This article is written as a reflection on the study Characteristics and Motivations of Players with Disabilities in Digital Games (Beeston, J., Power, C., Cairns, P., Barlet, M):
This study represents the findings of York University’s study of 230 disabled players of video games. The researchers found a strong correlation between non-disabled players in several areas, perhaps most notably when asking their sample what their favourite games were. In this survey, 6 out of the top 10 titles were competitive online games – including high dexterity, reaction-based games such as Overwatch (Blizzard, 2016) and PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG Corporation, 2017). The overwhelming majority of the sample group stated that they play with online friends or strangers. This implies that the field of competitive gaming may be less divided than sports for those with or without disabilities. Moreover, the tastes of disabled gamers reflect those tastes of most audiences – a tendency toward polished mainstream ‘triple AAA’ experiences.
The reasonings stated as to why disabled players play games do reflect some minor differences with non-disabled players, with a larger number of disabled players citing ‘pain relief’ and a lower amount selecting ‘competition.’ Yet the aforementioned data suggests that competitive games are by no means a disengaging genre for disabled players. This may suggest differing methods of engagement, with players managing a higher frustration threshold, or it may represent players struggling to engage with these games in spite of their obtuse difficulty that doesn’t cater to their disability.
As a study the biggest limitation is its voluntary nature, seeking their sample through those registered as part of the AbleGamer’s Player Panels Programme. This means potentially losing out on those with less desire in registering as a player with disabilities, or with less interest in video games (i.e. a more casual disabled player). This is reflected in that only 24/230 they surveyed considered themselves ‘not’ a gamer. This along with other limitations on data are frequently heralded by the authors, who state that this is to be considered a work in progress.
However, if the findings of the researchers are correct then disabled players seek to play highly similar games, for highly similar reasons to non-disabled players. Yet as an audience they remain underrepresented. A potentially prudent method to proceed would be for this study to inspire further research into this field and for those findings to be brought to the industry and to journalists at festivals and events. Not just to present statistics, but also to be participant with more disabled players and developers speaking about their experiences and desires.
Beeston, J., Power, C., Cairns, P., Barlet, M. ‘Characteristics and Motivations of Players with Disabilities in Digital Games. Work in Progress’, https://arxiv.org/pdf/1805.11352.pdf
PUBG Corporation (2017), PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds, Video Game, PC
Blizzard (2016), Overwatch, Video Game, PC