San Francisco (AFP) – Carlos Vasquez is a master of the video fighting game Mortal Kombat, although he cannot see the on-screen action because he is blind.
The Texas resident, who relies on sound to time punches, kicks and dodges, is among a chorus of voices calling for greater access to gaming for people with disabilities.
“You have two characters on screen fighting each other, left and right, and you just have to remember the buttons,” Vasquez said, explaining what drew him to Mortal Kombat.
Neglected by the industry for a long time, the issue of accessibility is increasingly becoming the focus of game manufacturers.
There are both financial and ethical reasons to open doors to even more players in the multi-billion dollar industry.
According to the World Health Organization, more than a billion people live with some form of disability.
Microsoft, the technology powerhouse behind Xbox and its cloud game streaming service, estimates that there are about 400 million gamers with disabilities.
Vasquez’s skills caught the attention of Mortal Kombat creators NetherRealm Studios, owned by Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment.
At his suggestion, the studio added audio cues to help blind gamers identify objects to interact with in-game.
Game makers design software with accessibility in mind and add settings designed to pave the way for gamers with disabilities.
Games can be optimized to allow artificial intelligence or other human players to provide assistance when needed.
Options can be built in to avoid obstacles that are insurmountable due to a disability.
“Our approach is to make accessibility part of the DNA of everyone in the company,” said David Tisserand, leader of the initiative at French video game giant Ubisoft.
“We really want to make sure everyone understands that accessibility is part of their mission.”
In March, the second annual Video Game Accessibility Awards were presented to titles best suited for people with disabilities.
Among the games that received awards was the car racing title Forza Horizon 5, which was the first ever to support American and British Sign Language.
“Things are a lot better than they were decades ago because games can be fixed a bit with update patches,” noted Chris Robinson, a Chicago-based gamer who was born deaf and hosts the DeafGamersTV channel on video game streaming site Twitch .
Helpful visual or audio features in recent releases such as Last of Us Part II, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and Far Cry 6 have received recognition from gamers with disabilities.
Despite the progress, players polled by AFP insisted more needs to be done and wanted to be heard when doing so.
For example, larger fonts in subtitles and on-screen visual cues make a big difference for deaf gamers, Robinson said.
haters and trolls
“The other challenge is communicating with other players who can hear,” said Soleil Wheeler, a 16-year-old deaf gamer who uses the Ewok grip.
Thousands of people tune in to watch Wheeler play battle royale games Fortnite and Apex Legends online.
The teenager is eagerly awaiting a time when conversations in online multiplayer games will be displayed as subtitles in real-time during the game.
Hardware accessories are rare for gamers with limited use of their hands, said David Combarieu, head of Hitclic, a French startup that develops equipment that enables people with motor disabilities to play at a competitive level.
Microsoft makes a special adaptive controller for Xbox games at a price of $100 before adding the cost of customization.
Still, there’s no controller equivalent offered by Sony and Nintendo, competitors in the Xbox console market, Combarieu said.
Online platforms have a multitude of players, but they can still be harassed with offensive or abusive comments from “trolls” and “haters,” said teen gamer Wheeler.
“I don’t let them waste my time,” Wheeler said. “I choose my battles wisely as I navigate life.”
© 2022 AFP