GamesBeat

What Can Motion Controls Do for Disabled Gamers?

Editor's note: Isaiah's moving story of gaming with his disabled sister makes a strong case for motion controls as more than just a fad. -Brett


When I ventured back home a couple weekends ago for my mother's birthday, I realized two things. One, I'm pretty sure my mom needs a Web site to start selling her magical barbeque. Two, I was completely taken aback at my sister's Wii Sports Resort skills.

Janette is 22 and recently graduated high school. She's also disabled. When she was born, she was nearly strangled due to her doctor's inability to unwrap the umbilical cord from around her neck. As a result of the lack of oxygen to her brain, Janette will supposedly never be able to read past a second-grade level or have the ability of speech past that of a three year old.

So yeah, it's kind of a big deal that she's graduating high school and kicking my butt routinely at the minigames in Wii Sports Resort.

 

What I've learned from working with my sister over the years — and from the job I've had for the last five years helping disabled college students — is that all of us can sometimes feel impaired or disabled when it comes to technology. When I picked up the Wii Remote to play wakeboarding in Wii Sports Resort, I felt as if I was learning how to ride a bike for the first time. I failed, and then I failed again.

Even when I got better, my mom (who isn't the most technologically savvy person) and my sister easily wiped the floor with me. Janette can barely tie her shoes, but when it comes to playing games like golf in Wii Sports Resort, she's all about finding angles and getting good lies. Astounding.

PlayStation Move
I wonder how visually impaired people who can recognize basic colors and shapes could utilize the PlayStation Move as a visual cue in games.

My point: Despite what I've previously written, the Wii Remote, PlayStation Move, and Microsoft's Kinect might be dramatically important for gamers — at least for a small but rabid fanbase of disabled gamers my sister belongs to. Seeing my little sister put the pieces together in her head and figure out what she needed to do with the Wii Remote in order to translate that thinking onscreen was pretty special for me and my mom.

I know this is a niche-within-a-niche topic, and I have no problem admitting games are not explicitly obligated to cater to the physically impaired and differently abled, but I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge a little inkling of interest in how the current generation of gaming and their motion controls could be an entry point for people with disabilities to play video games.

Now, I'm not demanding that game companies start doting to another overlooked niche market. In fact, I just puked in my mouth a little when referencing a group of people as a "market." But I think at least an acknowledgment of what good motion gaming could bring to disabled people should be pushed to the forefront. And while I personally do not want to see "Wheelchair: The Game," I think it would be cool for game companies to at least entertain the idea of creating disabled characters with some form of tact.

Microsoft Kinect
Kinect opens the door for people with limited mobility who may not be able to use their hands to hold a controller, but all of the demonstrations so far show active gameplay and young, beautiful people hopping around.

I realize that it's cool to be cynical and snarky about new technologies like Move and Kinect that don't seem initially impressive to hardcore gamers. But maybe we should be thinking beyond ourselves.

Something happened to me when I picked up a Wii remote to play Wii Sports Resort with my family. I felt…wrong. I felt silly and embarrassed as I tried, unsuccessfully, to not drown at the wakeboarding game. My mom and sister both laughed at me, and when my sister asked if I wanted her to show me how to play, I felt as big as an ant turd.

This wasn't the first time I played a Wii game. It wasn't even the first time I played Wii Sports Resolt. But it was the first time my sister showed me how to play a game. "Are you crying?" my mom asked while joyfully laughing. "No! It's the air conditioner — it's blowing right in my eyes!" I said.

Mom, if you read this, I was crying.

I still have problems with the way companies exploit uneducated consumers with mediocre minigame collections on the Wii, and I don't like that Sony and Microsoft look to parrot this business model with their respective motion control devices. But all of this vitriolic speech melts away at the thought of my sister teaching me how to play a video game.

Seems like I'm the one who's disabled.


***Compliments of The Brog***


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