In January, I shared news about Bioware’s Dragon Age video game earning an award from AbleGamers.com for its accessibility. I had admitted in that article that, despite passions for both accessibility and video games, I had never really put the two together in my mind.
Furthermore, I’ll be honest that I hadn’t heard of AbleGamers.com before that news piece either. I’m extremely excited that I got the opportunity to do an email interview with Steve Spohn, the Associate Editor at AbleGamers and also the person who reviewed Dragon Age.
AbleGamers.com is an outreach of The AbleGamers Foundation, and a site devoted to catering to both hardcore and casual gamers with disabilities. In addition to great reviews that showcase the highlights and shortcomings of a game accessibility, the site also provides a community for disabled gamers to share and collaborate.
Steve is a disabled gamer himself. He has a rare type of Muscular Dystrophy called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). You can read more about Steve on his profile page.
Let’s jump right into the interview!
Steve Grobschmidt (SG): Overall, how would you rate the gaming industry’s consideration for disabled gamers?
Steve Spohn (SS): I think the industry is beginning to learn what they need to do; it’s just a matter of convincing them it is worth the money. I would currently rate them at 5 out of 10, mostly because a lot of games have subtitles. In addition, more games are beginning to add remappable keys, which is extremely important to those who have limited range or need third-party assistive equipment.
Unfortunately, they are still lacking in areas such as colorblind awareness, options for on-screen keyboards, ability to increase mouse speed, and other such mobility areas.
SG: Dragon Age was in the spotlight for winning the most accessible game of 2009 award. What are some other stand outs from 2009 and 2010?
SS: There were no other games in the last year that have stood out like Dragon Age. Most games are around 6 – 7 in score because of visible accommodations such as subtitles and font size adjustments. However, World of Warcraft is a very accessible game, even though it was not launched recently. They have continued to try to improve their accessibility by working with AbleGamers. Not long ago, they even released a patch to assist colorblind gamers.
SG: Dragon Age got a 9.8 from AbleGamers.com, and well-deserved recognition. Mass Effect 2, also from Bioware, got a 5.0. Do you think that is more a reflection of the style of the game, or did Bioware drop the ball a bit after doing so well with DA?
SS: Bioware is a large company and each game is directed by different people, which accounts for the difference in accessibility. The producers and directors of Dragon Age definitely appreciated accessibility more than the Mass Effect people did. There is however, a slight drop expected because as soon as you mention FPS, many disabled gamers are left out without accessible technology, some of which is very expensive.
SG: Do any developers stand out for being more consistent than others in their attention to disabled gamers?
One worthy of note from NCSoft is Aion, which recently included a program called GameGuard, which basically blocked every accessible technology that a disabled gamer would need to use. On-screen keyboards, sip and puff devices, and even some voice recognition technology were completely disabled. They did eventually repeal the program, and the makers of GameGuard contacted us to learn more ways to avoid blocking these technologies.
In the second half of this interview, I ask Steve about the expection of the gaming industry to reach out to as many disabilities as possible, as well as about how they go about testing games. That and more is coming later this week.
Thanks to Steve and Mark Barlet, the Editor in Chief at AbleGamers.com, for being so approachable and agreeable to doing this interview.