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Should Video Gamers Sue for Accessibility?

November 7 2009 | by

video game controller

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.

  • http://ablegamers.com Mark Barlet

    Thank you for the post about this issue and pointing out the hard work we are doing at AbleGamers.com.

    We have posted a story on this issue if you would like to know what the disabled gamers @ ablegamers.

    You can read our post here
    http://ablegamers.com/general-game-news/736-visually-impaired-gamer-sues-soe-for-game-accommodations-ablegamers-statement.html

    Thank you
    Mark Barlet
    President
    The AbleGamers Foundation, Inc.

  • Brian L. Mayes

    I have to agree with you on this. Sue nicely tho, I just think most gaming companies are just unaware of this.

    If a company does their programming right, it is easy to add visual accessibility into a game. Turning if off or on is that simple. They just need to plan it and be aware of it.

    I remember a long time ago, buying a game called Autobots (I think), they did the whole dialog with voice only and of course, I wasn’t happy about it, so I called them about it, and I’m telling you they were shocked and apologetic about it and promised me a free edition of the new game with captioning in it. Sure enough they did send me the second version of it at no charge. They, the company, was just unaware of people high visual access play games too.

  • Brian L. Mayes

    BTW, I also wanted to add that I look forward to reading about a reviewer that reviews highly visual games! Totally awesome and I have bookmarked them!

  • http://deafness-and-hearingaids.net/ steve

    I used to be a big gamer but I haven’t played so much this last year.

    It seemed to me that game companies where wising up to the needs of deaf and hard of hearing gamers quite well. More and more titles were getting captioned, particularly the ones which were heavily reliant on their stories.

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