Disabilities and electronic sports

Disabilities and electronic sports

Hi, I’m Adam Hartley and I’m partially sighted (i can only see out of one eye) and this blog is being done for one of my passions and current projects electronic sports (e-sports for short). E-sports covers major gaming franchises such as the Halo, Call of Duty, Counter-strike and Star Craft. This blogs aim is to inspire you all and spice up your own beliefs of “how accessible is the gaming industry?” Not very is the simple answer but to answer this question properly we firstly need to break this question into the two major markets it applies to which are: –

  • The Developers
  • The Events

The Developers

Three titles have had special features in their sandbox phases (development testing stage) in the past to allow for certain disability (e.g. settings for colour balance for people with specific colour blindness) however that’s about it and these features haven’t even made it past the sandbox stage and therefore never saw the light of day.

Now let’s not get me wrong here, developers don’t hate disabled people or are just ignoring the requirements i personally believe there isn’t any guidance for them to use and there isn’t a ‘to make your game accessible to 99% of disabled people you do this, that and this’. There’s also the fact that there are so many different disabilities ranging from physical to mental/emotional and trust me there is A LOT of requirements each class of disability would require from a game to make it accessible to them. However on the other hand there are a lot of disabilities they can simple be ‘written off as does not apply’ (e.g. Alzheimer’s syndrome and totally blind people).

Now to move from complaining to DOING. The constant argument I see around for getting these functions implemented is cost and effectiveness of time and effort spent on a niche market share. Well … lets take a section of the disabled spectrum … let’s say deaf people.

‘In the UK there are around 9 million people who are deaf and hard of hearing’ (http://www.fdp.org.uk/) and if we say a eighth of those 9 million people are of their target market criteria (1,125,000 people) surely that warrants investment in a market share you are not attracting or are attracting a very small percentage of. “Well it’ll cost billions to come up with the software to transmit to hearing devices where as revenue from the potential market is only millions” do I hear you say? Well no. All you have to do is come up with an interface between the in game sound (and compressing and modulating that same sound) to hearing aid frequencies and ‘bobs your uncle’, you’ve done it. Create an app that allows for a pc/laptop to broadcast the sound on a specific frequency (so that you don’t have problems in offline tournament settings) and boom done! Or for more money you can simply not do that, you modify the sound to make it less complex and easily convertible into a hearing loop system and sell miniature hearing aid broadcasters for personal gaming use and make tonnes more money.

Now let’s move onto …

The Events

Now this brings up out my anger with the whole ‘accessible’ issue of when someone goes to you “Are you accessible” the response is 9.9999/10 “Yes we have ramps, accessible toilets and automatic doors”. Now don’t get me wrong that stuff is an important issue that needs to be dealt with but that’s not the be all and end all of being truly accessible.

Below are some examples of improvements for gaming venues/events for a spectator view point: –

  1. Making sure you don’t have strobe lighting or have fast flickering lighting effects (so epileptic people can attend/view your product)
  2. Have an induction loop system for each casting desk and ensure each loops on a different
  3. Ensure there are short breaks every so often (many disabled people have limited viewing time/a need for a break due to mental/emotional stress)
  4. Don’t be patronising (“Oh hello sir I see you only have one eye would you like me to escort you to your seat”). If you laughed and said “Oh that didn’t happen” well it has and in a few very well known franchises.
  5. Support – GET PEOPLE THERE WHO KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE! I’ve seen people have insulin injection a fair few times at gaming event and to my dismay I still to this date fail to see a ‘medical supplies fridge’ for diabetics and others who require that equipment and especially when you are at a gaming event area from 9am to 6pm+ this is crucial and life saving
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask but ask politely don’t ask “How can I assist you today sir?” ask “Hello sir is there any kind of assistance you would require from us?” The first states you need help and the second is a question asking if you have any requirements that you would like them to help with

Summary

The gaming industry is entering a new era of development and leadership in the current generation of gamers and as such need to enable them to reach out to a new client base which it hasn’t successfully catered for. The cost of this in comparison to the potential client base they could attract is extremely low and should therefore be a given.

That being said, I have questions for you and i’ll be answering them below them: –

  • Is game accessibility something that should be discussed more often within the video game industry?
  • Should video game developers consider accessibility during the game development phase?
  • Is hardware for gamers with physical handicaps something that major peripheral companies should be making?
  • Will there be a place for gamers with disabilities in the eSports community?
  • Would the eSports community be open to leagues for gamers with disabilities or harshly criticize such endeavors?

Answers:

  • 100% yes and to say otherwise is closed minded as the disabled people are part of the developers target audience for sale
  • Again 100% yes, because if it isn’t considered and planned in the development stage it will done as a side task and poorly done
  • I’m stuck on this myself. There are major companies out there that do accessible peripherals for computers but none of them are the major peripheral keyboard and mouse brands we all know and love (razor, steelseries, etc, etc). A well known and love company which my university uses and recommends is http://www.adapt-it.co.uk/Default.asp and they are AWESOME! However I’d love to see [insert brand] enter this market and allow for innovation for it so that it still isn’t stuck in the 80s design. However I will put on my business hat on and I personally cannot see them entering a highly specialised and riche marketplace where success is not guaranteed
  • This question in my eye (see what I did there) is completely rhetorical 😛 Many disabilities are hidden so a lot of the community has a disability of some description. Those with physical disabilities, well you’re reading a post from a physically disabled person who’s heavily involved and totally emerged in e-sports so ‘go figure’ 😛
  • Now this question is one I cannot answer but I will give an answer based on my own feelings on this delicate issue. I personally feel that the idea of a “North America Star-Craft 2 Disabled Gamer Division” would be unfair to able bodied people who work just as hard as the people in that hypothetical league but I see it as a statement. That statement is “Disabled people cannot reach the top of this game because they are disabled, therefore we will organise them their own league”. Would the community support/be open to that concept? I believe not, we saw all the hate and emotions over the SlayerS.Jessica issue (Don’t know about it google it and you’ll find out) and I believe this falls under the same category

If you feel differently to the opinions expressed here feel free to follow and/or tweet me @asendent88 and I’ll happily discuss the matter further

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