Creating digital avatars to represent your identity was a big part of the Xbox 360 consoles, allowing users to customize their online appearance through a stylized caricature of themselves. With the introduction of the Xbox One, this feature was taken away briefly before being brought back with an updated design. And now, Microsoft has revealed that it will be adding wheelchairs as an option for the reintroduced avatars.
Inclusion in our media is important, but society (and games in particular) seems to always favor those who are able-bodied. This is why people with disabilities (and their allies) pointed the oversight to Microsoft on social media over the years, explaining how they should be able to see themselves reflected in the digital world, with more representations of their daily experiences.
Recently, videogames appear to be building more of an awareness toward ableism by including a few more options for players with certain disabilities. Uncharted 4 features a list of accessibility options, like reducing the strain on players by allowing a single button push to repeat an actio,n as opposed to mashing them repeatedly in both quick-time events and melee combat. There are different camera angles as well that help to auto-lock and aim, while multiplayer teams were changed from red and green to red and blue for color blind players. These improvements in inclusive design were in part because of the feedback from a man with a disability who had to have an able-bodied friend finish part of Uncharted 2 (2009) for him after realizing he could not continue playing it.
Improvements can also be attributed to the AbleGamers Charity nonprofit, which is aimed at improving the quality of life for those with disabilities through videogames. They offer consultation to small and large developers by providing a set of practical game accessibility guidelines called Includification, a 48 page roadmap for developers that helps them reach the highest level of accessibility possible for each game. The website Game-Accessibility also reviews titles and rates them based on their accessibility, providing different ways to optimize to suit the player’s specific needs.
For instance, if you have a visual disability, they warn that Life is Strange (2015) will be difficult to play. This comes as a disappointment since Dontnod’s episodic series was one of the few popular games last year to even represent someone in a wheelchair.
But even with better representation and more inclusion, there are still plenty of improvements to be made. Custom controllers are expensive, and not all developers have made their games with them in mind. By including wheelchairs as an option for avatars, Microsoft at least appears to be making a small step in the right direction.