Unlike much of entertainment media, video games tend towards being “quite demanding” physically and “often require mastering inflexible, quite complicated, input devices and techniques” (Grammenos, Savidi, and Stephanidis 2009, 2). In spite of these challenge, many people with disabilities play video games, and some gamers with disabilities live-stream their gameplay on the popular game streaming website Twitch.tv.
A recent research project of mine points to the intersection between gaming and disability, and how these identity markers are co-constitutive. Game streamers with disabilities often negotiate their identities within a matrix: disability and gaming are not isolated from each other. My research examined videos such as the one featured in this post: game streamers with disabilities talking about their gamer identities—often by building their “gaming capital” (Consalvo 2007).
What surprised me was how these streamers spoke about how gaming and disability work together in their identities. These streamers often acknowledged how disability shaped their approach to gaming, including describing the methods they employ to overcome the challenge of playing games—games primarily not designed for their bodies. They also talked about how gaming has changed how they view their disabilities, pointing to their success in streaming games as evidence that their disability is not their sole defining identity feature.
Put simply, these video game streamers did not, or perhaps could not, separate their “disability” and “gaming” identities. Examples abound: one streamer began playing games as a response to the boredom of staying home due to their disability. Another streamer saw their success at gaming as verification that they could overcome the emotional and physical challenges their disability presented. Yet another streamer described their world-class skill at using a mouth-controlled input device and how it changed how they defined their disability as well as their gaming capital.
Video games can help define what it means to be a person with disabilities. Ultimately, games function similarly to mobility features in cities, such as elevators and curb-cuts, in dictating how a person with a disability can imagine their life.
Consalvo, Mia. (2007). Cheating: Gaining advantage in videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Grammenos, Dimitris, Anthony Savidi, and Constantine Stephanidis. 2009. “Designing Universally Accessible Games.” ACM Computers in Entertainment 7, no. 1, article 8: 1- 29. https://doi.org/10.1145/1486508.1486516.