As My Disability Progressed, I’m Grateful That Games Did, Too

By Grant Stoner: For Complete Post, click here…

Accessibility options help me enjoy games I never could’ve played before.

I’ve never known life without Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II. This neuromuscular disorder progressively weakens muscles over time, stripping me of what little independence I had. Normal day-to-day activities like feeding myself, writing my name, or even using my phone have been lost to me over the years. Since receiving an official diagnosis when I was 13 months old, my family and I have discovered and created inclusive methods for me to survive and thrive in a painfully ableist world.

Growing up with a physical disability meant I had to find accessible and entertaining alternatives to the usual activities that most children enjoy. Since I lacked the capability to climb, run, or play any sport, my physical therapist at the time introduced my parents to a form of exercise that would not only strengthen my hands, but also allow me to connect with my peers: playing video games. 

Needing to constantly move my fingers and hold somewhat heavy controllers in my tiny disabled hands let me practice my dexterity and keep my muscles moving — a critical aspect of living with a progressive disease.

My first foray into the world of games began on my Super Nintendo. As a young child, the size of the controller was perfect for me and my limited reach. I could press every button, perform every action, and stretch my muscles while tricking myself into thinking I was just playing video games. EarthboundTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, and a bevy of platformers like Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble! kept me entertained for hours. As games and their subsequent systems evolved, so did my disability.

The decrease of muscle mass and strength with SMA Type II is gradual, at least in my experience. There were never singular moments or events that precipitated an immense loss of movement, but rather small, often minuscule realizations of my limitations. While video games let me exercise, they also acted as a tangible way for me to track my disease’s progression.

My first inaccessible gaming venture occurred when playing Super Smash Bros. on my Nintendo 64. While my brother and his friends were sprinting and smashing (two integral mechanics to any Smash game), I was stuck performing basic attacks. At first, I thought it was due to a faulty controller, but after trading with my brother and noticing the same results, I had to adapt. I switched to using a character like Samus, who could knock out opponents with powerful standard moves. Even though an event like this was relatively minor, it helped me come to terms with needing accommodations.

When we upgraded to the GameCube, the control sticks were significantly easier to operate. I gained the ability to sprint, but still struggled to smash my enemies. Thankfully, Super Smash Bros. Melee lets players smash with the C-stick, a feature that allowed me to experience my favorite characters in a new light. Yet, despite the new accessibility accommodations, the GameCube controller posed a new problem that not only demonstrated my declining physical state but also shaped how I play games today.

With systems like the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64, the overall weight and size of the controllers let me easily grasp and reach every button. The GameCube controller, while comfortable in my lap, was too large for me to properly reach L, R, and Z — three buttons which are crucial for numerous games. For the first time in my life, I required outside assistance to perform tasks and finish levels. Transforming into various paper objects as Mario in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, wielding Leon’s knife and executing quick-timed-events in Resident Evil 4, or scanning objects and locking onto enemies in the first two Metroid Primes were only achievable because my brother and mother were there to press the appropriate buttons. 

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