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May 02, 2007



The disabled do not, as a matter of course, have different definitions of "fun" to everyone else.

Design a fun game. Then make it accessible. Designing for accessibility is a surefire way to make certain it appeals only to those who need the accessibility.


This is a bit of a tangent, but I was contacted after the IMGDC event by someone who wants to create virtual worlds for education and training purposes, but needs them to be accessible to people who are visually impaired. Although we've had people play textual worlds in the past who were severely visually impaired (eg. they had no eyeballs), this isn't much of an option in today's graphical worlds. Consequently, he's seeking a screen reader for virtual worlds.

I don't think there are any of these available at the moment, and in game worlds there probably won't be because of the time delay in transforming images into text or words. However, for social worlds it does seem to be a possibility, especially if the server is compliant (eg. sending a list of the names of objects on the screen instead of a list of polygons that generate the images of them).

There's probably a nice research project in there for someone, with a genuine social benefit as a result, too.



Hmm, I guess I should have read the earlier threads before posting in this one!



@Michelle: I’ve some experience of playing characters with flaws or limitations in online worlds. I find this makes them more interesting, in a story sense, to play. A world of “perfect” people is kind of boring. I’m not sure if this fits what you were getting at by “playing at” having a disability.
I have a WoW Paladin I play occasionally, who for RP reasons never runs anywhere, only walks. From his point of view, the only sensible people in the world are the NPCs, who typically walk everywhere. The PCs look like crazy people, constantly rushing about for no good reason. But from a gameplay perspective, it is a very limiting “disability”. No-one wants to group with someone they have to wait for.

Roleplay, in the sense of story based play, is pretty rare in WoW. The whole thrust of the game is maximizing the acquisition of experience and items. In a sense, a great majority of the players of WoW are “disabled”, and unable to play in an optimal fashion. They either lack the video game skills to play optimally, or lack the time.

I think online world games will be more inclusive when they place more emphasis on storytelling, and less on optimal scoring. In a story based world, a wide range of ability makes the world a more interesting place.


You can also look at how a game's design additions post-launch can significantly affect accesibility.

The Star Wars Galaxies forums saw a rather sizable number of complaints from people with disabilities when the "New Game Experience" went live. Prior to the change, the game's macroing, targeting, and even the skill-based system allowed even combat to be played more at a strategic thinker's level, less of a fast-paced button-mashing. The noncombat world of traders and entertainers were even more available to people with motor-control limitations.

There was little need to even identify your disability online beyond PvP. Every marginal factor mattered in PvP, so it was beneficial to let others know and offer some work-arounds. I served as a "guide" for one guildie- he put me on auto-follow and focused on targeting for the intense battles.

Still, when the NGE went live, I was left wondering how many of the people protesting the game's changes were actually as disabled as they said and how many were just taking advantage of a sympathetic soapbox. The effect on those that did have disabilities was very real, but the numbers that claimed to have NEEDED that old-style mechanic to play seemed suspicious for a game that size.

Did we have people playing the motor-skills role who weren't? Quite likely. Did I care? At that point, no- I figured the more visibility the people who'd just found their favorite addiction torn away from them, the better.


Also of note:

Is it viewed socially as somehow more or less acceptable than saying that you are female or male when you are not?


It's understandable that a guild's migration to voice chat would be very emotionally troubling to a deaf person. With most audio cues accompanied by a visual reference or chat log, they've got to feel like there are fewer barriers for them in this environment- they're participating at a level of interaction similar to everyone else. Voice chat yanks that away.

Of course, Voice Chat does a damn good job of taking away the doubt in that "r u a girl" question, too. Quite a few people explained their opposition to Voice Chat as being hearing-impaired.

I didn't care enough to challenge such a claim (I hate voice chat too) but it did make me wonder how many were just concealing their true gender through the statement. Either that, or there's some psychological reason why such a disproportionate number of deaf women choose to play scantily-clad twi'lek dancers.

So, yes, I'd suspect that in some cases, it was more beneficial for people to pretend to be disabled than to admit their gender.


As for roleplaying a physical disability- disibilities with visible cues are often difficult to represent in a 3D world, so I haven't tried them much- beyond the aging war veteran with a bad back, limp, missing fingers, etc. Minor visible cues that can be explained.

Psychological disabilities are more easily expressed, but they're often the ones that are often played out to mock or make fun of, so you often have to tread carefully on who/how you approach these.

Beyond the concern that someone will make fun of the disability, or use it as a punchline, I've seen very little social stigma to playing such things. It adds a sense of "achievement" to a character that is persevering in the world despite the challenges he faces.

Of course, chat is slow enough, but if another roleplayer makes you repeat everything multiple times because at his age, his hearing's not what it used to be... it can get very slow very fast. It helps that you can turn it off, say "enough's enough" and get on to the next chapter of the story. Thus, disabled characters may be seen as a quirk... a way to enrich the downtime, but not affect the action.

If someone refused to skip ahead or let the role impede in his role within the game mechanic, I'd bet he'd find himself abandoned rather quickly.


