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EditorialMar 6, 2019 10:00 am CT

Gaming can offer a comforting world for disabled gamers — it’s not perfect, but it’s important

As my own personal disability has grown, I’ve come to see more and more what video games can do for those with disabilities. Now, my disability is visual — I am legally blind — and the video games I play include both World of Warcraft and Diablo 3 to a great extent, but this disability affects more than just those two.

It affects everything I play.

Gaming as a world of its own

One of the things I wanted to say from the moment I thought about writing this post is that it is hard to convey just how important video games and gaming have become as my disability progresses, and this is something I’ve heard from others with wildly variant issues. For people whose disability renders them unable to go out for long stretches without extreme effort, video gaming has become a means to have social experiences and get past the barriers the world often imposes on us. The world is often quite deliberately inaccessible, whether due to active malice against the disabled or sheer laziness on the part of others who would rather not make the effort to allow us access — but these problems often aren’t present in the world of games. It’s hard to explain how powerful an experience it can be to go on a raid in WoW and be involved in a group activity with others when you can’t do it out in the world.

As gaming has become more social and more multiplayer, it’s become a place. At its worst, it’s a really rather horrible place — the toxicity and hatred that lurk in online spaces are fairly concentrated in gaming, with a ton of gatekeeping that seeks to exclude women, anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum, and yes, us disabled folks. But at its best, gaming takes what the internet does best — create an environment where we can communicate and come together regardless of our differences –and adds onto that the ability to do things you just can’t do in real life, no matter who or what you are. In the world, I can’t really do a lot of the things other people can, or even what I used to be able to do. I can’t read nearly as fast, I can’t see at all out of my right eye, and there’s significant risk to my going out on my own because I’m impaired. But in Diablo 3 I can still slaughter hosts of demons.

Gaming as a release

There’s a release to this. While my disability does make it harder for me to play — I’m not the tank I used to be — I can still do it, and the people I play with often have no idea I have a disability. They don’t know my gender or identity, either. When it goes well, gaming gives me a community I’ve often felt myself losing in my day-to-day life. My World of Warcraft guild has people in it that I legitimately consider my friends, and they’ve allowed me to raid with them and run dungeons with them despite my difficulty seeing. One of my oldest friends in WoW was bedridden for years, and the game was his only means to talk to much of anybody outside of his family. That’s amazing to me — it’s the first tentative steps toward a world where our bodies simply don’t matter, and I absolutely love it.

Gaming and the need for representation

Now, don’t assume all disabled players need or want an escape. They don’t. I can’t speak for all disabled people any more than anyone can really presume to speak for me. But one thing that gaming can do — and needs to do more often — is up its representation of us and take steps to include us. When Microsoft put out a special controller for players who have disabilities that make normal controllers hard to use, I was ecstatic to see it. Is it enough? No, it’s not.

But it’s something cool — a customizable game accessory that can be adjusted to what the player needs in order to keep having access to their games. I have a keyboard that I’ve macro’d to make gameplay easier in both WoW and Diablo 3 (although, to be fair, Diablo 3 is very friendly for my particular challenges).

I’d love to see more disabled characters in games — an Overwatch hero, perhaps. But in general, I’m often very thankful that I have gaming. It has been a means to cope, and most importantly to me, a place where what I can’t do as well anymore doesn’t define my life.

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