Spirit of the North: When Excitement Becomes Work

Christy Smith4 minute read

When I unboxed my PS5 shortly after launch, I was excited to experience next-gen gaming, especially Spirit of the North. For me, this was a particularly large leap as I had never personally owned a PlayStation or Xbox, as I primarily gamed on the Nintendo Switch. The PS5 opened up a whole catalog of PS4 games that I missed and offered up the launch lineup of brand new titles.

I originally set out to review EVERYTHING. I was excited to share this experience with CIPT readers. However, I quickly realized that some games were unexpectedly very accessible to me. For the first time, I was able to access the most popular, mainstream games. Even though I’ve played Nintendo titles for years, games on PlayStation seemed to hold more cultural acceptance. It became a very personal experience for me to feel like I was part of the broader gaming community and not only the Nintendo community.

Writing reviews became something that almost felt like an invasion of that personal experience. Certainly, some of it was simple burnout, but also the sense of responsibility to review. It is incredibly empowering to be able to play a game that I wasn’t anticipating being able to play. Yet, having to criticize those games for review felt like it might detract from my excitement and inclusion.

Contrastingly, with some games that were less accessible, I felt like I needed to work harder to overcome access barriers to fully judge the game. This is how I felt about Spirit of the North. I started playing the game on stream (feel free to follow me on Twitch) and less than ten minutes into the experience, I was unable to proceed. Spirit of the North has you following a blue ghost, and the background is icy and blue. Unless the ghost was moving, I couldn’t find it. I am able to track movement pretty well, but I have a very difficult time seeing static images and recognizing what I am seeing. I wasn’t able to track the movement of the ghost well enough to find it at its next location.

I booted the game back up later with the help of a walkthrough and was able to get a little bit further, but even then, it was incredibly difficult. Because the background is so natural (and looks amazing on the PS5), it is hard to distinguish if I am following the same route as the walkthrough.

The game is inaccessible to me, period. There are no “ghost studs” like there are in my favorite LEGO games to lead me to where I need to go. There are no giant arrows pointing me in the right direction. There are no fail safes. However, if I worked hard enough, I could push past it. I could sit and go back and forth between the video walkthrough and my own gameplay. I would have to play in fifteen-minute increments to make that work with the inevitable eye strain because of all the refocusing going back and forth between screens. However, I could probably do it.

I’m not going to.

I have always approached my reviews as describing the accessibility straight out of the box (or download queue). Some people are able to put in hundreds of hours to memorize every sound cue and command timing to make inaccessible games accessible. I have SO MUCH respect for these folks who refuse to let inaccessibility stop them from the things they love.

That’s not me, though. I play games to relax. I don’t want to have to work too hard to play them. I will never undercut how impressive it is when folks dedicate themselves to truly learning a game and playing it without ideal accessibility. I applaud these folks for playing these games and by extension saying that disabled people SHOULD be playing games.

Personally, though, I don’t have the energy. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the dedication. I just want to play the game out of the box like the casual I am.

Spirit of the North is not accessible to me. It could be accessible to other low vision folks who are able to put in more effort or have better movement tracking skills. Accessibility isn’t just about physical and cognitive impairments, though. It is also about playstyle, which is heavily influenced by disability. My desire for a casual experience is as much a part of me as my disability. It affects my gaming needs just as much. In this case, Spirit of the North is inaccessible for me because of these factors. I had planned to give it a full review, but it wasn’t accessible enough to review since I never made it past the first ten minutes. 

It took me a while to realize that it is still inaccessible to me even though I probably could finish the game if I were willing to put in significant amounts of effort. If you’ve ever experienced this problem, I hope you can recognize that games may be inaccessible because of your disability or because of your playstyle. It is not your job to play games that don’t suit you, and you aren’t failing if you aren’t willing to put in extraordinary effort to play games.

I recognize that can be hard to put into practice when it might restrict which games are accessible to you even further. Even so, I hope we can give each other permission to acknowledge that inaccessibility can come from a variety of factors.

In the meantime, I will be sticking with games that include more navigation aids.

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Christy
Smith

Christy Smith is a visually impaired gamer whose main goal in life is to snag a seat on the metro instead of having to stand so that she can play Switch on her commute. She/her/hers or They/them/theirs

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