Posted by: Sean | September 6, 2008

Disability in World of Warcraft and what it means to role-play.

The benefit, I suppose, of working two hours away from where you live is a really nice long time that can be set aside every week-day for blogging. It becomes something of a mind-place, too, a rhythm that gets you thinking about issues. (This is why frequently in the afternoon you’ll get more scattershot posts from me. The upshot for weekends should be, however, that I can do more researched posts instead, since I’m not working offline.

But that’s not what’s going to happen tonight. See, I’m inspired by an observation from WOW Insider: There are probably some 525,000 disabled gamers playing World of Warcraft. These disabilities can range from the minor to the considerable and are often in areas you may not expect –I would never have believed that blind gamers were playing Warcraft, but Jess has personally played with one. At lower levels, you could have deaf players, one-armed players, players with damage or malformation to the hands, and more.

What I want to point out is that this impacts role-players too. As some examples:

  • Blind players use screen readers to catch text and read it back to them. Even vision-impaired (rather than blind) gamers are likely to be OK with seeing the large monsters; but not the smaller text. Screen readers are getting better all the time, but it’s never going to be as fast as reading. As a result, it means blind players are going to take longer to respond to any dialogue. In addition, it means that anything physical you do that doesn’t create a text or audio emote will not be noted. Pacing about, sulking in the corner, and /sit will be missed by any blind players.
  • By contrast, players with physical disabilities will have few problems reading text swiftly, but may very well take longer to type back a response. (A close friend of mine was once very unfortunately hit by a semi-trailer, and suffered major nerve damage as a result. Even years later, he still feels he’s lost about 10 words per minute in his typing speed.) In addition, typos and other errors are likely to be increased.
  • In addition, players with other disabilities may need to take sudden and unannounced departures from the keyboard due to any number of reasons.

None of these rule out role-playing, and really the only one of my above examples that actually requires a shift in role-playing style is if you’re dealing with a blind player. But, well, role-players have an occasionally well earned reputation for snobbery and elitism. I know that I’m a prime example of it; seeing misspellings, typos, and other poor typing is enough to make me immediately dismiss someone. What I think this fact shows is that this kind of attitude is always a poor idea; one never knows who the person behind the keyboard is.

What, in fact, this story shows is the need for good old-fashioned tolerance. Play nice.

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