Pokémon Go accessibility: Is gaming becoming more inclusive?

Boy on mobile playing Pokémon Go

© Laura Clark

When it comes to new things in technology I always want to be one of the first to try it. Social media and accessibility has been gaining quite a bit of momentum and been in the spotlight recently. Gaming, however, is moving more into the social arena with people playing through social media sites, playing with friends online and interacting with people all over the world. So when Pokémon Go was launched this weekend I made it my mission to download and see what all the hype is about and see if this hype could be in anyway accessible and inclusive.

Game accessibility research

We already know game accessibility isn’t great, In March on our Facebook page we shared an article about the Robert Gordon University and the grant from SISCA which they were given to increase inclusion in gaming. The study wanted to not just create games for those with disabilities, but to make mainstream games inclusive.So any person with a disability wouldn’t be excluded from the latest trend. With the launch of Pokémon Go I wanted to check back in with Robert Gordon University to see how they were progressing before checking to see if the latest game (which is in no doubt trending) would be suitable for those with disabilities.

RGU research impact so far has indicated a 2 impact approach to increasing inclusivity in gaming:

  1. Accessibility toolkit for developers: Accessibility is complex, so this will give developers with little knowledge of accessibility practical tools in a cost effective way to start to build inaccessibility features
  2. Framework for adaptive accessibility: One of the best ways to see if something is accessible is having real users test it, the adaptive accessibility framework will focus on issues players have and looking for solutions to these.

Pokémon Go first thoughts

Through a thinly veiled claim to research, and a massive desire to see what all the hype was. I downloaded Pokémon Go to my Android phone and went out with my son to catch a Pokémon.

This is not a full accessibility review: frankly I knew before I started playing that Pokémon Go wouldn’t be fully inclusive or accessible but in the way that RGU are creating an accessibility toolkit, I want to see what if any features are included within the game.

Pokémon Go highly visual screenshot

Mobility

As I live in the countryside, I am very much used to country lanes and no footpaths so I can’t fully comment on how this would work within a city environment however one thing became apparent quite quickly, whilst the Pokémon are supposed to be within public places, The first issue I found was with access. A Pokémon in a field with no way of reaching it, No good for a wheelchair user and I had to pull my son away from trampling on the farmers crop’s. Another issue for wheelchair users is that at points in the game you place Pokémon into incubators, and to hatch them you need to walk a certain distance,Sadly it doesn’t count travelling by wheelchair which excludes wheelchair users from this part of the game. Apple did make an announcement in June saying the apple watch will, come autumn track activity of a wheelchair user, the first mainstream fitness tracker to do this.  This could be an ideal way of applying adaptive technology to improve the game.

Pokémon found in a field

Low vision

When I  get close to a Pokémon, the phone vibrates to give you an idea you are close. For some low vision users I believe this, alongside certain zoom features on Android phones like Samsung and the zoom on iOs might allow a low vision user to catch a Pokémon.

Blind

Due to the visual aspect of this game, throwing balls towards a Pokémon target even with TalkBack enabled on the Android this game in inherently inaccessible to blind users.

Pokémon Go is too visual, no notifications of running out of Pokeballs

Cognitive

Creating an inclusive game isn’t just about physical disabilities, there are also cognitive disabilities. Social interaction is difficult for many, Minecraft is a game that has benefited those with cognitive disabilities like autism, in particular aspergers, a virtual world where people can talk and interact with others. Pokémon Go can encourage people to get outside and to walk around, and who knows who else you may bump into hunting for Pikachu.

As with anything that takes people including vulnerable people outside does need a certain amount of safeguarding, making sure my son looks up as he crosses the road, not talking to strangers, keeping a tight hold on the phone – but the vibrate when you are close to a Pokémon is great for people to keep their phone out of sight and in their pocket until they get close. For my son and I, it was an opportunity to go for a walk and chat a little whilst he hummed the Pokémon theme tune and sang happy songs about finding Pidgey.

What Inclusive games can we recommend?

As Pokémon Go may not be to everyone’s taste, and not yet fully accessible I wanted to highlight some other inclusive games that both able and disabled people could enjoy.

One game, Grant Broome Dig Director has been playing lately, is Alto’s Adventure, a game which can be played with just one tap of the screen and has won many awards including App Store best of 2015.

Alto Adventures logo

I hope as the research continues with RGU more games will be released that can be enjoyed by everyone and that the makers of Pokémon Go apply adaptive accessibility as feedback from users comes to them.

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