Esports Ergonomics: Designing for the Disabled Gamer
One of the advantages of esports is how inclusivity and diversity is a part of it. Gender, nationality, and physical strength don’t matter when you are shooting in the eye of the storm of Fortnite or building houses in Minecraft. As such, there are many gamers with disabilities who enjoy playing and competing in various esports.
The numbers speak for themselves. An Information Solutions Group survey showed way back in 2008 that one out of every five gamers is disabled. AbleGamers, an organisation that supports disabled gamers says there are about 33 million gamers with disabilities in the US alone.
This has given rise to the need for ergonomic equipment that allows disabled gamers to comfortably play on an equal platform as a regular gamer. To find out the problems such gamers are facing and how the esports ergonomic sector is catering to this population, The Tech Panda spoke to Kristin Riedel, CMO of nerdytec, a company that designs ergonomic hardware for gamers.
The option of holding down a button instead of pressing it repeatedly to open something, or of using only one stick to control movement, sound minor when you have full control of your hands. But for someone with cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, or arthritis, it can be the difference between playing the whole game and requiring an able-bodied minion to help you play
“The issues players with disabilities have with regular equipment is that they’re often hard to handle for them because of many reasons and each one of them is different. In fact, approximately 92% of people with impairments play video games,” she says.
Keeping these numbers in mind, over the years, ergonomics designers have developed an array of input devices to aid players with disabilities to provide an identical gaming experience for everyone. Some of these include one-handed controllers, motion sensors attached to the foot, and mouth-controlled input devices.
Problems Disabled Players Face
Many players face controller or hardware usability problems. Sometimes simple looking equipment can pose a challenge to those who have motor skill problems.
“The option of holding down a button instead of pressing it repeatedly to open something, or of using only one stick to control movement, sound minor when you have full control of your hands. But for someone with cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, or arthritis, it can be the difference between playing the whole game and requiring an able-bodied minion to help you play,” Reidel explains.
Read more: COVID-19’s Impact on the World of Esports
For example, in Pokemon:GO, motion-based controls for capturing Pokemon was one of the main game features. However, this presented a number of accessibility issues for disabled gamers.
People with visual impairments also face problems of being unable to change font size or visual settings for clarity. Often deaf players face the problem of there not being subtitles to help them understand the game. Games that rely on colour identification can also become inaccessible for colour blind players.
Hardware is the area that requires most attention when it comes to catering to disabled gamers. Recently, AbleGamers and ATmakers launched Freedom Wing, an adapter that allows players to plug a wheelchair joystick into the Xbox Adaptive Controller. This means, with some manipulation, it can be used with a PlayStation 4 and PC. The product will make a slew of video games more accessible to wheelchair users.
nerdytec has come up with designs that aim to avoid injuries like back pain and carpal tunnel, while providing comfort in playing from a bed or a couch. Named Couchmaster, the product is a couch gaming desk.
It can be a change for PC gamers, who usually play from a desk, giving them a more comfortable experience. At the same time, Riedel says, it is also a perfect option for players with disabilities, for example, players who use wheelchairs or bedridden players.
“The Couchmaster not only enables all players to comfortably game from their couch, but it also acts as a great solution for wheelchair-using gamers. So even after hours of playing, while using the Couchmaster, there’s no muscle soreness or tension and most players don’t express any physical complaint whatsoever,” she says.
The issues players with disabilities have with regular equipment is that they’re often hard to handle for them because of many reasons and each one of them is different
Disabled users have described the product as an ‘ingenious solution’ as it allows for a more ergonomic posture without having to rest on the player’s lap. While at Gamescom, a German gaming exhibition, many wheelchair users approached the nerdytec team to say that the Couchmaster would be a clever solution – above all because it is simply placed on the cushions and thus makes it easy to get up from.
“They also appreciated the fact that the Couchmaster is not placed on the lap, as it provides a more ergonomic posture. Some of the conversations with disabled people even became emotional when they saw the Couchmaster for the first time,” says Riedel.
Future of Ergonomics for Disabled Players
In the near future, Reidel thinks, there will be more companies that offer options to accommodate this demographic and provide the best gaming experience for all users.
“Products like ours enable all kinds of players, even for people with disabilities. For example, a wheelchair using player, who doesn’t want to play in his wheelchair all the time, can play easily and comfortably on the couch or a bed with the Couchmaster,” she says.
She also believes Machine Learning could learn from disabled players and adapt accordingly to create much more comfortable equipment. Technologies like 3D printing could also bring an increase in affordability of disabled-player friendly parts.
As disabled players make up a crucial part of the esports player population, ergonomics that allow them to enjoy a game and compete without discomfort will surely rise. With advance in technology, we are likely going to see helpful developments.