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Capability, Exclusion, and Diversity
by Ben Taber on 01/13/13 09:36:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


(crossposted from

How we see the world shapes the things we create. This is an obvious statement, but some of the implications are rarely considered.

For instance, we rarely consider the effect that our physical capabilities have on our worldview. This actually makes some degree of intuitive sense, since a great many artists, particularly writers, tend to live in their heads. We sometimes find it easy to forget that our minds are tied to our bodies in rather intimate fashion.

I am somewhat nearsighted, and I sometimes notice ways that this influences my creative output. This influence is, unsurprisingly, most readily perceived in my visual art: I tend to have a hard time perceiving objects as a set of lines or portraying them as such, and people often complain that my finished pieces are blurry. This isn't really a creative disability or anything so extreme, but it does tend to prime my work to a certain style which isn't, necessarily, to everyone's taste.

I wonder, though, if my nearsightedness also affects my approach to creativity in other more oblique ways. Does it cause me to get lost in details more than other writers do because I'm used to examining things up close or, conversely to describe things more vaguely than other writers do because I'm used to everything more than a few steps away becoming indistinct and blurry? Or neither? How much do our minor differences in physical capacity affect our view of the world?

Certainly, a woman who has lived her entire life in a wheelchair must see stairs very differently than a woman who runs a mile every morning, and both would have a hard time comprehending what the physical world would feel and look like to a woman with functioning wings.

Very few people have been all of the above

Am I the only one who thinks it's strange that we universally acknowledge that coming from a different sociopoliticulturethnic background affects one's outlook but rarely seem to think about how our different physical shapes and abilities do the same? Even as someone writes about their harsh struggle with disability, it's just as often couched in terms of them fitting into society as their innately different perception of the world: It is difficult to perceive that which shapes our perception.

The world of games has become oddly insular in terms of physical capabilities. This is the only entertainment medium that regularly places stringent physical demands on its consumers. We tend not to think about it this way because we associate activities being physically challenging with them being physically exhausting, but the fact is that from the start games have largely been designed such that only those with above-average dexterity can do well in them. This is not a problem in any individual piece of entertainment, but the long-term trends are a bit worrying.

Games have been around long enough now that the people currently creating our games were raised playing them– lots of them. Even if they enjoyed the less dexterity-challenging genres of game, if they've stuck with the hobby for long enough to pursue it as a career option then it's almost a given that they've branched out into what, let's face it, comprises the vast majority of games that are out there: Those which require the player to input a complex series of motions in a limited amount of time.

There's just no helping some people

Basically, by pseudo-Darwinistic processes, we've created a development culture that a) has, as common perspective/capability, above average dexterity, and b) has come to expect that games, almost by definition, will challenge that ability.

I guess the point, here, is that diversity as a topic extends beyond the cultural and ethnic and into the physiological.

Dexterity is just one way in which our physical parameters affect our design perspectives, as well. Game developers also tend to be strong in the realms of mathematics and analytical logic, and many games tend to be highly demanding in these realms as well. The number of games that aren't described by aptitude in either of these traits is, relatively speaking, essentially null.

I think it's important to frame this discourse in terms of diversity, I think it's important  to recognize some of the same understandings that underpin that discussion also apply here. Primarily, I want it to be understood that I'm not claiming that the games that exist are bad, or even necessarily worse than they could be, because of this: I'm just stating that the total scope they encompass, that our understanding of what a game can be, is smaller because of it.

Our games are more similar to each other than they would be if they came from a more diverse field of creators: This is an idea that has been discussed frequently elsewhere. All I'm doing is proposing a new axis to the space of diversity.

Now: I don't think that it's a problem when a game isn't accessible to everyone any more than I think it's a problem when a comedian tells a joke not everyone will get. However, it's certainly worth noting that the parameters we design to make unstated and often unintended assumptions about our audience. I know it's difficult, but it may be worth your while to understand what forms the boundaries of your perceptions as a designer.

We are the sum of our flaws: Without them we would be fundamentally uninteresting, fundamentally inhuman. It is the tension between the flaws of the author and our own flaws that creates the art we experience.

Yeah, it's hard sometimes to be able to see past the color of our own eyes: But, ain't it worth it if we can finally see a rainbow?

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Andreas Ahlborn
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I have a hard time getting to the core of this article. While I like your thoughtful style, its hard to see where this goes. Maybe this was your intention in the first place?

At the end it gets a little too poetic (sum of aur flaws, rainbows) for my taste but anyhow: here are some thoughts about Capability (Disdisability) and how imo current Games, and Gamescreators are limited (or not) by their disabilities or by setting themself a paradigm of a average-dexterity-able Gamer as a fictional target group.

Contrary to your belief, that the game industry is somewhat "behind" in making their content available/playable by the most diverse physical able (CIT:The world of games has become oddly insular in terms of physical capabilities. This is the only entertainment medium that regularly places stringent physical demands on its consumers.), I see: that it took literature centuries to develop braille , the film industry decades to make subtitles mandatory on dvds. Compared to this the games industry and game developers are rather "quick" to adapt to new possibilities to make their content "flexible" in a way that even physical challenged players can enjoy it, so I think the games industry might actually making sth. right to include those things in their games.

It might seem a bit unfair to point to this example ( ) to show, that even the most challenged can (with the right training, motivation and hardware to support him/her) play a modern multiplayer game, but I do it anyway, just to put your "being nearsighted" - problem into perspective.

Ben Taber
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Yeah this is more of an open dialogue than a declaration: My intent is not to call out games or game developers, just to make people more thoughtful about possible assumptions that may influence what we create.

However, I'm not talking about accessibility so much as I am about design bias. Most of the time when people discuss disability as relating to games it is couched in accessibility, and I do make passing mention of accessibility in terms of how it gates certain mindsets into the industry, so I can see the confusion, but that's not really what I'm talking about here. I'm talking more about the really basic assumptions that our capabilities or disabilities tend to engender in terms of what a game is or can be, and why diversity in terms of those capabilities is important in many of the same ways as other kinds of diversity.