Hi Rich,

Thanks for your comments. While I largely agree with what you said, there are areas of disabled gamers, such as the blind community, who rely on audio games -- which is something that *can* be fun for all but with the amount of budgets going to graphics, audio often gets the shaft, so to speak. The trouble with "adding on" accessibility is that so many things need to happen in the design process from the very beginning or it becomes "feature creep" and is up for getting the ax. So early attention to accessibility is needed rather than adding it on at the end.


Michelle, now you made an excellent point , indeed. Personally, i believe that the already " established " MMOs wont go that path. And i'm afraid that the " newcommers " on this industry don't really stand a chance , against the monopolies /trends acting . As i'm very sure you've noticed , things are very connected at many levels , involving hardware, software, design,social, legal , moral, ethical , financial aspects. Your approach is noble and desirable , but, unfortunatelly,the entertainment became an industry , dominated by private entities , and usually they are very conservative when about real business. And the feedback from implementing such things , doesn't sound very encouraging. But i repeat : you are very right , an early attention is needed , and also is good to search for ways to even add it on at the end. It could be benefitial both to the players and to the makers.


full hersey


fool Blanchard


Amarilla -- yes, I understand what you are saying about the industry staying on the conservative side to "stay alive." Basically my group is trying to help companies add in features that already work with what they are doing. If you haven't watched the video I posted yesterday, you really should watch it. Reid Kimball does an excellent job of talking about working with the folks who created Doom3 to create a closed captioning mod.


As someone who's pretty deaf (hearing aids), I really really take great value in games that use chat over voice. I see the intrest in games integrating voice (like SL) and it just sends up huge red flags to me - it will "break" the game for use by those with hearing problems. At home I always have captions on the TV and do like games that have captions. Half-Life 2 does and it's pretty nice I must say.

Gender got mentioned in the original post so I'll toss out another comment. I think as a guy, playing a play a female character in WoW has been an interseting experience. Dealing with flirts, with guys giving me "gifts", being followed, etc. You get into this space of wondering if you ought to ignore it, take advantage of it, say "dude, i'm a guy" or what. Anyway, it's an interesting experience.

Rich Bryant says:

The disabled do not, as a matter of course, have different definitions of "fun" to everyone else.

True I suppose, but they have potentially different levels of access to that fun whether by not having full sensory input (hearing or sight) or physical capability to act/react in a timely manner if the "fun" requires that (like "twitch" shooter type games).


Actually too, I think a lot of the experience for the physically challenged, at least, depends on the community and social values of the community they're joining. I know the Uru and There communities are very welcoming of new members, and I have been told, by physically challenged members of those communities, how enjoyable it is to be welcomed, and to have even the virtual sense of motion.

Just as games have different mechanics, and different technologies, so do different cultures have different values and different appreciations. And different opportunities. A good and caring socializer can be far more highly valued than a skillful twitch player, for example.


I'm a firm believer in the idea that the Apple doesn't fall far from the tree. In regards to Ron Meiner's comment, if you have a community of people that are accepting of those who are different or challenged in some way it's mostly likely because there is a leader who is setting and example for others to follow. I hope one day that developer decides to be a leader and make MMO's more accessible. Then the players themselves will follow this lead and be much more inclusive of disabled members in their guilds and you wouldn't need deaf people creating separate guilds because they feel threatened or disrespected by guilds with only hearing members.

To Michelle's point about planning accessibility features early, when it comes to closed captioning, you have to think of where the text will fit on the screen and within the UI elements the game uses. You don't want to add closed captioning later, or else you risk covering up important UI elements to show the captioning.

Finally, chas, you've mentioned twice now that you are skeptical whenever a large group of people claim they are disabled. Why is that? Why couldn't it just be a simple fact that a lot of people who are disabled play games? Do you really think their numbers are so small that you are right to be skeptical of anyone who claims to be a gamer and disabled? To me, that's equivalent to thinking that women don't play games, when we all know for a fact that isn't true. Perhaps that's just it, we have facts on how many women play games, but not disabled. :/


Except that we dont have facts for how many women play games.When i dont have facts i use to base my decisions on probabilities rather than on possibilities.


The trouble that is added into the equation is that how many disabled people WOULD be gamers if they COULD be -- we might find that there is a higher percentage compared to the non-disabled population because it affords opportunity for leisure, which in other areas is denied.


I think as a guy, playing a play a female character in WoW has been an interseting experience. Dealing with flirts, with guys giving me "gifts", being followed, etc.

I actually am a girl, and I have to wonder where all this largesse is going--because it's not to me, despite all my avatars being female. Closest I've ever gotten is a guy who offered to pay me for cybersex once. I don't generally get flirted with either.

Sorry if that's beside the point, it's just something that comes to mind whenever I hear people talk about the phenomenon.


I'd like to point out, as the progeny of an Assistive Technology OT, that WoW is actually frequently played by blind players, because the soundscape is rich enough that they can navigate.

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