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Archive for the ‘video games’ Category

I used to be scared of The Legend of Zelda. It was the kind of delicious terror that you feel when you cover your eyes during a scary movie and peek through your fingers. There were no walls; I could go in any direction, but there were no signs to tell me which to take. (The original Mega Man had the same effect on me, but in a different way). Without the tunnel vision of Super Mario Bros., I tread carefully up a river, across a bridge and into a tree. “I found the first level!” I thought, reading the upper-right corner of the screen. And then, “Wait a minute. I don’t find things.”

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According to an article in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill magazine Endeavors (“Fair Games”), UNC computer science students are designing games for players with low vision. The games were field tested at “Maze Day,” when 70 kids with visual impairments came from all around North Carolina to play:

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There’s been a lot of disability-related goodness going on at Ubisoft lately. After taking action against an ableist slur in MindQuiz last year, the publisher announced this past September that all its games developed in-house will be subtitled. Also, Ubisoft is partnering with organization Handicap International for a campaign called Ability Together. This campaign raises awareness of the problems disabled people face, particularly those in developing countries. And it includes Handigo The Game, a series of free minigames starring characters with different impairments: one is blind, one uses a wheelchair and one has learning difficulties.

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Now, I’m not a fan of how disability simulations are normally done—the “sit in a wheelchair/wear a blindfold for a day!” type-stuff that thrusts non-disabled people into situations they don’t have any coping skills for, or even help with. (Actual disabled people, including those who become disabled later in life, usually have both). Such exercises breed fear and pity, not understanding.

And yet, doing similar things in a video game intrigues me. My spatial impairment is, for me, a fun game design problem: could you make a level where, say, each thing looked totally different depending on which angle the player views it from, or where objects materialize out of nowhere and change the whole appearance of the place? I think a video game about disability interests me because games are themselves simulations. As disability rights advocate Valerie Brew-Parrish points out in The Wrong Message: “Simulations are phony. To ‘simulate’ means to assume the mere appearance of– without the reality.” Video games are “the mere appearance of…reality.” We can do all kinds of things in games that we don’t have the skills to do in real life; they are a safe space to explore various places, ideas, and lives. Books, television and films help us do the same thing, but at a distance. We watch other people do the work, and maybe imagine ourselves in their place. But our game avatars are us, yet not-us. I see Mega Man on the screen, I know he isn’t me, but when he slides into a pit of spikes I think, “I died.”

A yellow creature in a wheelchair is going down a path in a park. There's gray bearlike creature walking too and a line of red stars.

This liminal identity-space that games occupy makes them especially suited to do what real-life disability simulations can’t quite accomplish: they encourage us to solve problems. Some problems disabled people run into can be solved with ingenuity (using a wheelchair to get around, for instance), while others are, frankly, analogous to bad level design (e.g. Why is there a huge flight of stairs here, but no ramps?). I wish more people understood all the ways that the disability experience is about bumping into bad level design: how society decides what kinds of skills are important for life and which are not, how people can be disabled in some environments and not others, how some things are inaccessible just because nobody thought of us in the first place. Video game worlds, being entirely man-made, are uniquely able to highlight disability problems that are environmental or societal, rather than intrinsic to the disabled person.

A cabinet door is open in a bathroom; an orange toothbrush and some red and white pills float down in front of it.

Does Handigo The Game do everything I hope a virtual disability simulation would do? Of course not—for one thing, it represents blindness as darkness that lights up as the player navigates. But it’s an interesting first step, one that shows disability as a natural part of human experience. I hope the game is a harbinger of things to come.

(Cross-posted to my GameCritics.com blog).

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Via AbleGamers.com

This video shows a Guitar Hero 3 pedal controller in action. Designed by console-hacker guru Benjamin Heckendorn specifically for a customer, it allows Guitar Hero 3 to be played one-handed:

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Via Gameculture.com

On August 27, 2008, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Target announced a $6 mil settlement in a class-action lawsuit concerning the inaccessibility of the Target.com website to blind users. (more…)

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Life as a Disabled Gamer is a guest editorial at Game|Life by Andrew Monkelban, a gamer with cerebral palsy who plays one-handed. His piece covers a lot of important issues, but what most interested me was the kinds of games he likes and doesn’t like to play, and why:

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I’m sorry for neglecting this blog. I’ve been pretty busy lately–the site owner of GameCritics.com (where I’ve written video game reviews for several years) has asked me to blog about gaming and disability. I’ve wanted to do more of this kind of writing, but have been afraid to do much of it because, well, I don’t know anything :). I talked it over with Chi (the owner) and he pointed out that I didn’t have to write anything major: just calling gamers’ attention to intersections of disability and gaming cultures could be good.

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[Note: I originally wrote this for my GameCritics blog back in July 2007 when it was news. Also, be warned: some of the language is extremely graphic and offensive.]
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“Hey, do y’all have the new Super Smash Bros.?”

I can’t believe I’m asking this question. Fighting games aren’t exactly my favorite videogame genre. Sure, I fiddle with them sometimes—at 12, I rented Mortal Kombat II at the video store because “Hey! It’s the game Congress hates!”—but they aren’t much fun to play if you don’t have real people to fight. (All my friends are mature, responsible adults who’d rather go out drinking at the bar than play some videogame). So I wouldn’t pay $50 for a fighting game, and I sure as heck wouldn’t show up excitedly at Target on release date.

I hadn’t.

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