Last week, DAGERS awarded nominations for the most accessible games of 2012. But XCOM: Enemy Unknown is my personal choice for the best accessible game of the year, because it not only provides a gaming experience with no barriers, it does something unique that many other games do not: It puts the disabled gamer on exactly equal footing with their able-bodied peers.
When a game accomplishes this, it gives the disabled gamer an inestimable gift. The ability to interact with their friends without having to make do with inaccessible feature in a game turns the gaming experience from an unequal one to a one where everybody can contribute equally. There are many games in which the disabled community can participate and simply make due to enjoy the game. For example, in the multiplayer of Assassin’s Creed III, it is possible for a disabled player such as myself not only to engage in but also to win matches online. But because of the lack of customization in the controls, it is very hard to use techniques like stun and smoke bomb to incapacitate one’s target before striking, thereby barring many disabled players from the larger scores that result from these types of kills. This does not take away from the overall accessibility of the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer, but it does prevent disabled players from getting the full enjoyment out of the game. By contrast, when a game comes along in which the accessibility is so complete as to put both able-bodied and disabled players on an equal playing field, it ensures that both players will get the full experience the game offers, and means that a disability will not negatively affect the gameplay in any way.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a shining example of this concept. Everything about the game plays to strengths which a physical disability would not affect. XCOM’s focus on strategy means that players do not get punished for having slow reflexes or a bad range of motion. Having hands that function perfectly doesn’t give any advantage. The game relies on players’ ability to plan and execute, not their ability to move fast. Through my many, many hours of play, I learned that each battle I engaged in was won or lost even before the mission started because it is extremely important to make sure that the player’s squad is made up of the right type of soldiers with the right type of equipment. When engaging the enemy there was nothing my hands failed to do that negatively impacted my gameplay. At the same time, when playing with an able-bodied person, there was nothing that they could do that I couldn’t. Hence, there was no unfair advantage. It’s because of this completely equal footing that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not only one of the best games of 2012 but is also my pick for the Editor’s Choice Award for the most accessible game this past year.