On disability (Nintendo Wii)

I am a healthy person. Regardless, I can’t play Burnout for more than around half an hour at a time: I can’t keep gas (RT) and nitro (A) down all the time without my right hand aching. I have often wondered how much my life would change if I was no longer able to hold a joypad or use a keyboard and mouse. (It’s pretty scary, actually: people break their hands all the time.)

Everyone is not as lucky as I am. I find the people’s dickheadedness in this post’s comments section astonishing. The guy is just saying that it would be nice if there were consistent options to adjust the Wiimote’s sensitivity to accommodate people who can’t move their hands that well, and people are crying “cheat!” and “tough luck, disabled guy, live with it!”. This being the internet, many are drawing ridiculous parallels like “well, the guy with no hands can’t play either, next we’ll have to help him!”.

I’ve ranted about usability issues before. Microsoft has pushed the developers into conforming to their standards on the usage of the 360 joypad’s buttons, on respecting customized soundtracks and incorporating Live. They even have a setting for console-specific “preferred controls” to avoid having to set your invert, gearbox and viewpoint preferences in every FPS and driving game you play.

Is it possible that they haven’t even thought about demanding customizable controls while at it? What about all the people who prefer “southpaw” layout, with movement on the right stick? Like many left-handers? There are no technical reasons to limit the user’s customization of controls, yet it’s extremely rare to see that an option.

I imagine there are a lot of people with minor hand problems, like missing fingers, aching joints and whatever, who could be helped just by giving them the option of, say, using RB instead of A for the majority of gameplay.

Even very common disabilities like hard of hearing and colorblindness are usually not taken into account. This could be remedied with simple rules on user interface design. I understand that these options can be the last thing to finetune before shipping and thus being very barebones, but we’re talking about the overall quality of not just the one game, but the industry. If accessibility (to a sensible point…) was taken into account in the planning and design stage, these would be non-issues.

Since developers don’t seem to take this up and publishers won’t make them to, some industry entity should take up the accessibility flag. There’s a lot of cheap, good PR on the offer, if you need an incentive beyond being as good as you can be.

I find this especially depressing because playing videogames can be one of the few ways a disabled or bed-ridden person can communicate with her peers on an equal level. To limit their options for no good reason is a shame.

Update: A couple of links to complement the post. First, there’s One Switch, which is a campaign for greater accessibility in games. Then it appears that the International Game Developers’ Association, or IGDA, has already taken accessibility into account in a special interest group’s blog.