Making Your Game Accessible (Part 4)

Part 4: An Interlude

 [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

[EDITORS NOTE: This is PART 4 of a multi-part series. Links to the other parts will be provided as they are updated. -dc]

While we’re only a handful of articles into this series on accessibility at the gaming table, we’ve already received feedback of various kinds through Facebook and my Twitter account. I wanted to take a moment to address some key themes that have come out of the responses I’ve received, both to clarify some points and make sure we’re all on the same page. As is my wont I’m not going to call out specific people, whether their response was positive or negative. In all cases I have already responded privately expressing either my appreciation or where the comment was particularly vile, trying to educate before adding that person to the ongoing Block Party (which, considering the types of people I’ve added to it, cannot be a fun party. Like, at all.)

First, to the positive responses and feedback: thank-you. I’m glad that these articles are helping game masters open up their tables and think a bit about ways to include more players in our hobby. Some of you have made suggestions or had your own tips and tricks; I’ve encouraged you to put them in the comments of the article, but in all cases, I’ve made note of them for article updates. I never had all the answers, I’m just fairly good at asking pertinent (and necessarily impertinent) questions. Sparking discussion and getting ideas from other game masters and community facilitators is exactly what I hoped for out of these articles. So again, thank-you so much for the feedback, it’s been instructive and helpful.

Now on to the not-so-positive feedback and responses. There are a bunch of folks who think that making the hobby more accessible will somehow take something away from their enjoyment. So I’m going to point-form respond to what I’ve seen as the key points these folks keep bringing up.

So we just open up our hobby to anyone who comes to the table, even if they obviously aren’t going to be able to enjoy it?” – I’ve had variations on this a few times, and my short answer is: yes. As a game master, it’s my job to give everyone who comes to my game the best experience and the most enjoyment I can provide. But that is always a fluid thing, dependent on factors both obvious and ultimately unknowable. As an example, I’m going to run a game differently if my partner and I just had a fight, than if I just got a raise at work, than if I just watched a great movie… You get the idea. And I’m just one person at the table; multiply that by all the players, plus any other issues besides, and it’s quickly apparent that not everything is in your control as the GM. Which is all the more reason that, if something is in your control and you can have a positive effect, you need to do that. I’d also point out, it isn’t up to me or anyone else to police the level of enjoyment someone derives from our hobby. They may not reach the ecstatic heights that you do about a particular game, but so what? Maybe it’s enough that they were able to take a break from their day for a few hours, even if they didn’t achieve transcendent joy. There’s always next time.

Great, so my GM is going to be spending all their time catering to the [pejorative deleted] players?” – I’m not sure what stuns me more about comments like this, the selfishness or the complete lack of reading comprehension. Nothing I’ve talked about so far in my articles will negatively impact the play experience for anyone at the table. If ever the adage, “A rising tide lifts all boats” were applicable, it’s definitely applicable to accessibility. If your GM adopts some or all of these ideas, will it change your gaming experience? Of course. But I can’t see how something like more legible handouts or the GM speaking more clearly will make gaming worse.

Why don’t we hold special events just for [insert differently abled group]? That way they can game with people like them.” – I’ve had this expressed to me a few different ways, ranging from well-meaning to obvious concern trolling (“Wouldn’t a deaf person be more comfortable gaming with other deaf people?”). First, even if it’s well-meaning (and I don’t concede it is), the suggestion that Group X might be more comfortable if they only played with people from Group X is ableist on its face. What this person is really saying is, “Differently-abled people make me uncomfortable and I’d rather not experience that discomfort, even it means they don’t get to play.” People with a particular impairment are just as varied in their interests as anyone else. Expecting a hearing-impaired gamer to only game when they can get a table of only hearing-impaired gamers together, as an example, is as ludicrous as expecting me to only game if I can get four or five other blondes together. Second, and this is a personal opinion and I therefore welcome feedback and rebuttal, I feel that sometimes organizing special events just for a particular group is a form of segregation. I say ‘sometimes’, because there are situations where it is useful and necessary to run an event for a particular group, especially if that group (women, for example) have traditionally been excluded from a particular activity. But unless the event is organized by a differently-abled group for that group of participants, I think you really need to examine why it’s necessary and why you aren’t simply finding ways to make room at existing events. A key facet of accessibility is that it doesn’t require special circumstances, that it becomes ubiquitous and ultimately part of the status quo.

That covers the main points I’ve come across. The rest of the negativity is the chaotic crying of manbabies, easily dismissed by judicious application of the ‘block’ feature. While I addressed more of the specific points of the negative feedback, it is worth pointing out that the bulk of the feedback I received personally has been positive. Our community can be a welcoming one, as long as we’re willing to put in the work to make it so.