Health, IRL

Let’s Talk About Accessibility: What It’s Like to Game With a Disability

Lego Batman 3

The other day I was playing a game from my backlog—Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. It was great. I love the Lego games, especially the writing in Lego Batman. Plus, I’m a completionist, so having a game with lots of collectables to find just makes me warm and fuzzy. I was maybe a third of the way through the main story when Lego Brainiac captured Lego Wonder Woman (who I was playing as). The camera switches to a closeup of Wondey trying to break free while the game prompts me to tap A repeatedly. There’s really no urgency. I’m not losing health, and even if I was, this is a Lego game. Infinite lives. No doubt the game designers meant this to be a minor annoyance during a climactic boss fight. For me, it was an inescapable five-second animation loop that ended my 100% playthrough before the halfway mark.

Let’s talk about accessibility. This has always been a noticeable problem for me because, well, I’m disabled. I have a mild form of cerebral palsy. Basically, whenever a game calls for the player to mash “A” repeatedly, I can’t do that. At least I got a few hours of enjoyment out of Lego Batman 3, and it was a gift from my brother, so I didn’t lose any money. I remember finally finding Wario Land in a secondhand game shop and paying actual money for it, though. Excited to finally play one of the Nintendo platformers I missed out on as a kid, I popped it into my Game Boy Player, and in the third level, I hit a similar wall in the form of a waterfall you have to swim up by mashing A. Fifteen bucks for a game I didn’t get to play five minutes of.

SuperPadNintendo’s made this a more difficult problem for me over the years, too. In the 8-bit days, all you needed was a controller with a turbo button. I had the NES Advantage, which was actually a first-party accessory released by Nintendo. From Nintendo 64 on, I had to dive into the world of third-party support. And I think that’s a shame. I mean, if you thought the N64 controller’s extra handle was awkward, take a look at the Super Pad 64. As you can see on the right, mine doesn’t work anymore. And those Wii/GameCube Chameleon controllers GameStop used to sell were okay, but they didn’t feel right. They were just kind of small and a little too light. Definitely not Nintendo quality. I haven’t seen third-party controllers for the Wii and Wii U with turbo buttons at all. I certainly don’t have any.

A turbo button is an okay option, but I recommend deleting rapid button pressing from the game designer’s arsenal altogether. It’s hard for me to tell if this is just me being cranky because of my personal obstacles with it, but button mashing can’t be all that engaging a game mechanic for anyone, right? Turbo buttons can help someone like me get past a wall, but they’re just not gonna cut it when you’re playing a game like Mario Party where half of the mini-games are competitions to see who can mash A the fastest.

First off: you’re not going to get satisfaction from holding down the A button to beat a level. Believe me, because yes, I played all the way through Mario Party 3‘s story mode for some reason. Secondly, no one’s gonna want to play with you because using a turbo button in Mario Party flips the scales so that now you have an unfair advantage, being able to input a button press consistently on every frame.

Remember when I said that Nintendo keeps making this harder for me? Well, it’s not just the lack of first-party turbo buttons—it’s the games themselves. Come back with me for a second and play Super Mario World. This sure is a fun game. Oh, now we’re at Donut Secret 1. These underwater levels are kind of a pain. They just have a slower pace, but you know they’re still good. And they’re short. Now fast-forward to New Super Mario Bros. U.

New Super Mario Bros. U

Sparkling Waters is basically that waterfall you had to swim up in Wario Land stretched across 8 levels. And why? New Super Mario Bros. U was clearly trying to recapture the feeling of Super Mario World with its interconnected overworld map. Who made the decision to make it so you had to mash A just to swim when World‘s underwater levels were so much calmer and relatively slow-paced?

There’s talk surrounding the idea of making every level of a game accessible to a player from the start regardless of skill level. I’ve seen some react negatively toward this new feature. Don’t react that way, though, because it’s actually good for accessibility. If I like a game, but I come to a wall similar to the one I met in Lego Batman 3, then I can turn on a feature that lets me skip that one part and then keep playing, and to Nintendo’s credit, they have been good about adding features like this into their games. New Super Mario Bros. U, for example, features the Super Guide, a computer-controlled player that can beat the level for you. It’s a good feature, but there are drawbacks. Mostly the fact that it’s less fun to watch a game play for you than it is to play it yourself.

Super Mario 3D WorldPersonally, I like the Invincibility Leaf offered in Super Mario 3D World better. It makes you invulnerable to all hazards except for running out of time and falling down pits (and it gives you a floating mechanic that makes it easier to avoid that). The Golden Leaf makes the level significantly easier and you still get to play it yourself. The only downsides to this are that it only appears after you lose five lives in a single level and the game punishes you for using it by preventing the stars on your file from sparkling, even if you 100% the game. I also think it should be offered alongside the Super Guide for players who can’t beat the level even with the leaf. Other than that, it’s a good feature to have because it’s versatile. For me, the best solution would be to eliminate rapid button presses, but everyone has different needs, and the Golden Leaf seems like a pretty good way to meet a lot of needs realistically.

My dream (and what would be an even more versatile solution) is for Nintendo to release a controller where the user can adjust how it works and even program in button presses and specific actions. Who wouldn’t want that?

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4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Accessibility: What It’s Like to Game With a Disability”

  1. Button mashing quick time events are the worst, I wish developers would try and be more thoughtful and creative about stuff like that.

    One thing I have thought would be cool with interactive cutscenes/QTEs is if they let you solve the problem in various different ways than just the one single button prompt solution, making for a system that helps include people who simply can’t press that button fast enough as well as making those parts more fun to play for everybody. Not to mention, never making those parts kill you if you fail but instead just damage your health bar or stun you for a few seconds instead.

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  2. I can relate to this so much, i can’t tell you how many times my immersion and enjoyment of a game has been destroyed all because i can’t mash a button quick/hard enough or i just don’t react to something in time thus i continually die and cannot progress.

    Now for me personally it’s Spina Bifida rather than CP but still my hand eye co-ordination/ strength is not what it should be and i hate games that punish (or just make you feel like a loser by letting you skip the section but not getting the accomplishment) for your inability to progress.

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  3. I believe the logic behind button mashing sequences is to represent a specific type of struggle of the protagonist in player input, but… Outside of stuff like drumrolls in plastic instrument games like Donkey Konga, no. No they are not engaging, they’re just irritating, and they’re mostly used as part of an already irritating* mechanic – the QTE.

    I’d note that Uncharted 4 has an option to replace button mashing with button holds, so… That’s something, I guess?

    *at least how it’s usually used – there are a handful of games I can think of that use QTEs in ways that aren’t irritating to me, weirdly it’s games where they’re more prominent rather than feeling tacked on, usually due to using QTEs for all action elements rather than being traditionally an action game in some places, and then suddenly deciding to do QTEs in others, often seemingly because there’s an action sequence the devs wanted to include outside of a cutscene, but didn’t know how to build actual mechanics to use for it.

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