Carlos Vasquez is a master of the video fighting game Mortal Kombat, despite being unable to see action on screen due to blindness.
A chorus of voices calling for better access to gaming for people with disabilities – a Texas resident who relies on punching, kicking and dodging time.
“You have two characters fighting each other across the screen, left and right, and you just have to memorize the buttons,” Vasquez said, explaining what drew him to the Mortal Kombat.
The issue of accessibility for game makers, long neglected by the industry, is on the rise. There are financial as well as ethical reasons to open the door for more players in the multi-billion dollar industry.
According to the World Health Organization, more than one billion people live with some form of disability.
The technology powerhouse behind Microsoft, Xbox and its cloud game streaming services, estimates that there are around 400 million disabled players.
Vasquez’s mighty Mortal Combat maker has caught the eye of the Netherlands Studio, which is owned by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
At his suggestion, the studio added audio signals so that blind gamers could identify objects that could interact in the game.
Game developers are keeping accessibility in mind when designing software, adding settings to level the playing field for disabled players.
Games can be tweaked to help artificial intelligence or other human players in need.
Alternatives can be made to bypass irresistible obstacles due to disability.
“Our approach is to try to share the DNA accessibility of everyone in the company,” said David Tisarand, head of the initiative at French video game giant Ubisoft.
“We really want to make sure everyone understands that accessibility is part of their order.”
In March, the second annual Video Game Accessibility Awards were presented to the best adapted titles for persons with disabilities.
The games that won the award include the car racing title Forza Horizon 5, the first to support American and British sign languages.
“Things are much better than they were decades ago because games can be fixed with a few updated patches,” said Chris Robinson, a Chicago-based gamer who hosts the DeafGamersTV channel on the deaf and video game streaming site Twitch.
Supporting visual or audio features in recent releases such as Last of Us Part II, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and Far Cry 6 have been praised by players with disabilities.
Despite the progress, the players interviewed by AFP were adamant that more needed to be done and that they were willing to be heard in the process.
The large variety of subtitles and visual cues on the screen, for example, make a difference for deaf players, Robinson said.
Hate and troll
“Another challenge is interacting with other players who can hear,” said Soleil Wheeler, a 16-year-old deaf gamer who uses the “Eok” handle.
Wheeler was tuned by thousands of people to watch the battle-royal games Fortnite and Apex Legends online.
Teenagers eagerly await a time when conversations in online multiplayer games appear as captions in real-time.
Hardware accessories are rare for players with limited use of their hands, says David Cumberio, head of HitClick, a French startup that designs gears for people with motor disabilities to play at a competitive level.
Microsoft made a special adaptive controller for Xbox games before adding the cost for customization, which cost $ 100 (about Rs. 7,550).
Still, Xbox’s console market rivals Sony and Nintendo offer no controller equivalent, Combario said.
Online platforms have a wide range of players, but they can still be badgers with abusive or derogatory comments from “trolls” and “haters”, says teenage gamer Wheeler.
“I’m not letting them waste my time,” Wheeler said. “I choose my battles wisely as I navigate through life.”