Making Nintendo’s Switch Accessible through 3D Printing

Making Nintendo's Switch Accessible through 3D Printing. Image of a 3D printed joy con in background

While I haven’t been able to get my hands on a Switch, I am still following the accessibility reviews coming in from disabled gamers. One big issue is the Joy-Con controllers and the inability to remap their buttons in many games. When disabled programmer and designer A.J. Ryan emailed Nintendo about this access barrier, their response was anything but appropriate. An employee from Nintendo wrote: “I realize it can certainly be very frustrating to not be able to enjoy the same games as many others do due to having an unfortunate condition, and we sincerely empathize.”

Nintendo here is framing inaccessibility as a personal challenge to overcome rather than a design flaw that needs fixing. They are patronizing A.J. for wanting inclusive access rather than directly addressing the problem, and in the process, further stigmatizing disability in gaming. I’ve stated over and over again how accessibility cannot be an afterthought, and that it must be part of game development from the start. While disabled gamers wait for this tide to change, we make and rely on our hacks to play. We depend on the creativity and ingenuity of the disability community and non-disabled people working with us to partake in our favorite hobbies.

One such ingenious person is Julio Vazquez, a mechatronics engineer using the power of 3D printing to build accessories for disabled gamers; his latest project is a design for the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con. I was excited to interview him and learn more about this project.

A blue 3D printed case surrounding a printed, gray controller. There are two red buttons on top for the left and right controls.
Julio’s 3D-printed accessibility design for the Joy-Con

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Tabletop Game and Accessibility Review: Avenue

Tabletop Review: Avenue with a cartoon castle in the background and a blue sky

The Basics:

Avenue is a quick pen-and-paper game where each player draws directional lines on their 6×7 grid, connecting green and purple grapes to farms and castles. It was published in 2016 by Aporta Games, and was designed by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby. It’s for ages eight and up, supports one to ten players, and has an average game time of 15 minutes.

Rules:

At the start, a random farm card is picked and revealed to all players; there are six farms designated A through F. One player then flips over route cards depicting one of six different lines you can draw on your grid. After the fourth yellow card is shown (direction cards have gray or yellow backgrounds), the round ends, and you score based on how many grapes connect to the specified farm. You continue this for five rounds, then tally up your points and add bonuses for similarly-colored grapes connecting to the green and pink castles. The highest score wins! … Read more…

Overwatch Developers, Don’t Ban Disabled Gamers

Overwatch Developers, Don't Ban Disabled Gamers text over an image of Sombra character page, a cartoon woman in neon clothes

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.Read more…

The Accessibility of Mouse-Only Games, and Five Favorites

The Accessibility of Mouse-Only Games, and Five Favorites

As my disability progresses, I find it cumbersome to navigate a keyboard and mouse simultaneously in computer games. PlayStation or Xbox controllers are inaccessible for me right out of the box, so I’ve gravitated toward mouse-only games in the past few years as my primary source of computer entertainment. I can still enjoy the occasional first-person shooter if the keys are remappable, but even then, it’s hard to manage multiple buttons and engage in quick mouse reflexes. Even worse is when designers insist on using button mashing as a mechanic, like in the Telltale Walking Dead games (seriously, stop), which frustrates abled and disabled gamers alike. While mouse-only is a great alternative for disabled individuals, it also creates a streamlined user experience for those who don’t require accessibility hacks.

Below you’ll find some of my favorite mouse-only games I’ve played recently, all available on Steam. Let me know what you think of my picks, share your own in the comments below, or send a tweet to @geekygimp! … Read more…

Will the Nintendo Switch Be Accessible for Disabled Gamers?

I have fond memories of playing Mario Bros, Zelda, and Pokémon on a plethora of Nintendo consoles. The last time I picked up a Nintendo title was when Ocarina of Time came out; since then, the system became increasingly inaccessible, especially with the Wii. I felt like the company focused on getting people to move around, leaving many disabled people to look elsewhere for their entertainment. Motion-sensing games are not feasible for someone who can’t move their arms or hold up a bulky controller. The size of the N64 was cumbersome too, but my disability wasn’t as progressed at that time to render it completely inaccessible. Earlier systems, like the original Nintendo and the SNES, had smaller, lighter controllers with fewer buttons, but console designers moved away from that user experience. … Read more…

Six Board Game Accessibility Fails, and How to Hack Them: Part Two

Board Game Accessibility Fails and How to Hack Them: Part Two, background is a close up of wood tokens and dice

In part one of this series, I covered the inaccessibility of hidden information, dexterity mechanics, and real-time games. Below are three more game mechanics and styles that prohibit me (and other disabled folks) from enjoying board games to their fullest. As always, please share your thoughts in the comments, or send a tweet to @geekygimp!

