The times I worked with product design for people with limited range of motion, like folding chair chair design for a person with arthritis, there was one thing a person with a serious hearing impairment told me face to face; Treat us like any other people, we’re none different. Since then, whenever I had my spoon in the pot of design for people with some sort of disability or the like, the only thing I cared about was how to serve them in the same manner as any other person. I’ve mentioned the increased weight of the Western population few times over and how that has impacted e.g. bed design and how cremation houses have to have added safety precautions due to possible grease fires, and the approach with those things have been largely the same. You serve the intent and purpose on the same level. However, people with disabilities can’t exactly be dropped into general fields of design, as they are an aberration from the standard. While it is possible to design a product to cater overall certain kinds of problems, like the lack of the other arm or inability to walk properly without the help of a cane. We can’t foresee all the kinds of disabilities that can come out with the human body. There are too many cases that we are required to approach case by case basis and see how we could improve the quality of living.
Of course, standard design doesn’t fit all. There are multiple sizes of clothes, though these sizes often are by standard in their own category. Even then, you most likely will find yourself thinking that you’d like the chest region to be wider or the sleeves bigger. Things like that are within standard deviation, which is why game controllers fit so many hands. Be it bit or small, a game controller fits a normal hand as long as it is not baby hands. Whatever the size is, the user is left to their own devices on the usage, as all it really takes is some time and effort to be able to use a game controller. That’s where all video game playing really starts, as you can’t get good at a game before you get comfortable at using a controller.
The first problem we come across here, which is the most significant, is what if you are not able to use standard controller for whatever reason?
Sekiro has brought the discussion of including Easy Mode or some sort of assist mode back into discussion, which never was really that relevant to begin with. You know how this blog views this sort of thing; if you regard games as a form of art, the original creators have no reason to jeopardise their vision for the game. If we want to view games as a product, adding a mode that would allow more players to get into the game without losing anything in the transition would be beneficial. There is always a golden path in the middle of course, but certain games are simply designed to punishingly difficult from the get go as a core tenant, e.g. Ghost and Goblins. If that game had an additional mode to make it easier or to add some sort of invisibility assist, the game’s design would effectively be ruined. GnG‘s difficulty is legendary, and extremely overstated throughout the years. Much like any other game, it simply requires the player to approach it by its own rhythm rather than allowing the player to just charge in. However, none of that really matters if you can’t handle the input device.
This is doubly pronounced in competitive gaming, where beating the core rules and playing the game bit by bit isn’t enough; your opponents will throw a monkey wrench into the standard gameplay. Street Fighter has few notable players with some sort of disability. Osataro is a wheelchair bound player, who can’t hold a controller. In fact, he has to control his wheelchair with his chin, and this applies to his gaming. Checking some of his videos, his controls mostly compose what looks like an arcade setup, and he’s pretty good overall speaking. He even had a rather even match Daigo in an online match. BrolyLegs, a nickname, is another SF player, but unlike Osataro, he uses a standard X360 controller and moves the stick with his mouth. His is a condition that most people can’t even imagine living with, and yet he’s making the best of it. Killer Instinct has high-tier player as well, Dayton Jones, nicknamed Wheels, who barely can hold a standard controller and yet is a wrecking machine in tournaments. All these three might benefit more if they were given a controller that was specifically designed for their condition. Nevertheless, to see any of these three to work an arcade stick or a pad just as well as any in their own way should remind anyone playing games that all it takes is some effort and patience. They don’t require the game itself to cater to them.
To use a more standard example, Sven is a blind Street Fighter V player, and while he can hold a controller just fine. His handicap in a fight really comes from the fact that games are three-tier medium; audio, visual and touch. Him lacking the ability to see what’s going on puts him in a bad situation, but he nevertheless has become a relatively notably ranked player as he plays the game by hearing. He does have the benefit of arguably having the better source of reaction, as humans react faster to sound than to visuals. While he would like to work with developers to have more games made for the blind, the best way to work with this really would be in a rich sound environment and how to use them. It’d be an enormous task, as simply designing games for the blind is far too easy to use as a starting point and effectively make a boring game overall, like Enemy Zero, an interesting game that was mostly designed around using stereo sound, but turned out to be rather lacklustre in pretty much every regard.
Saying that a person with less physical ability to handle a video game to the same extent as a healthy one is, in majority of the cases, talking down on a matter they know jack shit. All these are largely unique cases. The games overall don’t need to consider them as anything special, but their playing could be made easier and less cumbersome if there was some sort of improvement in how they input controls. Hell, look at the rig RockyNoHands has. All it takes practice and control of your movements, but a swell set-up helps too. Sometimes I don’t think even a rig could help all that much, though even limbless gamers probably put professionals to shame through sheer determination.
If this post comes through as if I had something personal in it, it is because I do. There are people who may find some use for extra help in-game for various reasons, and even then these can be build into the games themselves without separately making it obvious. Ultimately the input method matters more to accessibility than looking down on people and telling they can’t handle “a normal” kind of game, that things need to made easier via modes. Lift people up, don’t dumb down.