Gamer Accessibility – Has Nintendo Still Not Learned Its Lesson?
Gaming – you’d think it would be for everyone. After all, what’s your stereotypical gamer? Creative, open-minded, intellectual, geeky, outcast, “different,” etc. I’m not saying gaming hasn’t become mainstream or that everyone should be pigeon-holed, but like much of geek culture, the “gamer” cliché exists for a reason. Even in the face of some loud mouthed groups and Internet assholery, gamers (and geeks) are often an inclusive and supportive community.
Despite this, millions of gamers continue to struggle at their hobby even in the tech-savvy 21st century. People with disabilities or differences, who don’t move, see or hear the same as most discover obstacles when presented with regular games or controllers. This difficulty isn’t something new, as gamer accessibility has been a concern since the dawn of computer games. The fight for equal access continued throughout the end of the 20th century, with increased awareness of people with special needs. With the actions of groups like the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), Special Effect, and the AbleGamers charity, you’d think most major gaming companies would have learned their lesson.
And yet… here we are.
The latest hubbub focuses on Pokémon Sun & Moon, the most recent chapter in the popular Pokémon franchise. The game has received plenty of positive reviews, from its graphics to its setting, but some recent complaints pointed out a serious flaw. At one point, in the quest to “be the very best,” a trial involves an audio quiz. You must match sounds you’ve heard in the game to the relevant item or location.
Do we notice the problem here?
A number of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (D/HH) gamers are posting complaints and requests for solutions because there’s no way for them to match sounds they likely never heard. This issue may seem rather innocuous, as it’s only a single quiz in an otherwise accessible game, but the problem is that the flaw is rather obvious. Pokémon isn’t a music-oriented game, so why would they include something that could blatantly hinder millions of customers? If not for the Internet and its walkthroughs or spoilers, D/HH gamers might not be able to progress in the game.
As someone who is HH, I’m all too familiar with obstacles in gaming. I grew up playing computer and console games long before the use of subtitles, often missing plot, instructions, etc. I remember failing at boss fights because of some audio cue that I couldn’t discern from the background noise or soundtrack. I was beyond excited when captioning and vibrating controllers became standard, and I no longer had to check the game box or guides to see how well I’d do.
The audio quiz in Pokémon Sun & Moon is not a game breaker, but it’s an important look at ignorance. There was no reason, in this age of awareness, technology, and game design, that a major company couldn’t have thought, “Maybe an audio quiz for progression might hinder some players.” Not including the audio quiz wouldn’t have affected anybody; by including it, they shut a door in the face of millions of gamers.
There’s no excuse for the lack of consideration by Game Freak and Nintendo, especially given this isn’t their first time with similar issues. For those who experienced the obstacle or who simply believe in including everyone, then let the designers and producers know your opinion. Contribute to charities like AbleGamers who push for new technologies and game designs that cater to those with different needs. Write the IGDA with your concerns, especially games like Pokémon Sun & Moon.
Do whatever is necessary to break down those doors.
This is a very important issue and I’m glad you wrote about it.
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I’m losing hearing myself, so subtitles are great. Which is why I HATE the modern gaming mechanic of “make all text as tiny as humanly possible.” Playing a demo of FFXV was nearly impossible because I couldn’t read the fricking thing. We don’t all have 72-inch TVs, guys.
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