Component Heavy with picture of trains in ticket to rideComponent Heavy

The Problem: While component-heavy games could be appealing, especially when it comes to miniatures, they present an access barrier. Some games require different tokens to track a plethora of stats, points, and movements; add in multiple card decks and 20 robot miniatures, and you’re inundated with cardboard and plastic. I have trouble extending my arms, and my table space is limited, making it hard to keep all the components separate and organized. For someone with shaky hands, stackable tokens and exact component placement render many component-heavy games difficult or entirely inaccessible. … Read more…

Six Board Game Accessibility Fails, and How to Hack Them: Part One

Six Board Game Accessibility Fails, and How To Hack Them: Part One

I’ve always needed help playing board games, as I don’t have the range-of-motion, strength, or dexterity to do it on my own. There are actions I can do, like roll dice or pick up a card, and others I can’t, like shuffling or reaching to move pieces across the board. Gaming has always been an act of interdependence, much like all my activities of daily living, and something I’ve adapted to over the years with personal hacks.

House rules and small-scale solutions can work, but what if these adjustments were baked into the game? Thoughtful and inclusive design doesn’t just mean more disabled people can play, but it can improve the quality of the game for everyone.

In this two-part series, I point out six access barriers I’ve encountered in tabletop gaming and offer potential solutions that can work right out of the box. These access issues are from my perspective as a physically disabled individual, and the hacks below may not apply or work for everyone, but I hope my words can be a resource and starting point for designers and players alike. … Read more…

The Geeky Gimp’s Best of 2016

The Geeky Gimp's Best of 2016. Image of Erin overlayed with fireworks.

While 2016 has been a difficult year for many, I want to reflect on my favorite things that helped me get through the hardest days. Our joy and entertainment, our binge-watching Netflix or slipping away for a few hours with a good book, will aid us now and in the coming years. I hope you enjoy my Best of 2016 list – in the comments below, let me know what you think of my choices, and what’s on your best-of list!

Best Video Game: Stardew Valley

Best video game: Stardew Valley by Chucklefish

By far my most-played game this year, clocking in at 129 hours and counting. You leave a dull office job and travel to Stardew Valley, a small, struggling community with a farm you’ve just inherited from your grandfather. By growing, harvesting, and selling crops, as well as caring for livestock, you earn enough money to expand your farm and help rebuild the derelict community center. You can also go fishing and mining to level up your character. The game never punishes you too much, and there are no time limits for the overall goals; this eliminates the boring grind of most farming sims. Despite all the hours put in, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. Pick this up if you liked Harvest MoonAvailable on Steam. … Read more…

Review of The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987

Erin reading the book, looking up at the camera

Cover of book, looks like a NES gameDo you remember the first console game you played? For me, it was probably Video Olympics (with Pong included) or Asteroids on the Atari 2600. Turning that knob to slide the paddles up and down, or pushing that joystick to avoid enemy fire was pure joy for my 5-year-old self. Those pixelated titles ushered in the Golden Age of video games, and it’s striking to see how far we’ve come since then. While we may scoff at console graphics of the late 70s and early 80s, we have to keep in mind how mind-blowingly advanced these systems were for their time. I’m sure 20 or 30 years down the line, PS4 games will pale in comparison to whatever technology has in store for us.

There’s a lot of interesting stories to tell about early console design that deserve attention, and Brett Weiss’ book, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987, zooms in on this revolutionary era of gaming. It serves not only as a trip down memory lane, tapping into that nostalgia we so longingly crave, but it acts as an archive and provides a definitive history of popular titles. … Read more…

Pokemon Go: Developers Drop the Pokeball on Accessibility

Three shelves filled with plush Pikachu at a store

I was excited for a new, free Pokémon game – until I realized it wasn’t accessible.

I don’t begrudge anyone their fun with Pokémon Go. It’s a good way to get folks out and around in their community if they have the ability to do so. Seeing strangers bond over a shared interest is fantastic. Some have said it helps with their mental and emotional well-being. But developers are ignoring a significant portion of gamers – disabled people. Inaccessible games are nothing new (listen to me talk about it), but we can’t accept the status quo when it increasingly and continually marginalizes us.

So, what makes Pokémon Go not accessible for me and other disabled users?Read more…