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Free for All: Knowing my limits


I'm a 36-year-old gamer. My eyes, ears and lungs are not what they used to be. The decline started with art, something I have been doing since I was a small child. Then I added on heavy drumming for the last 23 years. Next, throw in gaming for the last 10 or 12 years. For good measure, add in a small case of asthma. For all intents and purposes, I have enough nerd cred to keep me in the club for life.

Still, I would love to get rid of the migraines from eye strain and the aching tennis elbow. The asthma takes care of itself -- through exercise and avoiding smoking. Since I started writing for Massively, though, my eyes take on a lot more strain than they should, especially considering how defective they already are. So I've had to take steps to ensure that I'll be able to continue to write, and that I will be able to continue to write for a long, long time.

Read on, and I'll tell you what I do and what games work for me.

First of all, I would like to point squarely to Ablegamers, a website for disabled gamers, for educating me about the plight of disabled gamers everywhere. Ablegamers helped me see that many developers do not even consider disabled players when they make their games, and it helped me see that I actually am disabled. Granted, my disabilities are minor compared to those of some of the gamers I have known, but, for the record, I do match the criteria.

Think about it: If you broke your arm or sprained your thumb, how would you play some of your favorite games? Now imagine if you had the use of only one digit or could type using only voice. Developers should take disabled players into consideration, not only because it's the right thing to do, but because there are millions of them, with money to spend.

Lately, as my little body-aches turn into larger ones, I had to take some steps with my gaming rigs to help lessen the damage. Before I get started, here is the setup on my older PC, the one I use a lot of the time:

  • AMD Phenom triple-core processor
  • 6 GB RAM
  • 500 GB HD
  • Audigy XFI sound card
  • Nvidia 9600 graphics card

Here's what I decided to do, in order to help myself: First, I hooked this rig up to my 32" LCD, running 1366 x 768 resolution. Yes, many of the games do look hideous on this setup, but I have found that the lower resolution means that this older PC can run games better, and with all the bells and whistles going. (My other PC runs a lot higher resolution across two monitors.)

"I can remap anything I want to almost any key, and can have backup attack and move buttons to help spread the strain out. Essentially, I drive this game completely from the keyboard while using melee. "

Then, I moved the 32" at least four or five feet away from where I sit, since the lower resolution plus larger screen means that I need to sit further away. The last thing I want to do is sit up close, only causing more eye-strain.

Next, I moved my writing station over to my wife's PC, a much newer and more powerful machine. I then tweaked Google Chrome to show much larger fonts. Her normal browser, Firefox, stays the same -- I use it to preview all articles and blogs I write.

It seems like this setup is really working well for me. I can jump from my PC to hers if I need to, updating articles while I play AFK-ish games like WURM Online. Some games perform amazingly well on the large monitor, coming across more like console MMORPGs, and some don't work at all. There seem to be a few patterns emerging, but the best way to tell what works or not is to just run the game and get into the settings menu. For example, text-heavy games like A Tale in the Desert just don't feel good at all on the larger setup. Larger text can cause eye strain when it is displayed at such lower resolutions. Shooter-style games, and games that I am very familiar with and can play without having to scan the UI constantly, work very well. If a game does not allow for heavy tweaking of the fonts and colors, then it is a no-go on my larger setup. Here are some other examples:

APB: This game is such a pleasure to play on my larger monitor, even with the smaller resolution, that I feel no eye strain at all. My wrists, however, can start to suffer within an hour, at which point I take a break.

Mabinogi: My old favorite does not do well at all on the larger setup. Not only does it not support the resolution, but the font is so tiny that it makes for a migraine in about 30 minutes. This one stays on my other PC.

Zentia: At first I was very worried that this one would not work on the larger monitor, but then I discovered the "zoom" feature that increases the size of the UI. Once I got this straight, it has been a real pleasure playing.

Global Agenda: I just downloaded this title in preparation for QuakeCon. It runs great and is a blast to play, but it looks a little rough on the larger monitor. Playable, though? Very much so. The font is not adjustable, though, something that would make this game perfect.

Wizard 101: They built this title to run on anything from a netbook to a supercomputer, and it does. It looks the same no matter what you run it on and is always fun.

Runes of Magic: Unfortunately, this game runs well and looks good enough, but the fonts drive me crazy. I will have to really dig in there to see what I can adjust, but I think it might be stuck on my other PC for now.

Dungeons and Dragons Online: Playing this game is an absolute pleasure, as long as the keybindings stick. I can remap anything I want to almost any key and can have backup attack and move buttons to help spread the strain out. Essentially, I drive this game completely from the keyboard while using melee.

There are many other games that I have tried, some that worked and some that did not. It's funny to discover what games adapt to my odd office and what games require the standard resolution size and PC configuration. All of this is to maintain my health, and when it's coupled with plenty of daily exercise and stretching, I seem to be beating any issues I had before. I'm curious, though, whether any of my readers use similarly unique setups, or perhaps something more uncommon?

I know for a fact that this experience has made me think about disabled players a lot more, and about how some games essentially leave no room for any players other than non-disabled players. It's sad, actually. Remember, we will all need to take these measures one day -- so we might as well work them out now.

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