Hello again, dear readers! It’s been a bit since we here at Pop Culture Uncovered brought you a piece on gaming and the disabled community. Well frankly, I was hoping to not have to go off on a Dennis Miller-esque rant, but it seems that the Fates denied me that pleasure. Bear with me, because this may be a bumpy ride.
I’d like to take you back to last week, to examine an issue that was brought to our attention. A disabled programmer and designer named AJ Ryan recently wrote to Nintendo (via their page on accessibility concerns) about his difficulty playing the Splatoon 2 Testfire event on his Nintendo Switch. AJ was born with a musculoskeletal deformity known as arthrogryposis, which causes contractions in his arms & hands, making holding & operating a game controller almost impossible. Therefore, AJ taught himself to operate a controller with his toes. However, due to the Nintendo Switch’s existing technology, remapping buttons on the controller is apparently not something that is possible. This, in turn, made it so AJ was not able to play a game that he was really looking forward to trying out.
Now, don’t get us wrong here, friends. The fact that Nintendo has a page where fans can address their accessibility concerns with the company is great. That’s not what we’re here to talk about. What really rubbed me the wrong way, however, was Nintendo’s response to their fan. Take a look at their response to Mr. Ryan’s email:
Thanks for writing. I’m sorry to hear about your disappointment with the Splatoon 2 Global Testfire. I realize it can certainly be very frustrating to not be able to enjoy the same games as many others do due to having an unfortunate condition, and we sincerely empathize.
I want you to know how much we appreciate you sending your thoughts in to us, and so rest assured that your comments will be added to our records for future reference and will be made available for other departments at the company to review and thoughtfully consider.
Nintendo of America Inc.”
Now, it’s cool that Nintendo wrote back to AJ, but there are a few things here that are really not cool. First, notice their use of the phrase “unfortunate condition”. When you say something like that to a person with a disability (PWD), it’s akin to talking down to them & pitying them – neither of which we as the PWD community want or need. We actively strive to be looked as what we are. Regular people who just happen to have additional challenges in our daily lives. Being pitied or looked down upon simply serves to push back the progress that we work so hard to achieve.
Now, let’s talk about the fact that Nintendo really didn’t even take the time to actually address AJ’s concern. They simply said that his comments would be added to their records, and would be made available for other departments to “consider.”
Not take action on, not address. No. They said that they’d “consider” AJ’s comments about making their console more accessible to everyone in the future.
The AbleGamers Foundation even took the time to comment on this, in a quote from COO Steve Spohn:
“This obvious lack of care is pretty standard operating procedure from Nintendo. Not only do we consider Nintendo platforms to be the most inaccessible, they are the only major publishing house to ignore our requests for accessibility improvements.“
Think about Mr. Spohn’s statements for a moment: “the most inaccessible”. Imagine this: you’re someone who really likes gaming (if you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t be reading this), and you suddenly lose most or all of the use of your arms, or your sight, or your hearing. You are now faced with a choice: give up a passion of yours, or do everything you can in order to continue participating in it, up to & including contacting gaming companies about making their consoles & games more accessible for you and others like you. How would you feel if a company responded to your heartfelt concerns like Nintendo responded to AJ Ryan? Would it make you think twice about supporting a company like Nintendo, if you saw/heard what Mr. Spohn and AbleGamers had to say about their products?
In addition to AJ’s email to Nintendo, another issue along many of the same lines occurred back in January of this year, when Nintendo was busy building the hype for the Switch. A blogger going by The Geeky Gimp (a name I love, by the way), wrote a prospective piece on what she hoped to see on the Nintendo Switch, as far as controller customization for the PWD community. She even mentioned that Nintendo’s consoles had become “increasingly inaccessible”. This young lady stated that she also contacted Nintendo about her accessibility concerns, but she only received “a form letter” in response. One wonders if it was the same canned response that they gave Mr. Ryan. If so, that’s just another tally mark in the “avoid Nintendo” column for me.
If you’ve been following us for any length of time, you may recall that we also touched on Nintendo’s apparent lack of concern for the disabled gaming community when we talked about Pokémon GO! last July. When Nintendo created the wildly popular mobile game, it seems that they also failed to consider what kind of exclusions this would cause for PWD. It even took intervention from a third-party tech company for this to be addressed. Thank goodness there are organizations out there like AbleGamers and KomodoOpenLabs who actually have the forethought to look into these accessibility issues. If left to their own devices (pun intended), I feel like Nintendo might not even have their boilerplate response to accessibility concerns.
In this day and age, it is patently ridiculous for any company (regardless of what they do) to flat out ignore requests for improvements to accessibility. To all you gamers out there who happen to have challenges which may make gaming more difficult for you than it is for most, I would say this: Let your voices be heard. Contact gaming companies like Nintendo. Tell them you want to see more accessibility options, and less canned responses to serious concerns. Additionally, let game developers know that we are out here, and that we are experiencing these issues. Maybe, a little pressure from the devs will help get the console makers (and maybe even up-and-coming gaming companies) back in gear.
Gaming is for everyone, and that should never change.