Home Gaming Gaming Gatekeeping: How To Confront Ableism In The Gaming World

Gaming Gatekeeping: How To Confront Ableism In The Gaming World

8 min read

A large portion of the population loves playing video games. For most people, whether young or old, video games are great stress relievers. It’s where players get to be whoever they are for a few hours and indulge in non-stop action and fantastical missions. But the fact remains that the gaming world can still use some improvement when it comes to diversity and inclusion. 

Back then, there are only a few options for gamers who have physical difficulties. Since gaming primarily uses fingers, hands, and arms to control buttons or joysticks, people with hand or arm disabilities may find it difficult to navigate and control gaming devices. Gaming companies, on the other hand, are only focused on creating games and consoles for able-bodied players. It seems that ableism is pretty much alive in the video gaming world. It is not often discussed, but ableism in the gaming industry needs just as much attention. 

But What Exactly Is Ableism?

Ableism is the discrimination and prejudice against individuals with disabilities and those who others perceive to have a disability. People can express ableism in various forms such as stereotyping, making assumptions through certain practices, or by deliberate oppression.  

Many would agree that disability issues place a limit on what an individual can do or think. Ableism is a subject that you’d bump into if disability issues come up. For the most part, it is being ignored by the majority of the population, with able-bodied persons failing to address the concern or completely believing that the situation doesn’t exist at all. 

Ableism In Gaming

Those with disabilities are still facing social barriers, limited opportunities, and low financial security. The gaming world hasn’t been particularly welcoming to this group of people as well. People suffering from chronic conditions on their hands and those with similar conditions like quadriplegia and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome were struggling to even use the basic controllers of a gaming console.

Gaming difficulty has become an issue because the appeal comes from the challenges that the game presents. Finishing a difficult level of a popular game gives the player some bragging rights. It also appears that players don’t like their games having an easier option since it has to do with their pride—believing they worked hard to conquer those challenges. 

It’s not ableist for players to enjoy more difficult games. But insisting that the game must be difficult to control and access is a different story. In reality, disability limits the control of a certain person towards his or her own body. They are the ones who potentially will never experience what it’s like to be at their peak performance.  

Ableism can be unconsciously encouraged when gaming mechanics also become the driving force that raises negative thoughts about disability. It is a tool that actively enforces gatekeeping especially when the game fails to properly represent a disability because of ignorance, or when the game forces the players into stigmatizing gameplay. Video games are played by various individuals from children to grown adults. Failing to push the right concepts and ideas about disability can give incorrect ideas to the players.

5 Ways To Tackle Ableism In The Gaming Industry 

The challenges experienced by disabled gamers still happen today, but that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. Gaming authorities and disabled players themselves are fighting back, opening more opportunities for accessibility to accommodate gamers of all shapes, sizes, and capabilities through various means: 

1. Educate And Spread Awareness

Leaders of gaming organizations can help spread awareness about ableism in the gaming world through diversity and inclusion training like what you can see from hipaaexams.com. The course has three stages of content that discuss unconscious bias, how people can become more inclusionary, and diversity issues. 

Individuals running profit or non-profit organizations can take the course to gain an understanding of diversity and how their organization can become more inclusive to people with special needs. Through courses and trainings, individuals will be provided with real-life scenarios and learn best practices.

Among the objectives of the course is to help participants define discrimination, understand indirect bias, understanding the pros and cons of having different personalities in an organization, and discussions on how to create a positive and more inclusive environment in an organization. 

2. Create Competitive Spaces For Disabled Gamers

It used to be that disabled players were finding it difficult to even play a game. There are also limited video games for them. Not everyone has the opportunity to show off what they can do as gamers. But because there was no significant amount of support for gamers with disabilities, such as providing the right facilities and equipment for them, it seemed like it was a losing battle. 

Today, the eSports community is opening its doors to disabled players by holding competitions for the disabled community. This is done by allowing the use of customized game controllers as long as fairness is maintained. This is so that players with impairments can participate and join the tournament. 

