I want to talk a bit more about game accessibility this week. But, unlike last week, I’m going to offer up some actual, concrete experiences that will hopefully make it easier to understand how I — a disabled person; more specifically, a disabled person with SMA type 2 — engage with video games. It’s easy to write about these things. But I’ve found that in many cases talking about things — saying things like “this,” is something that needs to be addressed. While it is important to talk about accessibility, the conversation only seems to go so far.
Most of my experience with massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs, or MMOs) is set squarely in the EA/Bioware camp, thanks to Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’ve played a little bit of Guild Wars 2. A little bit of Star Trek Online. I haven’t touched World of Warcraft, mainly because I have no idea where to start.
I started playing SWTOR my senior year of high school. I started playing an Imperial Agent (because stealth, because knives and sneaky-sneaky spy stuff), joined a guild, and failed miserably at everything combat-related. I wasn’t interacting with anyone, but I was still having the time of my life, so I didn’t really care.
Fast-forward. I finally made a friend, and for a few months, we did everything together. But I never once said anything about my disability. There were opportunities — plenty of them, really, but something kept my mouth shut. Why complicate a good thing, right?
At one point, my friend and I were platforming, which basically involves jumping one from platform to another, usually in the pursuit of some in-game reward. Now, I love platforming — it’s fun as all get-out. But I’m also very, very bad at it, mainly because I control my character via a mouse/onscreen keyboard. I fall and die a lot, which is fine when you’re platforming on your own. But when your partner’s watching you stumble from platform to platform, waiting for you to catch up, watching you die again and again and again, it quickly becomes a kind of torture. Especially when you struggle with anxiety (hi, yep, that’s me).
I remember one really awful jump. (Thanks, YouTube.) I just could not get past it, so I gave up and said, “I can’t do this one.” But my friend wasn’t about to leave me behind, so he kept trying to goad me. “Sure you can. Just give it one more try.” To which I said, “No, you don’t understand, I literally can’t do it.” And, naturally, he asked, “Why not?”
The words were there. I’m in a wheelchair. I’m doing all this with a mouse and onscreen keyboard. Impressive, right? But then I remembered the mantra.
Why complicate a good thing?
The issue, of course, is this: My being-in-a-wheelchair-ness — disabled-ness, crip-ness, abnormal-ness, whatever you want to call it — shouldn’t be a “complication.” Not when it comes to virtual relationships, anyway. The thing about the internet is that identifiers like “disabled” or “crip” or “cyborg” exist in a kind of liminal space. They help like recognize like. (Oh, hey, you’re disabled too? Do you ever use the #DisabledAndCute hashtag? Can I follow you on Insta?) They don’t affect you if you don’t want them to. I’m not asking you to vacate the handicapped parking spot or install a ramp, please, it’s 2017.
Anyway. I told him, eventually. And he said something along the lines of, “I can’t do this.” (Can’t do what? Be my friend? Play Jedi with me? Have feelings for someone in a wheelchair?)
He never spoke to me again.
This was originally meant to be a one-off, but there are other experiences I want to write about. So I think I’ll make this a series, pick up where I left off next week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences with video games! Comment below, or tweet me at @bhalbers with the good, the bad, the “oh crap, my mouse just died and now my character’s running straight off the edge of a cliff …”
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.