A giant in shining steel armor, armed with a mace as long as the man himself. Conrad Malfort from the computer game “A Plague Tale: Innocence” is not the kind of opponent a player can kill in just two clicks. But he’s not particularly agile in his armor, and if he doesn’t hit anything the player has a three or four second window of time to give him one from behind.
Three seconds gives 34-year-old Melanie Eilert an impossible task. In this short time, she would have to go around the opponent with her pawn, take out the slingshot, aim and shoot. But Eilert can’t press so many keys in a row so quickly. The administrative clerk lives with spinal atrophy. The disease makes your muscles weaker and weaker and more and more restricts your motor skills.
Eilert enjoys computer games, but in the case of “A Plague Tale,” she interrupts the game in frustration. She would have loved to throw the controller into the TV, she later wrote on Twitter.
Eilert is not the only one in this case. According to a study by market research firm Civey, eight percent of people with physical disabilities have already given up on a computer game. The number of gamers is probably much higher, as people were asked whether or not they play computer games on a regular basis. The study was commissioned by the project “Gaming without Borders”, the specialist agency for youth media culture in North Rhine-Westphalia and the mobile operator Congstar. Eilert appears as an ambassador for the project.
Another study shows that disabled gamers are a relevant group in Germany. According to a survey carried out by Yougov for the gaming association, 7.6 million of the nearly 45 million gamers aged 16 and over identify as disabled in this country. Computer games are, among other things, an opportunity for people with disabilities to participate in social and cultural life. According to the Civey survey, more than one in four 18-29 year olds are passionate about gambling.
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With the Xbox Adaptive Controller, many can finally control characters from a first-person perspective.
To break down barriers in computer games, two levers can be operated: software and hardware. For people with physical disabilities, for example, there are mice that the user controls with their mouth or eyes. Microsoft released the Xbox Adaptive Controller especially for gamers in 2018.
Eilert also uses it. For them, the device opened the door to computer games from a first-person perspective. Controlling them is so complicated because the player normally fixes the angle of view with one hand and moves their figure with the other at the same time. It works with conventional controllers with two joysticks and with a PC with a combination of mouse and keyboard. With saucer-sized buttons and additional adaptive controller connections, Eilert uses his knees and a hand to move around in games. The “A Plague Tale” example shows, however, where even the most innovative material reaches its limits.
Eilert therefore says: “The attention Microsoft has drawn to the topic of disabled games with its advertising campaign is almost more important than the controller itself. A lot of things can be solved in the game itself. For example, an option that would have allowed him to slow down the game speed for combat with the warrior.
In their opinion, the Playstation 5 game “Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart” does better. In addition to the speed, the controls can also be individually adjusted there, for example so that you do not have to repeatedly press a button. Eilert can therefore also play “Ratchet & Clank” with the conventional controller. “It’s exhausting, but it is possible,” she said. “It’s the most important thing for me.”
For the Civey study, players were also asked whether or not they had a physical disability. Much of this group is concerned that games will become more expensive if developers seek such revolutionary options. Three in four respondents said they were unwilling to pay extra as a result. Eilert says it’s not necessary at all. “If accessibility is included in development from the start, that doesn’t mean a lot of extra effort.” Most important is a close exchange between developers and disabled players, the 34-year-old explains.
The number of disabled players will continue to increase. It is not only becoming more and more important to program barrier-free digital games, but also to clear up misunderstandings.