The Possibility of Radical Accessibility Is Here, as Told Through Lego and Gaming

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by Sherry Toh |

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“Hey, is that Lego?” my brother asks, a spark of interest in his eyes. He leans over to get a better view of my laptop. He’s 17, but in that moment, I see the 7-year-old boy who loved Lego so much, he’d want to immediately begin work on every set he got for his birthday and Christmas.

“Yeah, it is,” I reply, partially distracted by fitting bricks together in Lego Builder’s Journey. I’m not sure what satisfies me more — the click of the bricks, building different structures for each level, or furthering the story of a father and son made of Lego pieces. Was this how my brother felt when he was a kid? I turn to him. “This game was on sale. Want me to buy it for you?”

“No, it’s OK. I can buy it myself.” He waves and makes his way to his bedroom, once again 17.

Our childhood memories unfold before my eyes like a photo album. The past converges with the present. Ideas form in my head, brick by brick.

***

Earlier this month, I had an op-ed published at PCGamesN, an online gaming publication. They’d recently put out a call for feature pieces by marginalized voices, and I happened to have had a pitch rattling around in my head for nearly a year. My best friend and fellow columnist Brianna Albers saw the opportunity on Twitter and made me email the publication, threatening me with a knife emoji. Within two days, I got the offer to write the op-ed, and began to solidify my vague thesis on paper: “How RPGs like Cyberpunk and Dragon Age change perceptions of accessibility.”

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The opportunity to write for a gaming publication was different from writing my column. When I wrote the op-ed, I wrote as if I assumed readers knew about video games and the related terminology, but didn’t know anything about disability. When I write gaming entries for my column, my priorities are the other way around. If you’re interested in my argument for the op-ed, you can read it for yourself. If not, following is a quick summary:

Because certain video game genres have large and diverse audiences, their games are built for varied play styles. I wanted to point out that those genres prove accessibility is simply an acknowledgement of human diversity.

In another world, I might’ve written about this topic for my column. However, since the piece had to be extended from 800 words to 1000 words, I believe PCGamesN was the right home for it. That said, there is a related idea that I think readers of SMA News Today will appreciate more — the idea that accessibility is all around us, and that radical accessibility and integration isn’t an impossible dream.

It’s a notion my friend Brie and I discussed while brainstorming topics for SMA Awareness Month. I had sent her a message saying, “We could approach it like, ‘Hey, an accessible world is possible, because we’re already figuring out different modes of accessibility in our own local communities.’”

The first thing that popped into my head was accessible public transport in Singapore. As I wrote my op-ed for PCGamesN, the conversation came back to me, along with thoughts of gaming mice that could replace keyboards, robot arms, and ramps. All these little accessibility aids that we have now. Not some day in the future. Now.

The conversation would come back to me again after I purchased Lego Builder’s Journey. It’s inevitable for me to think of my brother whenever I play it. Because the physical bricks were difficult for me to take apart and put together, I could never understand why he loved Lego so much. We had larger blocks that were easily taken apart, and my mum would buy us Lego figures I could play with, but it wasn’t the same thing.

Lego Builder’s Journey isn’t the same thing as physical Lego bricks either, but it did give me an experience that was close enough. It let me build pre-planned structures and experiment with them, and I got to hear that satisfying click of Lego bricks snapping together. Finally, I understood the appeal of Lego.

A game in itself may not appear like a form of accessibility at first glance. But if we stretch the definition a bit, I think it is. A game or software that provides a similar experience to the so-called real thing provides access to the experience and understanding. I think of it like assistive tech. No, I can’t walk, but a wheelchair gives me the same freedoms as someone who can.

Accessibility is everywhere around us, even in the places we don’t think to look. In that way, it’s like the disability community itself. Through gaming and real life, I hope more will see that a world where disability is merely diversity is possible.

***

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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