Hey everyone, it’s Kernook here. In case you don’t know, I’m not just a blogger. I’m also streamer on Twitch along with my good friend Kresh. Together, we’re known as “The Demented Ferrets” and we play games several times a week.
Today I want to talk about something that hits very close to home for me; accessibility as it applies to gaming. This is why I thought it prudent to do another “brick post” today.
This time I’m going to give a bit of background on Dyspraxia, what it is, and how it can get in the way at the worst absolute times. Gaming is certainly one of them, hence the post.
Gamers tend to talk about new improvements while disregarding the old, but both have a place. The important little matter of nuance that has been lost in the greater discussion. This is a complicated topic when it comes to gaming, so please bear with me.
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First though, a brief primer on the subject. Dyspraxia is a form of developmental coordination disorder, also known as a “DCD“. I was born with it. It’s fairly common as I understand it. Although, I don’t have any personal friends who have it. That being said, there are plenty of famous people who do speak about it openly.
Daniel Radcliffe is a noteworthy actor that has spoken publicly about the disorder. He is someone I believe most people will have at least some familiarity with, given his role in the Harry Potter series. That’s why I use him as the example, but there are many more.
Now, before I continue, you need to understand that Dyspraxia has a very wide spectrum. Some people with the disorder are very low functioning. For others it would be very hard to tell they have it at all.
The disorder hinders motor skill coordination in children and adults. It may also affect speech. It is a lifelong condition, there are no cures. Dyspraxia is a fairly distinct disorder and it can affect a person in many ways.
Why does this matter? Well, I have Dyspraxia and I’m a gamer. You kind of need to have good motor skills to play a game. It’s how you handle the controller, so it matters to talk about this kind of thing in the gaming community.
Accessibility is a word thrown around a lot in the gaming sphere, and often times with negative connotations involved with it. You can put your knee-jerking to the side though. I’m not here to bash developers. I’m hear to talk about my love of gaming when in relation to the disorder itself.
Accessibility is not the same as making a game easier, or in any way “watered down”. No, that’s just flat out idiocy. What makes a game accessible is merely just a wider range of options presented to the player. Therefore, when I am speaking of accessibility here, I am speaking from my personal lens.
My lens will not be your lens, even if you have Dyspraxia. Our level of severity regarding certain symptoms may be vastly different. The one thing I want to make clear here, is that gaming is not inherently inaccessible, and we need to think of accessibility in gaming differently.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The fact that gamers sometimes assume something needs to be added to a game merely to make it accessible at all… well frankly, that just shits all over the discussion in the first place.
It needs to stop, and we need to widen our perspective. Accessibility shouldn’t be a list of “must haves” or “bells and whistles” tacked onto a game as an afterthought. That is not accessibility, that’s being an asshole.
Rather, when we discuss accessibility, we should discuss it’s confines and trappings. Accessibility is always a two way street. Balancing careful planning with a mindfulness to your core player base is the key to success.
An afterthought for the sake of brownie points is never the goal. It should never be the goal. Do not tack on stupid things, just because people scream that they want it. Instead, carefully consider just who your game is made for, first and foremost. Then, after you have that clear idea in mind, think about how you might be able to include others based on that.
Accessibility does not include superglue and a prayer. They should not feel like options slapped onto a game like some sort of deranged clown car. They shouldn’t feel as if they’re bursting out sideways and cockeyed.
For example, when it comes to Dark Souls, I’d say that when it comes to pure gameplay, it is very accessible despite the difficulty. From a point of motor control, I’d say it holds up well. Yes, it’s a hard game. It’s supposed to be.
Just because it’s hard, that doesn’t make it inaccessible inherently in that very specific instance. When you discuss how accessible and game is, it’s all comes down to specific instances.
The game is difficult, but also carefully crafted. You can do battle at a distance, you can plan your attacks. With the multitude of ways that a player can broach fights, I would not say that the gameplay itself is at all “inaccessible” based on motor function. Merely that the game can have a large barrier to entry in other ways.
Under this one lens, it is therefore accessible. However, that is just one lens, and someone may in fact disagree.
Dyspraxia can hinder a person’s ability to participate and function in everyday life. Education, work and gainful employment isn’t always easy for people who have it. A large amount of the time you end up with Dysgraphia or Dyscalculia on top of it. However, that’s an entirely different set of issues, and I won’t be covering those.
What I will say is this. It is imperative that a gamer considers the games they play, and understand the confines of those games. What an accessible MMORPG to me, for example may be different than what you consider to be so.
Final Fantasy XI is a great example of an accessible MMORPG for me. Yes it’s old, and yes it feels a bit dated. That being said, skill in this game relies entirely on knowing what you’re doing. It isn’t exactly a “motor skill” heavy game.
Knowing what the enemies do and how to counteract them is half the battle. There are no quick time events, and there is no jump button. You have no need to handle blinding floor spit aoe’s that you might find in games like WoW, or FFXIV which are also MMORPG’s.
When I thinking of end game raiding, I think of all the mechanics that just turn out to be a pain in the ass. That being said, I call what would be vanilla Rift the pinnacle of end game raiding. The best, and most fun raiding I’ve ever had in a game, for me personally.
This is merely because even if a fight was difficult and AoE’s were tossed all over, I was never just flat out blinded by a boss I was fighting.
For me, the worst offender in this regard is FFXIV. To me, though I do like it, it is very inaccessible as a game in many ways. For me boss battles in FFXIV are not a matter of simply getting good. Sometimes they are a matter of stupidity. Occasionally, I just can’t see what the hell is happening. There is literally too much crap everywhere.
