Ableism in video games has to stop

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James Waller, Staff Writer   

Difficult video games are appealing to a lot of gamers for a variety of reasons, like the joy of a challenge or bragging rights, but, when dialogue about the difficulty in video games shifts to accessibility, many people who enjoy games like Dark Souls or Cuphead become filled with such vitriol. They played these games at this level of difficulty, so why should we include anything like an “easy mode” and water down the experience just for the more casual players?

Much of this about the pride of those who can capably play these sorts of games. If you’re having difficulty in, say, Dark Souls, then maybe it just isn’t for you, or you just need to get better at the game. If you insist that something is wrong with the game, rather than your own ability, then perhaps you’re just protecting a wounded ego. After all, other people have beaten these games, so shouldn’t you be held to the same standard?

London’s Metro newspaper, in a 2012 interview with Hidetaka Miyazaki, the creative mind behind Dark Souls and Bloodborne, hinted at potentially making future games easier, to which the playerbase responded with enormous backlash.

But, what do we say when it comes to the matter of people who can never reach certain peaks of performance? Disabled gamers exist. No amount of skill can make abnormally weak muscles perform, rewire malformed nerves, or make perfect use of defective eyes. With this shift in video game culture towards the love of difficulty and no steps towards accessibility taken for disabled gamers, disabled gamers are inevitably left out in the cold. To simply dismiss any attempt at inclusivity as coddling casual gamers is blatantly ableist.

As an autistic gamer, I frequently experience sensory overload playing games with complex visuals. For example, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s small characters, bright colors, busy stage backgrounds, and far-away camera view make it incredibly difficult for me to keep track of what’s on screen, despite that I enjoy the game. I can’t play first-person shooters at all because my motor skills are poorly developed enough that I can’t hit anything even with console games’ infamous aim assistance. I enjoy and have beaten games like Bloodborne and the Dark Souls trilogy, but if I even minutely less capable of reacting to their stimuli, for example, if I had a disability that affected my joints, they’d be unplayable.

It is not ableist to enjoy difficult games for their difficulty, but it is ableist to insist that enjoyment is impinged upon by the inclusion of accessibility measures for other people. Pillars of Eternity, a computer roleplaying game released in 2015, included an optional colorblind mode; this was just a box that could be ticked in an options menu for those who needed it. Pillars of Eternity is still a beloved modern classic roleplaying game. Optional features do not weaken the enjoyment one can gain from a difficult game; difficulty mode choices have long been prevalent through the lifespan of the video game artform.

Video games, as games and interactive art pieces, should be fun and interactable, not needlessly punishing and gatekept. “Hardcore” gamers are a minority, not the body of the market that the game industry caters to, so I don’t believe they should be able to dictate the terms by which others may enjoy video games.

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1 Comment on "Ableism in video games has to stop"

  1. Breihan Dryden | February 7, 2019 at 8:37 am | Reply

    After reading your article, you probably should have picked a different headline, mate. Lack of difficulty options for an incredibly small amount of games does not equal “ableism in games.” The majority of developers are developing games for everyone that they can, meanwhile a handful develop games that are meant for people who enjoy extreme difficulty.

    Why complain about a few titles/series that you can’t play when you could encourage people to make games specifically for the disabled market? I mean, hell, I’m pretty sure more people would be appreciative of that, rather than forcing From Soft to develop the next souls game around an easy mode.

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