Gaming is a hobby built on innovation. We salivate over the latest tech gear and the fastest processors. We line up at midnight to pick up our copy (or open our downloaded file) of new releases. There are endless titles and pieces of tech to buy. This can make it very capitalist and consumption-focused. To be clear, I do not think gaming has to be overly expensive. Of all forms of paid media, I think that games probably give you the most content for your money. That said, there are certainly endless opportunities to spend money.
There is a whole ecosystem of both overt and subtle marketing to make gamers aware of the latest releases. Online influencers and reviewers play a significant role in driving sales of games and products. The hype of new products is one of the aspects that draws the community together. Just look at the pre-COVID game reveals to see what I mean. There are many hobbies that include a lot of gear, but when was the last time you saw a reveal of new camping gear that included pyrotechnics and dance numbers?
The hype around reveals and reviews of games and gaming equipment is something that is integral to the gaming community. Speculation about potential releases is always an easy conversation starter.
By now, you can probably guess what I’m going to say next.
People with disabilities are left out of this important part of the community.
Yes, I’m going to complain that marketers aren’t serving me good enough advertisements.
The reason this site exists is to help folks figure out if games will be accessible. It’s hard to get hyped for a game when you have no idea if you will even be able to boot it up. Accessibility anxiety kills the excitement and excludes gamers before the game even comes out. It’s not emotionally responsible for us to get excited for a game and pre-order just to have our hopes dashed.
It can be the same with hardware. Even with pages and pages of specs listed, it can be impossible to know if a piece of tech will be accessible. Influencers and reviewers don’t generally cover any sort of accessibility. Without being sure if gaming devices will be accessible, we may turn to accessibility-specific outlets that specialize in dedicated assistive technology. These products are rarely reviewed, and they certainly don’t have the kind of excitement and specs that dedicated gaming devices have.
This came up when I was recently looking for a gaming keyboard. I wanted to find one that was both large print and looked gamer-y. Such a thing does not seem to exist. Gaming keyboards are hyped for performance and the available customization of different types of keys. Large print keyboards have no mention of their performance specs, and they tend to look pretty clinical.
In this situation, it’s not a big deal for me to use a keyboard that isn’t specifically for gaming. In other situations, though, people may be excluded entirely from playing certain consoles or games simply because the technology can’t accommodate their needs.
Recently, I know we have all been troubled by the gaming community, but even with problems and toxicity, the gaming community is one of the best parts of gaming, particularly for disabled folks. We have access to a group of people who can chat about our interests, give personalized recommendations, and indulge our excitement – all from the comforts of home. For people whose disabilities make it difficult to get out, interact with people, or participate in other hobbies, technology can act as an equalizer.
But technology can’t be an equalizer when we’re left out.
It should be the industry standard that the options menus are revealed before the game launches. Screenshots of the options should be included in press assets for outlets to use. Press information should also include details about what controllers will work with the game. If disabled gamers have that small nugget of information about the game, they will be better able to judge accessibility and buy games at launch.
Disability-focused channels and publications (like CIPT?) should be given review copies. Without them, our writers have to purchase games on their own. I can only speak for myself, but that means that I will primarily review games that I am already confident will be accessible simply because I don’t want to waste my money. We need to be reviewing games that are the most questionable as far as accessibility because that is where we can provide the most good to gamers and developers.
Beyond being given review copies, disabled publications need to be given early review copies. To allow disabled gamers to participate in the community excitement around games, they need to see reviews that address their needs at the same time that other early reviews go up.
The disability community may have valid reservations about participating in a very consumer-driven gaming culture. We have been excluded from well-paying jobs and from the products themselves, and I more than understand the desire to criticize that system. However, in gaming, that exclusion also prevents us from fully participating in the community. I argue that while we criticize ableist, capitalist structures, we should acknowledge that it is how the industry currently works, and we should support disabled outlets and influencers. The system is flawed, but we should be able to enjoy what we can. It’s a small step.
If you’re a developer or publisher, give disabled outlets early review codes. If you are a tech manufacturer, include disabled influencers and reviewers in your marketing campaigns. To address the issue systemically, think about the needs of disabled folks when you’re designing gaming tech. The disability community wants to buy your products…. They just aren’t built or marketed for us.
Everyone can support disabled outlets. If you have the funds, financially support your favorite creators, but you can still help even if you can’t contribute money. Publishers are more likely to give review copies to outlets with more pageviews, subscribers, and followers. We know how important accessibility content is, and we need to show the rest of the industry.