I have golf balls for eyes sometimes, hence the spelling errors that occasionally slip into blog posts. This is also why I tend to use a medium font, and not the “default” that is included in the editing tool.
When I think of a game that isn’t accessible, I think of a game that is stupidly difficult for the sake of it. Or a game that might have had a very small team, and therefore couldn’t hope to factor in gamers such as myself in the first place.
Sometimes artistic choices are enough to make a game somewhat impossible for me to play. Those games have a fan base, and those games don’t include me. This also includes games like Undertale which is primarily black and white, and terrible for me personally.
It took me a year to play and beat the game. This is not to say it isn’t a good game. It is to say the game is not accessible to me as a player. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. It just hurts my eyes, and the way you play the game doesn’t help.
However it was such a massive hit that I played it merely to have a perspective upon it myself. That it isn’t a good one personally, doesn’t detract from it objectively. That’s a key distinction to make here.
All in all, people with Dyspraxia are not a monolith. There are a huge list of symptoms, and if you care to look at them, do so understanding that is a very fluid disorder. No one will ever have “all” the qualifiers, because the list is just too large.
So, why does this matter? Well, to me gaming matters. Therefore, my heart can only go out to others with motor skill impairments that inhibit them from fully enjoying a gaming experience the way they might like.
When we play games we see “game over” screens more times than an average player. Sometimes, these are just for dumb reasons. Perhaps a boss doesn’t choreograph what it’s doing very well. Perhaps in games that don’t allow you to turn off quick time events, you kiss your butt goodbye on those several times over.
However, if you don’t have some sort of motor impairment you might think we’re just bad gamers, or that we’re just flat out stupid. It’s not that, not really. It’s just that how we experience the game can and will be different from yours, and our ability to play the game reflects that.
This is why I actually love the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series of games. Particularly the ones with tank controls. In my latest review of Resident Evil 2 from 1998, I brought the matter up directly by saying this:
“If you think tank controls absolutely suck, you’re in for a bit of bad news. They’re just as clunky as you recall them to be. Now, I’ve never had an issue with tank controls myself. For my personal situation, tank controls actually make the games easier to play, not harder.
There is a very direct reason for that. Given my Dyspraxia, which is a motor skill disorder, having limited movement allowed me to have better control over the character. I didn’t need to be careful of subtle movement, because the characters only move in very particular ways. When it comes to my thumb being clumsy, the game just didn’t pick that up. This meant I could pay closer attention to my environment, and not what my hands did of their own accord without my noticing. While I love tank controls, I do understand that most people hate them.
For me personally, it’s not a downside. Objectively speaking though, it very well could be. I won’t overlook that just because of my nostalgia or personal situation. “
If you want to read a few of my reviews for the resident evil franchise, you can do so here:
See, this is what I mean by we need to broaden our idea of what accessibility really means. Tank controls actually help me. I’d love if more games have them, and that’s why I love a lot of retro titles. Do I expect them? Absolutely not, but I would very much like to have them.
To me, they would be an accessibility that would improve gameplay.
The point I am trying to make is that this whole accessibility discussion has vastly jumped the shark in many ways. It is true that not all games will be accessible to all people, and it will be impossible to attempt to make it that way.
However, it is also true that using that as a blind excuse is just pure laziness. Nuance matters, and we’re starting to lose that.
If you are experiencing trouble as a gamer, I have just one bit of advice. Before you start pounding on the gong of accessibility, take a breath and look at all that gaming has to offer. There will be a game or two that will suit you. There will be a genre that allows you to love gaming.
Once you find those games, you can open your eyes to the other games like it, and the much deeper world that gaming has to offer. Instead of just focusing on the usual complaints, we need to think out of the box. It’s better for everyone, and that’s the whole point of accessibly in the first place. To reach as many people inclusively as possible.
It isn’t just about controller layouts and game overlays. It’s not just about including new add-ons, fonts, colors, keybinds, or multi-lingual subtitles. It’s about the larger scope of the experience we have as gamers.
Sometimes it’s about playing the inaccessible games to understand what needs to change, instead of what we simply want changed.
We need to be discussing ports and revivals of older titles. We need to consider that there are already a wealth of games suited for us that might need to be brought back onto current software. Perhaps some of these titles need to be brought back to life or brought over to other platforms.
Perhaps a gamer can’t play a Mario or Zelda title on a Nintendo Switch, but could play that very same title with a different sort of controller found only on PC, or by a third party company. We need to be discussing this too, and look at all of our options.
We need for developers to be our partners, not our enemies. We need fellow gamers to hear us out before biting our heads off.
These are the sorts of discussions we need to be having. These are the ones that should pervade the larger narrative. When we think of accessibility, need to consider tank controls and other methods of control in general too.
Hopefully you love gaming as much as I do. Hopefully I’ve given you something to chew on. Perhaps the next time the word accessibility comes up in context with gaming, you’ll look out of the box too.
If you’re an aspiring developer, or one from a huge studio, reach out to gamers. Sometimes that alone is enough. Nine times out of ten, we’re okay that a game doesn’t have something, if there’s a good reason not to include it. Knowing why a feature isn’t in a game is sometimes enough for us.
Sometimes just being talked to, so we’re included, is all that we need. Sometimes all we want is to be heard. We don’t want to feel useless, or that we’re just shouting into the void.
Communication is the first step, and it’s one that needs to continue being made, so yeah… do that developers, really. That first step will be an answer to a great many problems. After that, creativity is your foremost tool. Use it, and empower all of us.
This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets.
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