By Guest Blogger Steven Spohn, Editor-In-Chief, The AbleGamers Foundation
The fight for equality continues to rage on, but no more so than in the frontiers of virtual worlds. These are priceless environments where a man who can’t hear can be a rock star, a woman who can’t see can fly a spaceship and a child who can’t move a muscle can be a world class athlete. Yes, these things called “video games” can bring an immense amount of joy to those who may otherwise be completely locked out of some of life’s most precious moments.
Part of keeping vigil over the entertainment industry is warning gamers with disabilities against buying certain games because the designers have overlooked an aspect of accessibility, as well as pointing out the flaws in technology that may prevent certain segments of the disability community from taking part in a new era of fun. But once a year I have the honor of helping identify new and innovative features that hoist one video game above the rest.
Electronic Arts included such features in this year’s winner of the AbleGamers Accessible Mainstream Game of the Year Award, FIFA 13. One of the most graphically stunning and fun-filled games of 2012, FIFA 13 scored nearly a perfect 10 in AbleGamer’s game accessibility review process by implementing options such as remappable keys, subtitles and colorblind options, along with game accessibility features the likes of which our foundation has never seen in a high-end commercial game.
The juggernaut soccer simulator included settings that allow players to tailor gameplay directly to their abilities. Gameplay can be slowed down all the way to 10 percent of the normal speed, enabling those with cognitive disabilities to play the game inside their comfort zone. Furthermore, the artificial intelligence (A.I.) can be slowed down, while leaving the player’s characters at full speed, giving gamers with mobility impairments the opportunity to react in more forgiving environments.
Even more impressive is that the game can be played by a mouse or trackball alone. This means people who are quadriplegics and those with severe disabilities, such as Muscular Dystrophy, can enjoy a sports game — in some cases, for the first time.
In years past, the AbleGamers Foundation has mostly given the award to MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), because the nature of that genre relies less on hand-eye coordination and fast reflexes, and more on strategic gameplay, coupled with activating abilities in the correct order.
As game developers continue to implement features using practical game accessibility guidelines, video games will continue to become more accessible to a wider audience. In another Disability Blog post, I discussed the importance of these guidelines and why it’s imperative that the entertainment industry starts paying attention to and following these guidelines in order to making gaming accessible to everyone.
We continue to be thrilled with the progress being made in the game industry. They are listening! Although there is still work to be done, the push for equality continues by the AbleGamers Foundation and other game accessibility champions throughout the world. I have no doubt we will see more options added for the disability community in upcoming games.
Our foundation has some exciting news to announce this coming year, and it will be my privilege to continue sharing the news with you here on Disability.Blog. Until then, let us celebrate the achievement of effecting change in an industry that once considered game accessibility a luxury, but now considers accessibility a gold standard.
Steve Spohn is the Editor-in-Chief of AbleGamers and Outreach Chair for the AbleGamers Foundation. He has been interviewed as an expert in gaming with disabilities and assistive technologies by MSNBC, CNN, PC World, G4 and multiple international journals.
Steve has traveled across the country as a speaker at various events including PAX East, Games for Health, Assistive Technology Centers, universities and many developer studios. In his off time, he is a web designer, gamer, writer, and his newest endeavor is learning Japanese. He holds degrees in Visual Communication, Information Technology, Web Design and Writing, with an MFA in Fiction Writing as his next goal. Steve is an active social media user and you can always find him on Twitter, Facebook and on AbleGamers forums.