Video gaming is a serious sport. Just ask the readers at AbleGamers, a website where users rank and review popular video games by their ease-of-use for gamers with disabilities. Video game makers such as Epic Games, Sony and Electronic Arts treat accessibility with different levels of importance, and AbleGamers’ rankings vary from “awful” to “fully accessible.”
For instance, BioWare’s Dragon Age Origins received a 9.7 (out of a possible score of 10) in the accessibility breakdown charts. Dragon Age includes subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired, as well as the option to use only subtitles for ambient noises like a dragon’s roar. For the visually impaired, Dragon Age scores high on large fonts and color contrast, and being able to see color isn’t a playing requirement. According to the review, “you can do everything except for pausing the game with only the mouse. Conversely, there are shortcuts for every action with completely re-mappable keys for those who wish to use only the keyboard or a game pad.”
On the flip side, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story was rated a measly 4.3 by AbleGamers. The reviewer slammed Mario Bros. maker, Nintendo of America, for bringing to market a game that relies on “audio cues and red and green projectiles everywhere” — a problem for those who are hearing impaired or colorblind — and for not paying enough attention to timing and navigation, which affects those with fine and gross motor-skill impairments.
Recently, a visually impaired gamer sued Sony for failing to make its games accessible. Alexander Stern filed suit against Sony, Sony Online Entertainment, and Sony Computer Entertainment America in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. The suit alleges that Sony is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act because its games, which include the popular role-playing titles, EverQuest II and Star Wars Galaxies, are discriminatory.
Mark Barlet, founder of AbleGamers.com, isn’t pleased with the lawsuit. “While I can understand this gentleman’s frustration,” Barlet says, I don’t believe that the courts are the place to forward accessibility in the gaming space.”
Barlet speaks from experience; he has limited use of one of his legs after sustaining a spinal cord injury while on duty in the U.S. Air Force. “As a gamer, I want games to be fun for as many people as possible … but I think that this [lawsuit] does little to help our community and our mission to the gaming public,” he adds.
According to the suit, Sony ignored repeated requests through postal mail and e-mail to come up with reasonable modifications to its games to make them more accessible. The suit, which doesn’t mention Sony games by name but appears to focus on massively multi-player online titles for which Sony is known for, requests the addition of visual cues to point gamers with “disability impaired visual processing” to their destinations.
AbleGamers has also released a public statement on the Sony lawsuit, saying that working one-on-one with video game makers to incorporate accessibility into video games is a far more productive solution.
It’s unfortunate that disabled gamers may have to activate their legal powers to bring about positive change. After all, some lawsuits can be counterproductive and, as Barlet says, “lower the willingness of content producers to work with organizations” to make changes to their games.