Ragged Edge Online Home

MMORPGing into inaccessibility

An ongoing discussion on one of the email listservs I frequent has gotten me to thinking about -- of all things -- morality.

On Nov. 15, Sony Online Entertainment will roll out its new version of Star War Galaxies, which I've learned is called a MMORPG, for "massively multi-player online role playing game." This is not the kind of stuff your Ragged Edge editor knows much about.

And what's happening is that a game that was fairly accessible is becoming inaccessible, on the Internet. That's something your Ragged Edge Editor does understand the meaning of.

The person on the email list who's been seeking advice is visually impaired.

From the listserv:

I've managed to figure out how to play with trusted friends to follow. I also target them then I shoot what they shoot so I don't have to try to aim.

Sounds violent to me. But whatever. It's gaming, I guess.

But Sony, evidently, is lusting for the new -- perhaps simply for newness's sake:

They are totally changing this, even the key map and how you move in the game. It was mouse-based before and quite easy for me.

Other people playing the game, she says, are starting to mention that they will not be able to use this new system either, because of their disabilities. "So...does this company have to make this game accessible to us?.... I'm sad that I might not be able to continue to play."

Over the days, the story gets clearer:

The others that are also in the same boat are people with physical disabilities that cannot use both hands to maneuver in the game as they used to. The way it is set up now is very lefthand-mouse oriented. One person uses Dragon Naturally Speaking to type in the game, as they can't even use a keyboard effectively.

Right now you can play the game with just your mouse and very little keyboard usage. The new changes will have it so you have to use the WSAD keys for movement, and the mouse for steering. One person in particular only has the use of one hand and that is minimal at best. He/she can't use the new system at all because it requires two hands.

What the disabled gamers want, she says, is that Sony "keep the old way of interfacing with the game."

After discussing it with others on the email list, she says, "I will write Sony Online Entertainment or try to place a call and see if I can't get some answers."

One person on the list tells her,

At this time there is no case law to my knowledge that supports the idea of commercial internet websites having to be accessible to people with disabilities, including those who are blind. The one case that has gone to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Southwest Airlines was the defendant) was decided in favor of the defendant.

I am always surprised that things like this continue to startle and amaze me. I should be wiser now, I tell myself.

And I think of morality. What Sony Online Entertainment is doing seems immoral to me. There doesn't appear to be any reason to change something to make it inaccessible. The reason, I suspect, is simply that programmers like to do new stuff. They get bored.

To hell with gimps that can't keep up!

And it isn't even illegal.

I wonder why everything today is couched in economic rather than moral terms? We have all that rightwing quasi-religious crap going on in this country, and the really immoral stuff continues unabated. Nobody even seems to notice it. To call what Sony is doing "immoral" seems faintly ridiculous, doesn't it? And yet...

And yet I think it is immoral. And I suspect the 3 of you reading this blog think so, too.

I think that a lot of our problem is that the Religious Right wingnuts have stolen "morality" and turned it into a codeword for stuff we can't stand to be associated with. "Immorality" is being used incorrectly.

And then I think about leaders -- real, true, honest leaders -- the kind of leaders who in past rights movements would use words like "morality" without embarrassment. Well, that was then. This is now. I look around for such leaders and don't find them.

This morning, reading through my email, I come across this message from her, to the list:

Well I tried calling Sony Online Entertainment yesterday and pretty much all I got was, "Hi, this is Will. Can I help you?" When I told him why I was calling he said he couldn't help me. When I asked if he could transfer me to someone that could he said "no."

I don't know what to do now.

And neither, I think, does anyone else. That's the problem.


Do you honestly believe that the makers of the video game even consider that people with disabilities actually play their games? They are most likely ignorant to the fact that a problem even exists. The person on the phone who fielded that call was a low-level guy who probably never, ever heard that complaint before. I have a problem calling the compay immoral when in fact they probably are unaware of their actions. So what are we gimps to do? Escalate the problem to a wider audience. E-mail editors at magazines that cover video games. Increase the volume of phone calls and letters to the game manufacturer. With my limited knowledge of computer program, I believe there is most likely an easy "fix" to the problem that would enable continued "accessible" functionality to the video game. We just have to reach the right people. Reaching the right people requires VOLUME. As you recently asked, WHERE ARE THE GIMP GROUPS???

On another note, I'm 3 chapters into your book "Eastwood...Reeve...Go Away." So far it has only proved to what I akready knew from reading your blog...YOU GET IT!


So... I am disabled, a computer programmer and an avid player of MMORPGs and know a couple of prominent advocates who also play MMORPGs.

To be fair, this change is undoubtedly driven by the player/user community demanding it and not the programmers wanting to change for the sake of change. The use of the WSAD keys is the industry standard and provides a lot of advantages to the average user.

I agree with the previous comment. The issue is ignorance not morality and that solutions would be relatively easy to implement if there were greater awareness. We (gimps) should be pushing for the same kind of accessibility standards in the gaming industry that the W3C has adopted for the internet.


Hey, Nick?

According to the 11th Circuit Court, the internet doesn't have to be accessible - that was their decision in the Southwest case. Nothing has to be adopted for anything.

As far as why did they change? Why couldn't they have put in a change, but also allowed for the controls to also work as they are already working? Why do upgrades have to nullify already working systems?

And if the company was really interested in the consumers who were being hurt, and as you say they just don't know and we should tell them ... well, then maybe the guy should have bumped her question up to a supervisor, or at least written it down, or entered it into the computer system. Instead, he said "No", and that was the end of the phone call.

Pretty hard for all the gimps and blinks to make a statement and create awareness if they are going to be told "No" and hung up on.

And mjohnson - there are more than 3 of us reading out here - why, there are at least 6! LOL


Sounds like the gaming market is teeming with opportunities to build alliances with people who are technically inclined and consumer-driven, and maybe, in a nerdy, fetishy kind of way, interested in the mechanics of adaptation ("Doc Oc"). You may have inadvertently hit on something big here, Mary. I believe that if disabled gamers and their allies were to collectively (or one by one in sheer volume) send in their adaptive needs and grievances, this is a market gimps might actually have a respected bearing on. And once we have the computer geeks on our side, we could rule the world! Muuah ah ah ah!!


"And yet I think it is immoral. And I suspect the 3 of you reading this blog think so, too."

Well actually no. I don't think it's immoral.

Most MMORPGs use the default WASD mouse combo, and many offer some interface customization. Game developers, and their funders, would not purposefully exclude a group of gamers. So go to the Help channel in the game and spam it. Go to the Moderators and spam them. Then call and email. If there are enough voices and the message is clear what gamers want, then I believe they will often get it.
It is often worthwhile to get involved with gaming groups related to your disability. There are some great sites out there (Deaf Gamers is excellent).
So spread awareness, but be sure to offer a solution. Tell them what would make it accessible for you and other disabled gamers and the solution may be a patch away.

Post comment

(All entries are checked for inappropriate content before they appear on the site. Thanks for waiting.)

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2
Email this page to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):