Wednesday 14 November 2012

Which One Is The Red Button?

Ever noticed how gaming seems to be the only pastime left which doesn't specifically cater to anybody who may have the slightest disability? Think about it: there are world-class runners who may only have one leg, footballers who have lost some- or all- of their sight, and there have even been professional wrestlers who have lost limps. But how many gamers do you know of who would be able to play the latest titles if they'd injured a hand or lost a finger? I dare say, very few.

First of all, let me explain something about myself. Indeed technically, I have a disability (albeit a fairly small one). You see readers, I am partially colour-blind- what this means is that my brain cannot tell the difference between certain colours (for example: red, green, brown and black can all look the same, depending on various shades and tonalities etc). Now, you may think this dosen't inhibit me from enjoying or playing games- and to be honest most of the time you'd be right.  However, recently I have been coming across an ever-increasing amount of games that seem to be causing me trouble.

Let's see if you can spot the problems with the following new and retro games: Pro Evolution Soccer, Fifa, World Championship Snooker, Fear Effect, Final Fantasy VIII, Metroid Prime. Worked it out? Yes, they all require a basic appreciation for colour at some point - something that most people would never even consider a problem, and something that most developers might easily overlook. What this translates to is extreme frustration.

Imagine trying to play Championship Snooker when you can't tell the difference between the red, green and brown balls - or playing Pro Evolution and not being able to distinguish between half of the teams? Imagine not being able to play 3D platform games, as with all the colours blending together, you would fail to appreciate the depth perception? Or even not being able to tell when your handheld battery had switched from free to red. It would become a touch annoying, would it not? But I didn't plan this topic simply to moan about being half colour-blind.

Think about it: how many of you would have realised that (these) games might not be accessible to everyone? Right, now think about how many games might not be accessible to somebody with one hand. Quite a few, I'm sure you would agree.The world is full of people who have differing degrees of disabilities, and in most places (at least in the developed world), steps are taken to integrate people into society; ramps are put in place for wheelchairs, lifts are installed, even that button on the zebra crossing makes a noise when it is safe to cross. So, why not in gaming? Possibly no one has thought about it, and I'm sure that all would be required is a gentle nudge and companies would start creating peripherals flexible enough to cater for various conditions.

Surely it wouldn't be too hard to create a controller that could be used with one hand - or maybe one that could be used with different fingers? Even something that reduced the strain on ligaments would be a start. Hands up - how many people's hands start hurting after playing the 3DS or PS Vita for extended periods? It really wouldn't take too much excessive thought to iron out problems with regards to disability in gaming.

Now, maybe I'm wrong (it has been known on the odd occasion), and there are plenty of companies out there already making these sorts of peripherals, but one thing I am sure of is this: after spending the day at numerous trade shows there were a fair few exhibitions from companies who deal in gaming peripherals, but not one of them had any such prototype on show. So, even if the products are in development (or production), they may as well not be - as there is no outward exposure and therefore the mainstream world cannot easily acquire these items.

Then again, the current games market is aimed very much towards the mainstream gamer. So, could it be that companies don't produce anything that specifically caters for disabilities due to the fact that they don't see enough money in it? Who knows for sure, but in a society where capitalism reigns supreme, without a high profile - and commercially viable - market, it could very well mean that little will change in the coming years. In terms of my own issues, I can easily think of things that could be done to solve almost all of them - for example, stop using red and green as opposing choices within games. What's wrong with red and blue for a change?

This article is an updated piece on something I wrote almost ten years ago. Aside from some games now having a Red/Blue filter very little has changed.

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