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Gaming with an Immobilized Shoulder

I've spent the last six weeks with my left arm in an immobilizer sling. Six weeks of southern United States summer, of being a day-and-night software developer, of being a gamer, all rocking a sling that straps my left arm to a pillow that is in turn strapped to my torso and neck.

After the first 11 days, I've had some use of my left hand for things like typing, but I have limited wrist mobility and can't reach for things or hold/lift more than about two pounds. I'm in this sling 24/7 until some time after August 4.

Plenty of computer and gaming things become difficult in this situation, and I've been exploring some new configurations to get my gaming in. What's come out of this are some good practices I can take away for basic accessibility in developing games.

What's Normal?

As an example of normal gaming for me, Gregory and I have a standing gaming date every Saturday morning. Barring travel or malaise, every Saturday morning at 08:00 we're playing something. Most weekends, it's Borderlands 2, and we play for about two hours. I also game with my little sister and play various backlog and old standbys solo.

My desktop setup—where most gaming occurs—is a standing-only desk with two monitors and a wired mouse and keyboard. Pre-sling, I was able to stand for six hours, easily, to work or game.

With the sling, my endurance for standing is limited by my tolerance of the neck strap, my back/hip tolerance of the imbalance, and my general energy levels.

No More Crouching

With the angle my left wrist sits at on a keyboard, I have to move my hand to hit the number keys (for weapon switching). To hit an F-key, I have to lean forward, as well as look down to ensure I reset properly to WASD.

Reconfigurable key bindings have been great for making this easier. I'm willing to (temporarily) exchange the ability to easily crouch to be able to switch to my primary weapon with less chance of sliding off of WASD.

Snippet Play

Borderlands 2 is pleasantly well-suited to short gameplay sessions. It usually manages to pull off bite-sized missions that feel satisfying, or larger missions with bite-sized pieces of success. Planet Explorers, which is still very new to me, can also be played in short bits.

Contrast this with, say, Disgaea, which I haven't played in about three years because dedicating two hours to a single combat I could very well lose is discouraging. It's a good game, just not for short playing sessions.

Taking Over the Living Room

My portable computing solution is a Surface Pro 2, which is beautifully powerful piece of hardware. It's also become my default computing device in the post-surgery era. It's set up on my living room coffee table on a couple of role-playing books, and I stole the mouse and mousepad from my desktop. A 15-foot HDMI cable is coiled in front of the TV for dual-screen capabilities if I want them.

Projecting games onto the TV has had mixed results. Planet Explorers has some very, very tiny UI elements, for instance, which aren't easy for me to see or interact with at high-ish resolution on a TV screen. Borderlands works fine, but wow, it's weird for me as a mostly PC gamer to see BL2 "way over there" on a TV screen. The disconnect between mouse/keyboard and the real action feels large, especially when there's a screen right in front of me that I'm tempted to look down at. That's easy enough to get used to, however.

And then, finally, there's my Playstation 3. Most times, it's a Netflix/Amazon/YouTube device, sure, but I got an itch to finally learn how to play a proper dual-stick video game and picked up Dark Souls. Even with both hands free, holding a controller isn't comfortable -- the fixed width combined with the thumb action puts a bit of strain on my wrist that quickly accumulates.

I haven't found a good way to deal with that yet, and I don't find that Dark Souls is as satisfying in short gameplay sessions.

Awesome Things Games Should Have

Reconfigurable key bindings

This is generally pretty easy to implement and is helpful for a wide variety of accessibility reasons or preferences. In a keyboard-driven game like Ossuary, a menu option for changing the bindings is customary.

Exploit: Zero Day has very little in the way of control schemes, however—all play is via a mouse or touch. Since limited mobility can mean limited mouse or touch speed, we have a setting to half or quarter puzzles' speed.

The ability to play games in short sessions

Break puzzles and missions into smaller chunks. Whether it's pain management or normal life, there are all sorts of valid reasons someone might not have a whole hour to sit down and play a game.

We cover this in Exploit: Zero Day by having larger plots be composed of clusters of systems, each of which might be the size of a classic Exploit puzzle.

Appropriately-sized and -contrasting UI elements

Make fonts bold and big enough; make interactable elements (buttons, toggle arrows, landing places for dragged items) large enough that players don't have to concentrate on accuracy to use them.

Exploit: Zero Day will follow guidelines for web accessibility for low vision and color blindness. I think we'll have some challenges with touch devices in terms of making sure items don't take too much concentration to interact with, however. Hopefully we can shake those out during alpha testing.

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