Organizations such as the Adaptive Esports League have adapted special guidelines and rules reserved for disabled gamers. The British Esports Association is also taking disability into consideration and is working on a tournament for disabled gamers. 

While competitive spaces that allow disabled gamers to join are not as widely accepted, the mentioned organizations are working towards their acceptance. Still, it’s a good start. They are pioneers of the integration of disabled players in the eSports league. 

3. Promote Adaptive Technology

Not all disabled people are born with their conditions. Some of them experience it only later in life after an accident or a serious health condition. It can trigger mental health issues such as depression and some turn to video games to cope with their situation. 

In the case of  Jackson Reece, a 31-year-old gamer who lost his arms and legs due to sepsis, video games served as a form of escape. Another player, Brian “Wheely” McDonald, suffers from arthrogryposis, which is the stiffening of tendons in the hands. Both players are able to enjoy video games through the use of the QuadStick—a game controller that they can operate with their mouths and breathing tubes. It is the same adaptive game controller that a Guinness World of Records title-holder, Rocky Stoutenburgh, is using to achieve more Fortnite victories. 

A separate charity has helped developed a gaming system that uses eye movement to control a game. Xbox creators also developed a game controller that can be customized or set up to a form that players can use with their feet and toes.

A video game creator changes the intensity of the colors as well as the shapes to make it playable for colorblind gamers. Outer Worlds is one video game that is colorblind-friendly, making it accessible to various players.

Another gaming company, Outerloop Games, created not only color-blind features for Falcon Age, but CEO Chandana Ekanayake also ensured included support settings for special needs gamers.  Those with visual difficulties and hearing impairment can benefit from the optional large text feature as well. 

4. Start Them Young

Even schools are taking initiative to be more inclusive to disabled people. Alternative Provision schools are using video games to help children learn. Utilizing eSports is not an exception.

British Esports arranged a pilot tournament back in 2019, partnering with Fierce PC, as an introduction to inclusive eSports. It was no doubt accepted by the children and there are hopes of commencing after the lockdown has been lifted in the United Kingdom.  

Special needs students are also included in the Rocket League team of St. Vincent Sharks at the British Esports Championships. It was reported that while the team lost matches, the students are playing out of competitiveness. They wanted to compete with colleges from far away.

Gaming has impacted these students as a hobby and others share it as a passion. It inspired support like never before and offered a chance for college students to bond and improve camaraderie. 

5. Community Support For 3D Printed Controllers

Commercial controllers are readily available for purchase, but 3D printing also allows disabled gamers to create their own, therefore, opening them to more options and varieties that they are more comfortable with. 

There are various video tutorials on how to create specific game controllers that have special buttons, or at least, controllers that have different layouts. The popularity of 3D printers allows gamers to download plans and build modified controllers fit for the needs of the disabled.  

Aside from equipment, disabled gamers can also receive assistance from community forums where they can also reach out to a support group. They can find answers to some of their pressing questions regarding custom-built controllers from other players who are more knowledgeable and experienced with such.

In Conclusion

Ableism persists in many social aspects today and the gaming world is no exception. However, times are changing and many are more than willing to include disabled gamers in professional eSports and casual gaming. However, more awareness, constant education, and technological changes must be done. 

The gaming community is, however, starting to prove that solutions can be made as long as people or groups are willing to give disabled persons a chance. Changes and adjustments don’t have to be drastic. Disabled gamers only need acceptance and the proper equipment to be able to participate freely and fairly in competitive gaming.

Last Updated: July 23, 2021

One Comment

  1. HvR

    July 23, 2021 at 06:43

    Thinking back to my university days (which is now quite a long time ago already) there is already a huge number of solutions developed back then already and I’m pretty sure are still being developed and refined to provide alternative control interfaces for various disabilities as part of engineering final year and master projects.

    Unfortunately the funding is never there to implement these as commercial solutions and end up being made up as special orders for a couple of individuals.

    Then of course there are alternative control and input solutions that is cheap and already out there as open-source projects especially for PC platforms that were maybe not designed for disabled gamers but can easily be adapted as alternative control systems. Two I can think of is head tracking and voice command macro system.


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