Over the weekend I took a break from pruning roses, hacking at tree branches, and restoring a stone flower bed to glance at my Twitter feed and see what was happening in the world of video games. I read an article about a situation that had me rolling my eyes so hard that I went fairly dizzy and shook my head in disgrace. But then, while I was disgusted at what I read, I was also…not surprised.
In a news article from PC Gamer, it was reported that Path of Exile developer Grinding Gear Games had faced some bad press last week after a disabled player was banned for using a macro for accessibility to play the game comfortably. Guess what? That wound up being a lie! Though it was one that caught a lot of attention across the community with various outlets, professionals, and advocates wanting a resolution for what they thought was a true event.
To cut a long story short, Reddit user poelegalthrowaway00 took to the Legal Advice subreddit to enquire about consulting a lawyer after being banned from Path of Exile for using a macro that is required for them to play the game as a disabled gamer. A screenshot —with no alternative text— of the now-deleted comment is available.
PC Gamer reached out to Grinding Gear Games’ CEO, Chris Wilson who acknowledged that the studio was looking into the situation but was unable to find any cases of a player being banned from Path of Exile matching the details from the Reddit post. Wilson said, “banning for this is not in-line with our internal policies and we can’t find any evidence of it occurring,”
But hey, guess what. That Reddit user appeared again, this time on the game’s subreddit and revealed that the Path of Exile accessibility ban was all a lie. In fact, poelegalthrowaway00 described themselves as an “educator” who sought to demonstrate to their class how easy it is to manipulate public opinion and discourse through social media. That confession was apparently edited and replaced by someone claiming to have hacked the account and then the post went down and yadda yadda.
By that point, the damage had been done. And after learning about it, I was left feeling infuriated with this troll. So much so that I wanted to share it, and then rant about it.
Disabled people have worked goddamn hard to get access to things others so easily have access to, and there’s still a vast landscape of products, places, and more that constantly excludes them still by treating disability as an afterthought. These things could easily be made accessible through education and through hiring disabled people to assist.
In video games, accessibility has certainly been on peoples radars recently; The Last of Us Part 2 with all of its accessibility features, The Game Awards 2020 included accessibility as a category, more outlets have been reporting on accessibility news, more studios are hiring disabled players or bringing them in for consultancy. And yet, despite how popular accessibility may appear in our circles, we’re still calling for more to think about accessibility. We end up being unable to enjoy games our friends enjoy because we can’t hear, see, or control them because, for most, the concept of adding accessibility features is overlooked or implemented clumsily.
And the reason this Path of Exile situation is appalling to see is that there’s still so much work to be done, and this could have had a lasting impact. Legitimate issues and concerns raised by disabled people are often lost in overflowing emails, hidden in a sea of comments, or even ignored. When concerns are acknowledged, they can be potentially acted upon and open the game up to a wider audience. Having someone use an actual struggle that disabled people go through consistently as a way to try and stir things up for an “experiment” is harmful.
Not only do people have to argue and prove their disabilities to the world —when they shouldn’t have to— there’s also a toxic gamer culture out there that outright oppose the surge of accessibility and will harass us, threaten us, and dox us. There’s also the concern that other developers who may have seen the news before it was outed as a lie may not take disabled player’s concerns seriously if they assume that it’s just another case of trolling.
And there’s already been another weird situation earlier this month when someone took a GamesIndustry.biz article and manipulated the title to what I can only assume was to spark the toxic discourse on difficulty modes. I won’t go into it, but those that know about the discourse surrounding difficulty modes…whew.
So yes, I am frustrated to see someone use Path of Exile and accessibility as a way to fuck with not only a video game studio and those on social media but also fuck with the inspiring hard work that the disabled community and advocates have championed over the years. Because of them, developers, publishers, and PR are learning about the importance of accessibility from those being vocal and from discussions taking place.
And while this situation is dreadful, in hindsight, it’s only a drop of negativity in what has been a huge puddle of accessibility over the years. For example; Indie games and AAA games are being developed with accessibility in mind, disabled people are being hired as full-time, inaccessible games are being patched to become accessible, Xbox released accessibility guidelines, the PS5 has been updated to include some accessibility features.
And those are only a handful of achievements made possible by the amazing disabled community that is working hard to finally be heard. To you all, keep it up because gaming is for everyone. And with so many experiences and so much knowledge being readily available these days, players shouldn’t feel excluded, nor should they feel afraid of reaching out and making their struggles heard to help not only themselves but others.