Inclusivity in gaming: Are events for the disabled really the solution?

Given the nature of eSports and the fact that it is often considered an equaliser in terms of physical abilities, should there be separation within eSports at all?

Anand Krishnaswamy April 14, 2021 19:31:02 IST
Inclusivity in gaming: Are events for the disabled really the solution?

In recent times there has been some talk in the UK to push for gaming and eSports tournaments for the disabled. In an article published in BBC, it was revealed that the British Esports Association (BEA) was keen to create an event that would cater exclusively to players with disabilities.

However, given the nature of eSports and the fact that it is often considered an equaliser in terms of physical abilities, should there be a separation such as this within eSports at all?

To understand the various factors that influence the situation one has to consider a few facts first. Disabilities or disadvantages, whatever they may be labelled as, come in a wide variety and in different manners. George Abraham, CEO of Score Foundation, a non-profit trust set up that works for the visually impaired said, "The moment something is called 'for the disabled', it creates a bias. There is a tendency of being biased towards people with disabilities. It is something similar to how a tenth grader would not be very happy having to interact with a second-grader as they feel they are superior.”

Abraham, who has also helped launch cricket for the blind in India, is not way off the mark. His thoughts, in fact, makes one wonder about the logic behind BEA's decision. Any tournament or event that is organised only for players with certain disabilities inadvertently runs the risk of being counter-productive as far as inclusivity is concerned.

The other main point that was brought up by Abraham is that many of the visually impaired people he works with enjoy playing online chess, which should be considered an eSport given the statements made by GM Hikaru Nakamura. Given the fact that online chess can be played using voice feedback instead of visual feedback, it brings up the topic of why the game itself can't be designed in a manner that incorporates various feedback options such as visual, aural, tactile, etc. that can be used alternatively based on the preferences of the gamer.

To be honest, there are many specialised devices available that have been designed to cater to specific needs such as arthritis, cerebral palsy, permanent injuries, etc. The adaptive controller designed by Microsoft is one such product.

This controller allows the user to connect third-party-made switches or devices that can be mapped for customised inputs that are specific to the game being played. There have been many other innovative solutions designed by people, but many of these solutions are made by enthusiasts or are extremely specialised.

A question that comes up in this regard is, why don’t more companies develop games that can be enjoyed irrespective of disabilities? Why are concepts such as inclusive design not being applied within the gaming industry?

Inclusive design has gained much traction in recent years, and designers believe that it is time the concept gets its due. Designer Vidyut Naidu, who is currently leading design at Bellwether Industries, an urban air mobility startup, agrees.

"Inclusivity is a consideration that can serve as a catalyst for innovation and change. The core fundamentals of design remain very much the same, you just begin to solve problems far more efficiently for a wider range of people by giving that consideration to all parts of the process," Naidu said.

Admitting that inclusive design is yet to gain popularity, Naidu said that sustainability and inclusivity need to become standard within the design industry. The change in approach, he believes, needs to be driven by the companies involved.

While it is easy to segregate the people who have unique needs, it will only serve to increase the discrimination. Esports in many ways has so far been exempted from this discrimination; as a matter of fact, there is the example of Kuro "KuroKy" Salehi Takhasomi who admits to having a disability that makes it difficult for him to make use of his legs.

This has not stopped him from becoming one of the most successful eSports players of all time. According to Statista.com, he is the sixth richest eSports player in terms of prize money earned.

The very fact that one of the greats in eSports would be classified as a disabled person if the separation was to take place within the world of eSports is proof that such classifications are at best unnecessary and at worst harmful to the gaming community.

The real solution would be to push for a future that hinges on the idea of inclusivity. This approach is one that all parties stand to gain from. In the case of the people who fall into the extreme use cases, the benefit is most visible. However, the regular gamer who makes up the norm also stands to gain because they would be able to create a gaming setup that is better optimised for their own needs through the use of solutions such as the adaptive controller. As far as game developers and equipment manufacturers are concerned the inclusion of the extreme cases within the norm would increase the number of potential customers for them.

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