Before I get into my opinions on this issue let me say that I am not disabled. Some may say that because of that the issues I am about to discuss are not something that I have any knowledge on. They are probably right but I still feel that these issues need to be brought up by someone because a lot of video game companies are ignoring individuals with disabilities it seems.
There are a number of ways that some might not be able to enjoy a video game. It could be something as simple as a game not including subtitles and the hearing impaired may not have any way of knowing what the characters are saying. Or it could be something such as someone missing a limb that wouldn’t be able to hold a controller. Now some of these are an easier fix than others, but what bothers me is the lack of feedback companies give regarding this issue.
Singularity, the recently release first-person shooter from Activision and Raven Software, has no subtitles for spoken language and some gamers cannot understand why. Raven or Activision have provided no answers to their questions as to why there are no subtitles. There is a post on Raven’s Forum with over 1,400 views and not one response from the publisher or developer. No “sorry we were pressed for time”, or not even a “we didn’t want to spend the money” excuse, just no answer. According to the Oxford University Journals (http://jdsde.oxfordjournals.org/content/11/1/112.full), there are 11 million people over the age of 5 who are either deaf or hard of hearing. Now not all of those 11 million are going to be gamers, but I bet some of them are and I am surprised these companies are not worried about them not being able to fully enjoy their games. Movie theaters seem to notice this and have open captioning and descriptive audio available at a lot of theaters. Unfortunately not all, but they seem to be more open about the problem than video game companies (Regal Theaters with OC support: http://www.regmovies.com/nowshowing/opencaptionedshowtimes.aspx#OH).
Most games these days do have subtitles and the ones that don’t just stand out. I am not hard of hearing but I usually have subtitles enabled because sometimes it’s hard to understand what someone says due to background noise, either real life or in the game, or the character may have a strange accent. Another aspect of this that is upsetting me is the response from the community on this issue. Instead of being supportive of the tools for hearing impaired to enjoy the game they offer responses like “Find another game and stop complaining” by SaintZetsu or “It's your fault. You should've checked the game’s forums and asked before if there were subtitles. No excuses.” by Easyle. Both are GameFaqs users and these were responses to a topic posted in the Singularity message board in which the author was saying his deaf nephew was not able to enjoy the game he bought for him. Now most of you are probably aware that GameFaqs is not comprised of the most intelligent members of the gaming community, but still this is something they should be concerned about whether or not this affects them. After all they may have the same disability someday and are probably going to want to still play games.
Another issue that is currently bothering me is the desire for all three of the console makers to push motion control. Now depending on what kind of disability you have motion controls could be beneficial if you were unable to properly hold a controller and reach all the needed buttons. But with all these motion games that require you to stand up and jump around your living room what if you are missing a limb? What if you are in a wheelchair (1.5 million according to University of California San Francisco)? Well if you are handicapped with either of those you should probably be wary of buying a Kinect by Microsoft. The promise of “you are the controller” has some hidden catches to it that Microsoft is dancing around. “Does the camera detect prosthetic limbs? I have one and can't find the answer anywhere. Major Nelson never answers.” This question was proposed on twitter to Larry Herb (Major Nelson) and Aaron Greenberg, both marketing mouthpieces for Microsoft, several times with no answer. About a week later after the issue was re-tweeted by a few people in the media like Brian Crecente of Kotaku.com, one of them responded to the proposed question. They replied, “Good question! It should….do you wear clothes over it? The sensor should detect it as far as I am aware.” This response from Aaron Greenberg did not seem to exude a lot of confidence. Add to that the fact that launch games for the Kinect are unable to be played while sitting down makes it so wheelchair-bound people are excluded from properly enjoying Kinect also. In all fairness the latest news claims that Microsoft has developed some new APIs for Kinect that will allow sit-down play in the future, but until this is shown in public we will just have to hope they actually have that figured out.
Overall, it is definitely a struggle to make games enjoyable to all people regardless of their capabilities and in most part these companies are doing a good job. There still needs to be more focus put on the players who can’t fully enjoy videogames in their usual form. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony need to create a different type of controller or a different kind of input device all together for individuals that are handicapped but still want to play video games. The ridicule from the community and the silent treatment from the game companies over these issues should be addressed instead conveniently swept under the “if we ignore it, the issue will go away” carpet. If the only things they read about it from the community are people arguing with each other and making fun of the issue, then they are not going to take it seriously. But if every time a game comes out without something like subtitles, let the publisher and developer know that you do not appreciate how they have ignored a section of their audience and that if it continues your dollars will stop going to them. With the industry so concerned about motion controls to attract the casual market and 3D to attract the hardcore technical crowd they seem to be losing focus on making their games accessible to people with some type of handicap and that is not right. Why focus research and marketing money on areas that most will tell you is a fad when you could put it to use in giving someone an outlet to experience your game in a way that they never have been able to before or at least in a very long time. And no, I am not talking about 3D or motion control.
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