Let me start by saying, that I am by no means a Pokémon Go! player. As I have written in the past, I’ve never been a fan of the franchise. Being a gamer with a disability, however, I feel that I have to comment on a recent topic of discussion about certain aspects of Pokémon Go!.
I recently read an article on The Daily Dot, which got me thinking about how the recent trend of augmented reality (AR) games like Ingress and Pokémon Go! may affect those with physical disabilities. The mechanics of Pokémon Go! require players to move around their IRL environments in order to capture pokémon who exist within the AR of the game. In addition to that, players must also walk X number of kilometers (it’s different for every class of pokémon) in order to hatch the eggs of their captured creatures. Objectives like these can be prohibitively difficult for those of us who use mobility devices (e.g. wheelchairs), as we’re not really able to hold our phones up & track these pokémon while we move because our hands are needed for mobility. There are also barriers to those who may be affected psychologically by the game’s AR aspect, due to issues such as derealization or disassociation. For these individuals, the game could potentially trigger severe psychological episodes.
In a statement about the game, Steve Spohn, COO at the AbleGamers charity and advocacy organization, compared Pokémon Go! to other mobile games, saying that it excludes disabled players to a significant degree. He continued by stating that there is no reason why the company couldn’t have included a feature that would let people with limited mobility navigate the game.
There have also been a few indications that some individuals with disabilities may be putting their health in jeopardy in order to participate in the game to the same degree as their non-disabled peers. In a thread on Tumblr, one user stated,
“I managed to hatch two over two days by ignoring all the signs my body was giving me that this was Not A Good Idea. I just wanted to play like everyone else, now I’m paying the price.”
These are the kinds of things that worry me. I have friends who occasionally push themselves too hard in their daily lives (i.e. going beyond medically recommended limits). It concerns me that someone would go so far as to ignore signs from their own body that they’re doing too much, just for the sake of a video game. That would be like someone with a shoulder injury attempting to beat a bench press record, just for a mention on a website.
Yes, there are merits to games like Pokémon Go! and Ingress, which have players getting out of their homes & joining teams in order to participate. These include helping people with social anxiety to meet new people & participate in group activities, helping those who may struggle with their weight to get more in shape, and generally getting people to be more active. A friend of mine, who is studying to be an occupational therapist, even had this to say, “Getting as many people as possible playing these games has huge advantages from a physical and mental health perspective. Games like this can be used as part of treatment to get people up and moving, or increasing their activity and mobility without a fight, because this stuff doesn’t feel like therapy.”
I am in no way trying to discount these positive aspects of social gameplay, but I hope that Niantic Labs & Nintendo will consider adding some features to their apps that will make the games more accessible to any individual who wants to play. Remember, gaming should be for everyone!