as they choose.
Our lives are inextricably tied to technologies in the 21st century. Digital equity and authentic inclusion is a must, going beyond our schools and our work environments. It goes beyond being able to manage our finances or even shopping. It must include the ability to escape our mundane lives from time-to-time. To escape the social upheavals and political trials of the day. Those of us with a disability should be able to plug in our headsets, turn on our gaming systems, and explore the fantasy and gaming worlds of our choosing. A world where we can play a game or go to the holodeck, like Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise crew of Star Trek.
I find as I grow into my own appreciation for gaming, I am increasingly aware of others who love gaming. They discuss its celebration of inclusion, expressions of individuality and growing diversity; there are more gamers of color and gay gamers, not to mention the expanding contingent of aging gamers.
Gaming has gained a foothold all over the world and will forever be a part of our social culture. It is a great way of getting to know people from all walks of life, transcending borders and continents alike. The more our society uses technology, the further we can go into gaming and all those other areas of our lives impacted by technology.
A lot of gaming interaction is no longer physical; it's all digital and performed at a distance. The idea of the “lone gamer” is not true anymore. Up to 65 percent of gaming now is social, played online with people we know on the other side of the world, or in the same room with people we know in real life, according to Jane McGonigal, author of the book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.
Gaming transcends generations, abilities, orientations, genders and so on. Hell, my Mom sitting at home during downtime playing Candy Crush on her iPad is a gamer. It’s not the same as when I was a kid.
This will most certainly reveal my age, but I remember when Pong by Atari first came out. After that, came the Super NES and so did the fights with my brother for screen time to play.
When I first heard the word “gamer” I just laughed and thought only nerds play video games. This is from the guy who played Dungeons and Dragons in its infancy and was a member of both the Math Club and the Drama Club. Admittedly, it’s the pot calling the kettle black I suppose.
Now I am sure many of you are shaking your head saying, “D & D?! Say it ain’t so, Albert!” I always thought gaming was a ridiculous waste of time and energy, but alas, I was wrong and have Jonathan, Cory, Brianna, and Eli to thank for that. Gaming allows those of us with some serious limitations to feel like we can do those things we are not able to do in the real world. We can walk, hear, talk, see, and be anything and everything we can imagine, but for one small problem—those designers and developers of technologies do not consider those simple programmatic codes that need to be included in the development of every game.
I usually speak from personal experiences when it comes to digital barriers and oversights that block my assimilation into mainstream society, or being able to use anything that allows me to be “normal” by today’s standards. When I sat down to re-connect with the world of D & D, I found that most of it, if not all of it, was digitized! Cool right?!? Unfortunately, not if you’re blind and your assistive tech does not interface properly. I was totally dependent on Brianna to read everything for me. I hated it but appreciated it very much.
This inspired Jonathan and the others to reach out to dndbeyond.com, the site he uses for articulating the various campaigns he creates as our Dungeon Master. Sadly, their response was typically anemic, “Thank you for your message. Making D&D available and easy to use for everyone is extremely important to us, and we are constantly improving the accessibility of our services. We sincerely appreciate you taking the time to write to us, and hope that we can meet your needs in the near future.” They offered neither concrete initiatives nor a specific timeline.
Fortunately, there are some companies that are figuring this out. Renowned gaming authority, Rob Manuel, said, “Sometimes it's not always about what you can see or hear but what's under the hood of a game that's most impressive. Between those thousands and thousands of lines of code, magic happens. Sometimes the most amazing feats of gaming wizardry happen without you even noticing.”
Over the 2018 holiday season, Microsoft ran a commercial about a little boy with a mobility issue that was able to play his video game just like the rest of the kids in his neighborhood. Microsoft created an adaptive controller meant to address a broad range of disabilities, both physical and cognitive. The controller received wonderful reviews from the community, evidencing that gaming is for people of all abilities.
It brought a tear to my eye to realize that my narrow-minded thoughts about gaming never took into consideration the socialization and mental well-being that others, like the kids in the Microsoft commercial, gained from gaming. Thanks, Jonathan, for once again opening my eyes and focus on this important consideration.
Some kids like books, some kids like movies, but some kids also enjoy gaming (including big kids like me) and they live, work, and play across the ability spectrum. So, “To game or not to game?” That is the question. It’s up to the gaming tech community to help us find the answer.