In recent days there has been a lot of outcry over the rumor that the next Microsoft console will require an internet connection even to play single player games. There are notable voices on both sides of this issue, even though the broader gaming community seems not only to dislike, but completely abhor the idea of an always-on console. In the conversation that this issue has sparked, very few people have talked about the impact that an always-on console would have on the disabled gaming population. To that end, here are three reasons why the always-on concept is bad for game accessibility.
Let’s start with the broadest possible conversation. Always on requires players to have a consistent internet connection anytime they want to play a game. This, by very definition, limits the amount of access any player can have to the hardware. Regardless of whether they’re disabled or not, very few gamers have access to a consistent enough internet connection to avoid being kicked out of their game multiple times in a single session. As a result, always on negatively affects the most basic definition of game accessibility—a definition which is not based on physical ability, but rather simply on the ability to access the game. Because of this, if a game is “always on,” it will affect disabled gamers not exclusively, but as a part of the broader gaming population. In other words, always on is bad for game accessibility on the most fundamental level because it puts constraints on the basic access of the game for all players, which includes those with disabilities.
Moving on to more specific reasons, always on is bad for disabled gamers because it requires gamers to pay for internet. Many disabled gamers have limited funds, and the cost of paying for internet in addition to the cost of games would prohibit many disabled gamers from purchasing the games they love. In my own life I know this would be true, since while I’m looking for a job, I’m on social security, which means that I have a very limited income. Thankfully, my parents pay for the internet (because I live with them). But if I had to dip into my budget to pay for a service which would enable me to play games, I probably wouldn’t be able to, since every penny I have goes into either my living expenses or my work at DAGERS. It’s hard to imagine disabled gamers like myself who are on such limited income shelling out hundreds of dollars for systems and games, and then paying a monthly internet bill on top of that. Always on is bad for the disabled because it requires them to pay even more money out of what are, in most cases, small budgets.
Finally, there is simply the matter of the physical accessibility of hardware that requires an always on component. With a system like that, there’s one more way in which the system can go wrong and one more area in which disabled players need help fixing it. For example, if an able-bodied player’s PS3 loses its connection to the network, they can get up and check the cord to make sure it didn’t come unplugged or they can go into the system settings to try to figure out what is wrong. But if a player has a disability, they may not have this option, either because they can’t access the system’s internal interface well enough to troubleshoot, or they simply can’t physically reach the cords and components well enough to check when the game or system loses connectivity. This means that they are dependent on able-bodied people to help them jiggle cords and flip through menus if a system ever loses connection. The difference is that, if the system is always on, they have to have someone’s help immediately, even if they just simply want to play single player. This puts disabled gamers at the mercy of able-bodied help when gaming—which is always a bad thing for game accessibility.
In conclusion, if Microsoft of any other company develops an always on system, they run the risk of excluding many disabled gamers. This is because an always on system would generally alienate lots of gamers to begin with. But it would affect disabled gamers especially, because it would require them to pay for internet in addition to paying for their games (something that a lot of disabled gamers on limited budgets can’t afford) and it would create another problem that could go wrong with the system that would necessitate disabled gamers having help from non-disabled people in order to enjoy the most basic single player gameplay.