It all started nearly 30 years ago. It was Christmas 1982′ I was a quiet 9 year old eagerly awaiting Father Christmas to deliver my presents. Usually presents back then were Tonka trucks, board games, books and clothes. My last present I opened that year was a brand new sparkling ZX81 with a 16k ram pack. I quickly set it up on our B&W TV and loaded my first game. Games back then were very simple, but were tons of fun. After waiting what seemed to be hours waiting for the game to load from tape, Forty Niner was ready to play.
Even back then games were controlled by keyboard, usually supporting the following sets: QAOP and M, Cursor key and 0 and re-definable controls. If controls couldn’t be changed in a game, I could usually persevere with the cursor keys and 0. Turning the ZX81 45 degrees usually helped me play one handed. My gaming years had started.
By 1983 most people had moved onto the 16k/48k colour ZX Spectrum. Money was tight so the only time I got my hands on one was visiting my older sister and her husband, who loved playing ‘Warlock of Firetop Mountain’. I was given again at Christmas an Atari 800XL. Games took an age to load due to Atari’s own low baud speed tape drive unit. I remember the text adventure game ‘Red Moon’ taking 30 minutes to load. games were ok and 90 percent of the games used a trusted Atari one button joystick.
Around 1985 I managed to get a second hand 48k Spectrum. Looking back now I know these were my Golden years of gaming: Skooldaze, Wheelie, Attic Atac, Head over Heels, Hypersports, I could go on for ages. All these games usually had the same control sets as the ZX81 games, but now with a Kempston or Sinclair interface, a joystick could be used. Now I was in dreamland, games could now be played very easy one handed.
The years went on, I kept away from the Commodore 64, Amstrad and the MSX. I knew what I could do with the Spectrum. By the end of the 80s I was gaming on the Spectrum +2. I never gave the Sega Master System or Mega Drive a look in as I was still happy with the Spectrum.
1991. College years, I blew my student grant on an Amiga 500 plus. My first disk based system, again games were played using the Competition Pro joystick. Moving through the years, I upgraded to an Amiga 1200. I can never forget my all nighters playing the Championship Manager series of games.
Towards the end of the 90′s I purchased my first PC. This was not for gaming mind you, I was enticed into the online world of CompuServe I spent hours in chat rooms talking to complete strangers, but I found this very enjoyable. Most PC games were played using keyboard, so I kept away from them.
You are thinking, what about the Sony Playstation? Well I always thought they were fantastic, but never took the plunge. The first time I actually played on one was in January 2000. I had just met my future wife an AOL chat room, back at her house was PlayStation. I could only play limited games, mostly lightgun games or the ones that did not use the L/R buttons. Games were very rigid with their controls.
By the end of 2000 my Fiancé had moved in with me and we decided to get a PS2. Most games were bought for my Fiancé to play, but if we found games that I could control, again mainly only games that used the face buttons. I was starting to get frustrated by the people who create games due to the lack of control sets or re-mappable controls.
2002 came and the original Xbox was released by Microsoft who had decided to enter the arena of gaming. We decided to risk it and take the plunge as Microsoft were an unknown brand when it came to gaming. My games, again, were restricted to games that used the face buttons only, things became slightly easier when the smaller ‘S’ controller was released. I could use my one hand to use the analogue stick and face buttons and I could ‘bump the shoulder buttons with my left fist, just as long as it wasn’t a game that needed quick reactions.
Now we start coming up to the current generation of gaming. The Xbox 360 and the PS3 and the Wii. Both the 360 and PS3 have great games but unfortunately the games suffer the same fate as the 16 bit era, but this time controls got more and more complex. Reviews never tell you what the different control sets are or about any accessibility options. I thought the Wii could be a good alternative, unfortunately only the simple point and click games or accelerometer games were accessible. Forget games that needed the nun-chuck.
Looking forward to the next gen, the Wii U looks like it has not thought about accessibility, games use either the wiimote (simple games) or the game pad, which I cannot see how you can use it one handed.
I hope that with the next gen of consoles from Microsoft and Sony they think about the good old times of gaming when games were actually accessible. We need to hear less of the excuses of: ‘we don’t have enough time to incorporate accessibility options’ or ‘we don’t have the finances available to incorporate accessibility . What I say is (get ready for the terrible puns),”Game Publishers, FACE up to accessibility, and BUTTON it with the excuses”