The game in general is moving towards accessibility, but this is not so much the case in esports, which like other sports is competitive and by nature somewhat exclusive. Xbox and Special Olympics are working together on a new event that combines competition and 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 Motorsport 7. The award, other than prestige and pride, plays with one of the famous Special Olympics supporters: “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 it gives Special Olympics athletes a new way to compete,” said Jenn Panattoni, head of Xbox Social Impact. “Xbox has invested in a lot of accessibility features and products, like the Xbox Adaptive Controller and features like co-pilot or speech to text. The goal of all of this ongoing work is to make sure gamers feel welcome and belong on the Xbox platform.
Tournaments are being recorded right now and will air the rest of the week, along with the “Celebrity Showcase” coming Saturday with recaps. You can check out a schedule at the bottom of this article, but generally keep an eye out 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 make things better. Microsoft’s XAC is a prime example, as is the array of visual, audio, and difficulty options in the last one. Ratchet & Clank Gaming. However, esports is definitely one of the areas that needs more diversity, and the participating players were excited to participate. I asked Jose Moreno and Colton Rice of Special Olympics what they thought of the matter.
Do you think competitive play is becoming more accessible?
Rice: Competitive play is definitely becoming more accessible. Not only are games becoming more accessible, accessibility allows people with disabilities to become more competitive gamers. People with intellectual disabilities always try to compete at their best. We want to do what everyone else is doing, and sometimes we just need a little help getting there.
Moreno: I think competitive gaming is becoming more accessible because Microsoft has started offering video game controllers that are accessible to people with intellectual disabilities, physically disabled – accessible to everyone. I have been a lifelong gamer and accessibility in esports has been a game changer. Accessible play was not available when I was young. Today it’s so much more fun to play when you can play with friends of all skill levels and everyone can participate.
How are you coping with this change?
Moreno: In my opinion, the more people in the video game industry include people with intellectual disabilities, the better the video game community will know how much we love to play video games like everyone else. And thanks to events like Gaming for Inclusion, I’m not just able to compete – I’m part of a gaming community where I’m welcomed and included.
Rice: People with intellectual disabilities have skills and pay attention to detail; when we decide to do something, we train until we are the best we can be, especially when we enjoy doing it – and that includes play. People with disabilities just need more time to learn, but when you are dedicating yourself to something that you are passionate about, you will not stop until you are successful.
What would you like to see more of, from developers, publishers, etc. ?
Moreno: I would like to see more developers or manufacturers or publishers of general video games or computer games to include more people with intellectual disabilities in the video game workforce. People with intellectual disabilities can play a variety of roles and offer unique perspectives on how to improve the gaming experience. Publishers and developers may have a different perspective than people with disabilities; whether it’s presenting people with intellectual disabilities portrayed in their storylines or seeing them in the games themselves. We look forward to being a part of this process, and there are many passionate players with an intellectual disability who would love to participate in focus groups or actual jobs as creators within the industry.
Rice: The companies that make these games try to create high quality games that are enjoyable for everyone. There is still a lot to be done to make the games more accessible. For example, it can be frustrating when players with an intellectual disability learn a new game with hard-to-read instructions. Learning to play the new version of a game you’ve been playing for years can take hours. It doesn’t mean that people with developmental disabilities aren’t able to play or compete – it just means we need better accessibility tools to help us learn.
If game companies wish to create accessible and inclusive games, they might benefit from including players with intellectual disabilities in the creation process to help create or test “easy-to-read” or beginner’s instructions, or to find guidelines. ways to make it easier to navigate between different levels of a game. The game 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 few years.
“Special Olympics has a long-standing partnership with Microsoft that has been incredibly valuable to the athletes and families of the Special Olympics movement,” said the organization’s chief information and technology officer Prianka Nandy. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, our main concern has been the safety and health of our athletes, who are part of the population most vulnerable to an adverse or catastrophic outcome from the virus. This has led to the cancellation and postponement of thousands of annual in-person events and competitions, meaning our athletes have 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 spread awareness of the Special Olympics movement and the achievements, hopes and dreams of our incredible athletes, and to change attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities within the gaming community, while reminding us that gambling can be fun. and inclusive for all.