As our social climate is constantly rapidly changing, so is the media we are collectively consuming. A big advantage of this progress is a growing awareness for demographics that the industry so far has seemed to not address, or simply leave out. As the general population of gamers is growing, the more stories we have to tell, and more work we have to do.
In recent years, we have seen an increase of significant representation of people with diverse identities, however, it still feels as if the gaming industry has yet to accurately portray one of the most all-encompassing groups of people; people living with disabilities. With around 10% of the global population and 46 million gamers with disabilities in the US alone, there is a significant need for more inclusion in our community.
In this article we explore the possibilities that esports open up to people with disabilities, the criticism that comes along with it, and the effect it has on the community.
While there is still a rather obvious lack of visual representation of characters with disabilities in video games, there are a lot of people working relentlessly to successfully include everybody in the gaming community. Since there are many developmental benefits for people living with disabilities believed to derive from playing games, specifically competitive e-sports, many big-tech giants like Microsoft and Logitech have previously recognized potential in the market and have already developed things like accessibility-friendly controller-sets.
Sports and especially team sports, regardless of physical fitness, are crucial for the development of young people’s physical, but more importantly, social skills. Strengthening communication, teamwork, and tolerance are only some benefits to mention. The more unfortunate it feels that people with disabilities are oftentimes almost completely exempt from communal physical activities. But now, that’s where e-sports come into play. While it’s hard to ultimately compare both activities, e-sports pose a real chance for people living with disabilities. Forming bonds with teammates, working on strategies, and succeeding at competitions are all part of the educational esports experience, with many players even breaking into the pro-scene.
In the surge of trials and overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community, a variety of non-profit organizations, activists, and committees have focused their main attention on advocating for more events that are specifically targeted towards the inclusion of the community.
Before the pandemic hit the world at the end of 2019, the British Esports Association held a Rocket League tournament for alternative provision classes (Classes that provide education for children who cannot attend mainstream school systems), trying to provide a more inclusive experience in the so-often exclusive world of esports. With the pilot event having been a tremendous success, it is expected to pick up again once circumstances are more allowing.
With many more events like the Gunma Esports Festival in Takasaki, Japan’s first Esports event for gamers with disabilities, Or Netmarble’s National e Festival Competitions for Students with Disabilities, it comes to no surprise that even the official Special Olympic Games this year had a subsection for esports.
In the end, inclusion for gamers with disabilities should always come from a place of the community requesting support, not for reasons of virtue signaling, explains AbleGamers Charity COO Steven Spohn in an interview with esportsinsider.com. “People will go down this rabbit hole and it’s always [coming from] good intensions to include everybody. But sometimes it’s not something people are asking for. People can conflate equality and being special,” said Spohn. “There’s nothing wrong with people being different. We’re asking that people stop minding that we’re different”
With the term of disability being of such a wide variety, trying to establish blanket rules, standards and regulations seems nearly impossible, and limiting at best when it comes to measuring people’s success in competitions.
“You’re not going to make a competition fair between someone who can barely push the buttons on a standard controller or someone who needs a specialty controller versus someone who is an absolute monster at Fortnite,” said Spohn. “It’s not a fair fight.”