Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you will have heard about Pokemon Go. In fact if you were under a rock, I’m going to assume you were searching for Pokemon. With the very basic premise being to catch Pokemon (little digital anime characters), in real life settings, the freemium app has caused quite a stir and has featured heavily in the news. People have crashed cars, broken into zoos, and been at the root of much antisocial behaviour, all to catch these little Japanese characters.
Due in part to the Pokemon’s cuteness, the games obsessive nature, and the fact that everyone is talking about it, your average Pokemon Go player is usually very vocal about which Pokemon they have been throwing their Poke Balls at, and how many Poke Stops they have on their journey to work. This is a good percentage of the world that has gone totally Poke-crazy! However awesome or annoying this game may seem to you, there has been another large chunk of the world’s population who have been simply unable to have a go at the game everyone is talking about. Those with chronic illness or disability have come up against huge barriers to playing this game, mainly since ‘go’ implies going out and searching for Pikachu and his friends.
Accessibility issues in the gaming community are nothing new, but this has taken things to a whole new level for disabled gamers. Many are usually frustrated enough having to deal with accessibility issues in games in their own front room, problems which game manufacturers such as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo often do not take into account during development. As their disabled customers drop hundreds of pounds on their games and consoles, manufacturers continue to ignore these problems.
‘But this game is free’, is one of the things you might be shouting and me right now, and on that I would have to disagree. While you might initially be catching Pidgies and Zubats gratis on your front room, it soon becomes clear that to get anywhere in this game you need to get out and explore, which is something many users just can’t do! Ah, but Nintendo has a solution already built into the game. If you want Pikachu to come to you, you can buy ‘incense’, which will attract the little fellas into your home. In fact many non-disabled users will soon find that they can’t get past a certain point without spending some real world money, which is how these freemium games work. Think Zynga and you’re there!
Speaking as a disabled person who has, quite proudly caught two Pidgies, two Zubats, and a Squirtle, which was handily hanging out on my bed, I can see the appeal in the game. Also, getting people out of their houses and out into the big wide world is a great thing, right? Why should we spoil it for the sake of a few hundred thousand disabled people? By all means non-disabled people, go do your thing, run, be free! For someone like me, who has no intention of using the precious times when I can get out of the house chasing Bulbasours OR paying for the Pokemon to come to me, what comes next?
Those of you who are enjoying the game should continue to do so, though I advise always staying on the right side of the law and for goodness sake, don’t Pokemon and drive! If you have a disabled or chronically ill friend who you know loves the game, how about dropping a few lures the next time you’re passing their house? For those of us still frustrated about accessibility in gaming, this is going to be a long and winding road, most likely with cobbles and no dropped kerbs, but the more we talk about it, and the more of us that talk about it, the more likely something will actually get done, especially if the gaming companies know just how much they stand to lose if they continue to ignore the most basic needs of disabled gamers.