Unless you have been living under a rock this past week, you may have noticed, a terrifying revolution has taken place – a Pokémon revolution.

Across the world, strange creatures called “gamers” have been witnessed venturing out from behind their computer screens, armed with mobile phones and an unsettling look of joy in their eyes. When asked what they’re doing, many of them state that they’re looking for odd creatures they refer to as “Pokémon”. In my journalistic curiosity, I attempted to get close enough to speak to one of these elusive creatures. Unfortunately, just as I got close enough to engage it in conversation, it disappeared into some nearby trees, yelling that it had “finally found a Doduo.” I am currently unsure what a “Doduo” refers to, although I suspect it may be the street name for some kind of hallucinogenic drug. More on this story as it develops.

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In case anyone somehow missed it, the above paragraph is a joke. As I hope we’re all aware by now, “Gamers” aren’t the basement dwelling, sunlight-phobes, they’re often portrayed as in the media. They’re everyday, normal people, with jobs and relationships. Some of them have even been known to complete formal education, get jobs, and even choose to eat a healthy salad instead of pizza, hot wings and sweets.

You may be wondering why I’m talking about a Nintendo game on Indie Haven. I know, it’s not an indie game, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I make an exception for this one. I just feel this is an important issue that needs raising. it’s important that we don’t allow gaming to become inaccessible for players with limited mobility. Games are for everyone, and no group should feel unable to take part in a video game simply because their movement is restricted by a disability.

Of course, historically, enjoyment of video games wasn’t really affected by disability, because gaming was largely something you did from the privacy of your own home. I mean, how often do you see people openly playing video games in public? Sure, you might see the occasional person tapping away on their phone while playing Candy Crush or Angry Birds, but long gone are the days when you’d see people openly button mashing away on their GameBoys, proudly displaying their gaming device for the world to see.

pokemon go bus

Pokémon GO is a totally different breed of game. You can’t really play this game indoors. Not properly anyway. To fully experience this game, you have to go outside, searching your local streets and fields for wild Pokémon. If you hope to achieve the ultimate goal of Pokémon, and “catch ‘em all”, then you’ll have to explore a variety of different places. If you want to catch a water type Pokémon, you need to head to your nearest water source – a nearby river, seafront, or duck pond etc. If you come across a rare Pokémon, you’ve been looking for, you’ve got no choice but to stop, pull out your phone, and try to catch it.

By translating a simple gameplay mechanic from the Pokémon games into the real world, Pokémon GO has managed to persuade a generation of increasingly sedentary people to venture forth into the outside world. In a sense, the game is doing humanity a great service. Instead of marinating behind their computer screens, Pokémon GO encourages people to get off their butts and engage with the natural world, in a way that so few mediums actually do.

Unfortunately, by creating gameplay that encourages exploration, the game risks alienating people. If, for any number of reasons, you’re unable to go out exploring, then the whole game simply represents an opportunity that fenced off to you. Unless you enjoy seeing the same Pokémon over and over again, staying in one place for long periods of time is less than ideal for enjoying the game. You need to be able to go out and explore if you hope to experience the game at its fullest potential. The gameplay experience simply isn’t inclusive for players with limited mobility.

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Limited mobility is a curse at the best of times. It prevents people from taking part in sports, or even completing simple tasks by themselves. Video games are one of the few mediums that, generally speaking, anyone can enjoy, no matter how limited their mobility is. Sure, the occasional motion-controlled game may be beyond some people, but by and large, games are accessible to everyone.

Pokémon GO is by far the biggest augmented reality video game ever made, but it’s also the first video game I’ve ever come across that simply isn’t suitable for some players who struggle with limited mobility. I should know – while I can still play Pokémon GO, I’m certainly not the most mobile of people.

I suffer with a fairly severe form of a disease called Ulcerative Colitis. Colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease, which causes severe abdominal pain, and a whole host of digestive problems relating to… well, using the bathroom. Generally speaking, the disease isn’t an issue that impacts my enjoyment of video games. However, Pokémon GO actually is hampered by my illness. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still play the shit out of the game, but I won’t be able to enjoy it quite as freely as the average player does.

Many of the symptoms of Colitis unfortunately limit my mobility. I have chronic fatigue and perpetual anaemia. My joints ache after minimal, and sometimes even no, physical exertion.  Just to function like a semi-normal human being, I take a cocktail of drugs every single day, and I require fortnightly blood tests. I’m well aware that, compared to some people, I’m lucky. I mean, I can walk. Not everyone’s that lucky. But am I fully mobile? Hell no.

POKEMON: THE FIRST MOVIE, Picachu, 1999

This isn’t a call to ban the game. I’m not even suggesting that it should be changed in any way. I just want to give a warning. As augmented reality and virtual reality games become more common, more physicality will be required to fully enjoy them. And physicality isn’t a luxury all of us are blessed with. As games progress forward, we need to make sure that we’re working out alternate ways of playing to accommodate less physically able players. There need to be alternate controls schemes and options for adapting the game to less physically demanding game modes if we so choose. If we want to make gaming more enjoyable for the majority, we can’t do that by alienating the minority. To my mind, gaming is the most inclusive of all modern entertainment mediums. Let’s try to keep it that way.

About The Author

Contributor

As a composer and video game enthusiast, Philip has spent years searching for a way to combine his passions for both music and gaming. Then, one day, he figured he could just write about them. He loves to over-analyse the way music helps to shape the player's emotional response in a game. He also loves to criticise bad control schemes, because... Well, they just get on his nerves.

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