There are literally millions of disabled citizens in the United States alone. How many of these millions play games or would love to if the developers and hardware manufacturers provided more options for control and accessibility? During my time volunteering with Ablegamers.com, I learned a lot about how disabled gamers are often ignored or simply forgotten during the making of a title. Despite the fact that MMOs are generally more accessible than, say, the latest FPS, the community and developers still have a long way to go.
Don't tell that to Keith "Aieron" Knight. Besides having a killer name, he hasn't let his muscular dystrophy stop him at all. Recently he gained a bit of fame after being promoted by the officialGuild Wars 2 and AbleGamers Twitter accounts. It turns out he was streaming his gameplay live, along with his webcam, as he played games to raise money for research. When I first tuned in to watch, he had over 3,000 viewers. The chat was mostly civil and showed just how educational it can be to show how a disabled player actually accesses a game. Many in the chat room didn't believe it was real. Why? Well, because Knight can pretty much kick some butt in both Guild Wars 2 and League of Legends... all while playing by using a pen in his mouth and his cheek on the mouse.
I had to ask this guy some questions!
Free for All: Can you briefly explain why you are raising money for your charity and explain to the readers why you have to play with a pen, your face on the mouse, and voice commands?
Keith Knight: I'm raising money for Muscular Dystrophy Canada for two reasons. First, I have a form of muscular dystrophy called amyoplasia arthrogryposis, and MDC has helped me throughout my life with helping pay for adaptive equipment and support. Second, a lot of types of muscular dystrophy can be quite harsh and lead to shortened life spans. For instance, a type called Duchenne muscular dytstrophy is very cruel; I have a lot of friends with this condition, and one of my very good friends passed away a few years ago. I don't want to see any more of my friends suffer. The reason I play with a pen and my cheek and ear is that I cannot use my arms or legs very well. My condition means I was born with far less muscle mass in my body, and as such, my arms and legs are very week. I've tried other methods of using my computer, but this one seems to be the most effective.
I noticed you were playing Guild Wars 2. Have you been enjoying it, and if so, what are some of your favorite aspects of the game?
I love Guild Wars 2. I've been looking for a new MMO to play for a while, and GW2 has everything I like, story-driven PvE, WvWvW, and PvP. I used to raid in World of Warcraft, so I miss that a bit, but I'm too busy to have a raiding schedule these days anyway.
League of Legends takes a lot of skill. I have to ask the obvious: How do you pwn so much while having such limited mobility?
I honestly don't think I'm good at League of Legends at all. I just enjoy the MOBA genre, so I play it for fun. For League of Legends, I primarily use my mouse along with voice recognition software called Dragon Naturally Speaking to use my skills. There's somewhat of a delay when using voice recognition software, and it also often doesn't react at all, but thus far, it's been the best method for me.
Watch live video from aieron on TwitchTV Seeing that you are only using some very common, basic tools to play with, I wonder whether you could explain just how hardware could be made more disabled-player-friendly? Have you tried any of the other control tools that are out there?
I've used everything that is easily accessible through working with occupational therapists, such as head mouse sensors, eye sensors, and morse code typing, but everything ends up being less effective than my current set up. As for making things more disabled friendly.... that's very difficult because every disability causes different limitations and difficulties. Things that would help me may not be useful for anyone else. I think a good start would be seeing developers and hardware companies put more time into researching common difficulties for disabled gamers. While they may not fix every issue, they can focus on difficulties that overlap throughout the masses.
When I wrote for Ablegamers.com, I was shocked to hear just how many disabled players there are in the US alone. What would you say to other disabled players who want to get into MMOs but might be afraid to?
Don't. Listen. To. Trolls. Also, keep trying and don't give up if you're struggling at first. As you practice, you will get better at finding ways to play that fit your abilities.
How long have you been playing MMOs? What are some of your favorites?
I started playing MMOs the year World of Warcraft was launched, and I played that on and off 'til just a few months ago. I haven't played many others, but I tried Star Trek Online (huge disappointment) and Star Wars: The Old Republic (another huge disappointment). Both games are franchises that I love, but the games just weren't ready for launch. Guild Wars 2 is my current favorite and my new addiction.
How long did it take you to become skilled at controlling games? Is it still very challenging or has it become second nature by now?
I've done it my whole life practically, I started playing console games on regular Nintendo and kept playing until the N64. After the N64, the controllers started getting too hard for me to use, so I put my focus more on computer games. I played a lot of text-based games and RTS titles at first before moving into MMOs. I'm so accustomed to it now that most new games only take me a day of messing with keybinds until I'm happy, so the learning curve is very minimal now.
Beau: I'd like to thank Keith for taking the time out of kicking butt to answer my questions. The brilliant thing about watching him as he plays is that it illustrates so many issues at once.
First, it shows just how someone who has a disability accesses and plays common titles. Within a few minutes of watching the stream, I was trying to think of new hardware configurations or adjustments that might make playing for Keith smoother or more comfortable. Second, it shows just how little we know about some of the people we play with. It's very likely that the person we grouped with the other day or the guildie we raid with is disabled. Something else I learned from my time with AbleGamers is that we will all need assistance at some point in our lives, either because of illness, accident, or old age. The tools and adjustments we make for someone like Keith will very likely aid us one day. Gamers should always keep players like Keith in mind while playing and try to avoid common gamer memes that play on disabilities or player differences.
Lastly, Keith's livestreams shine a light on just how wonderful this hobby is. Online multiplayer gaming is all about being with other people from all walks of life. We often take it for granted, but having access to online worlds is a fun activity for some of us but a necessity for others. Accessible games do not need to be boring or only for PvEers, but more games need to consider players with all sorts of abilities. Keith's streams have done a lot for the disabled player movement but only because Keith was willing to get on camera and pwn a bit for us all to watch.
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!