These past three days, I’ve played Overwatch obsessively on PC, now understanding why many love this game. It took me a while to start playing, as I tend to avoid most competitive online experiences; they lean toward inaccessibility and obnoxious alpha players. While Overwatch can attract those sorts of gamers, I have yet to run into any in the teams I’ve played so far. I think it has a lot to do with the matchmaking system; it pairs you with those of similar skill levels. There are also practice modes to learn each character’s abilities and test them out before you jump into an online game. Overwatch is addicting, with beautiful graphics, smooth controls, and unlimited ammo. Each character has unique abilities and user interfaces that you can explore in detailed maps. When your team is victorious, there is a rush to try again, racking up your XP and hoping for an MVP vote from your comrades.
But what sets Overwatch apart from other first-person shooters is its accessibility. The keys are remappable, and you can adjust them differently for each character. You can also change the mouse sensitivity, including horizontal and vertical movements. There is no button mashing involved, and controls overall are quite easy to use; it’s your standard WASD, with left and right mouse buttons to use your primary abilities. There’s never any need to press multiple buttons at the same time, and if there’s any control out-of-reach, you can just remap it. The user interface is easy to follow along, and there are on-screen reminders of your abilities and which buttons to push to employ them. There are also options for color-blind players, and they can choose which hues work best for them. Sound is not that important, as notifications pop up as text in the chat area. There doesn’t seem to be any need for voice chat, though it is available if wanted. Bonus points for the creators including a disabled character, too.
Since most console games are inaccessible for me, I purchased the PC version. I’m able to use a mouse and keyboard easier than a cumbersome, bulky controller. Recently, I bought a XIM4, an adapter for PlayStation and other consoles that allows you to use a keyboard and mouse instead of a controller. Even though it’s not set up yet, I know it will open console gaming for me again; I can enjoy Destiny and similar franchises I’ve missed over the years. For other disabled gamers, the XIM4 and related products gave us the ability to play those console titles with our peers. And anything that makes gaming more accessible for all is awesome and should be encouraged, right?
Not according to the Overwatch development team. They are calling for a ban on alternate input devices, saying it makes competitive gaming unbalanced and unfair to those using regular controllers. But if you are banning such devices, you are banning many disabled gamers who rely on those systems. It’s frustrating when this otherwise accessible game could become inaccessible because players don’t want to feel “cheated.” This is all bullshit, of course. In my Pokemon GO blog post, some commenters said accessibility would “break the game,” giving an unfair advantage to those who would use accessible features. For a game that is just for fun, free to download and free to play (unless you buy in-game stuff), the outcry on “cheating” through accessibility is absurd; it’s a ridiculous attitude for any game, even ones you buy. Games are entertainment folks play to destress, hang with friends, and have fun. If a random person is using a keyboard and mouse and has better aiming because of it, why would that bother me? It doesn’t affect my enjoyment at all. In fact, it makes me happy, because I know I could access that game too.
Developers should consider who they are shutting out when they call for an “even playing field” through barring these input devices. Gaming is already an uneven field, as there are different skill sets and experienced or less-experienced players. I’m calling for the Overwatch developers to continue allowing alternate input devices because of what it means for disabled gamers and how such a decision could influence other developers.
I’m not the only one concerned. In the resources below, I’m including links to articles about this controversy, as well as links to videos by disabled gamers talking about Overwatch’s accessibility features. I hope all developers will look and see how this ban could affect us, and why accessibility is so important in gaming. If you have more links I should include, please contact me via email or @geekygimp on Twitter.
More on Overwatch:
Overwatch Accessibility Review (video) by chickenMCB on YouTube
WheelsyGamer YouTube channel (including lots of Overwatch videos)