Games in general are moving towards accessibility, but that is not so much the case with esports, which like other sports are competitive and by nature somewhat exclusive. Xbox and Special Olympics are working together on a new event that combines competition with inclusion, and it’s happening right now.
This week, Special Olympics athletes will compete against each other in Rocket league, Madden NFL 22, and Forza Motorsports 7. The prize, in addition to prestige and pride, is playing with one of the famous fans of the Special Olympics: “NBA superstar Jayson Tatum, NFL legend Jamaal Charles and WWE superstars.”
“This tournament is a significant and important step in making esports more accessible and empowers Special Olympics athletes with a new way to compete,” said Jenn Panattoni, Xbox Director of Social Impact. “Xbox has invested in numerous accessibility products and features, such as the Xbox Adaptive Controller and features such as co-pilot or speech-to-text. The purpose of all this ongoing work is to ensure that gamers feel welcome and that they belong on the Xbox platform. “
The tournaments are currently being taped and will air for the remainder of the week, along with the “celebrity showcase” on Saturday with highlights. You can consult a program at the bottom of this post, but in general, just keep an eye on the Xbox Twitch Channel and Special Olympics YouTube Channel.
I like to highlight these events because accessibility has been on the back burner for so long in the gaming world, and now we’re seeing big moves from developers, publishers, and partners to improve things. Microsoft’s XAC is a great example, as is the panoply of visual, audio, and difficulty options in the latest version. Ratchet & Clank play. However, esports is definitely one of the areas that needs more diversity, and the participating players were delighted to participate. I asked José Moreno and Colton Rice from Special Olympics what they thought about it.
Do you think competitive games are becoming more accessible?
Rice: Competitive games are definitely getting more accessible. Not only do games become more accessible, accessibility enables people with disabilities to become more competitive players. People with intellectual disabilities always try to compete to the maximum. We want to do what other people do, and sometimes we just need a little help to make that happen.
dark: I think competitive games are becoming more accessible because Microsoft has started to introduce video game controllers that are accessible to people with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, accessible to everyone. I am a lifelong gamer and accessibility in esports has been a game changer. Accessible games weren’t available when I was little. Nowadays, it is much more fun to play when you can play with friends of all skill levels and everyone can participate.
How are you experiencing that change?
dark: In my opinion, the more the video game industry includes people with intellectual disabilities, the better the video game community will know that we love to play video games like everyone else. And through events like Gaming for Inclusion, not only can I compete, I am included as part of a community of players where I am welcome and included.
Rice: People with intellectual disabilities have skills and pay attention to detail; When we set out to do something, we practice until we are the best we can be, especially when we enjoy doing it, and that includes games. People with disabilities just need more time to learn, but when you dedicate yourself to something that you are passionate about, you won’t stop until you succeed.
What is something you would like to see more of, from developers, publishers, etc.?
dark: I would like to see more of general video game or computer game developers or manufacturers or publishers to include more people with intellectual disabilities in the video game workforce. People with intellectual disabilities can play a variety of roles and provide unique perspectives on how to enhance the gaming experience. Publishers and developers can get a different perspective than people with disabilities; either with people with intellectual disabilities represented in their stories or seeing them in the games themselves. We are eager to be a part of this process, and there are many passionate players with intellectual disabilities who would like to participate in focus groups or real jobs as creators within the industry.
Rice: The companies that make these games try to create high-quality games that are enjoyable for everyone. Much work remains to be done to make games more accessible. For example, it can be frustrating when players with intellectual disabilities are learning a new game with difficult-to-read instructions. It can take hours to learn how to play the new version of a game that you have played for years. That doesn’t mean that people with intellectual disabilities aren’t able to play or compete, it just means that we need better accessibility tools to help us learn.
If game companies want to create accessible and inclusive games, they could benefit from including players with intellectual disabilities in the creative process to help make or test “easy to read” or beginner instructions, or find ways to simplify navigation between the different levels of a game. Games can build community and reach people who feel left out. Accessibility allows everyone to have fun.
This competition and other events in online games have been essential in keeping the Special Olympics community connected and active through a difficult couple of years.
“Special Olympics has a long-standing partnership with Microsoft that has been incredibly valuable to athletes and families in the Special Olympics movement,” said the organization’s chief information officer, Prianka Nandy. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, our main concern has been the safety and health of our athletes, who are among the population most vulnerable to an adverse or catastrophic outcome from the virus. This led to the cancellation and postponement of thousands of annual in-person events and competitions, which meant our athletes missed out on connections and opportunities to experience the joy of being with their teammates, coaches, and friends. At this time, our goals remain to raise awareness of the Special Olympics movement and the accomplishments, hopes and dreams of our amazing athletes, and to change attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities within the gaming community, all while remembering that the games can be fun. and inclusive for all “.