Video or digital gaming has become one of the most prevalent forms of entertainment on the planet with over 2.5 billion players worldwide. The AbleGamers Charity estimates that there are 46.3 million potential players with disabilities in the United States alone, with about 2.1 million being children age 5 to 17. These children are your students and our future. Through gameplay, these players with disabilities may improve their social and mental wellness and feel empowered alongside their nondisabled counterparts.
It’s all in the numbers
As the gaming community continues to grow each year, it is increasingly likely that teachers will have students who are avid players. Current estimates state that 67% of people in the U.S., over 219 million Americans, play video games. According to the Electronic Software Association (ESA), 30% of players in the U.S. or over 65 million players are under the age of 18. With an estimated 3.7 million teachers at the elementary and secondary school level, there is a high likelihood that each educator in the country has not one, but multiple students that see digital gaming as a staple of their entertainment experiences.
Likewise, with over 2 million children with disabilities who play games and the prevalence of children with disabilities at 6.3% of the U.S. population, educators are more than likely to have a student who has a visible (eg. cerebral palsy) or invisible (eg. anxiety) disability.
For students, video games present a number of potential benefits in learning tools that improve their future learning and ultimately their overall development. A recent article in The Journal of Play notes that gaming can be used to sharpen mental faculties relating to cognitive, attitudinal, and perceptual abilities.
For players with disabilities, gameplay isn’t just about being able to play, but also about being able to play the same games as everyone else.
Additionally, games can also help to forge concepts of autonomy, competence, and relatedness which are basic psychological needs that are crucial to healthy self-efficacy and social proficiency. Self-efficacy and social aptitude themselves are both instrumental in overall well-being.
These benefits of playing video games provide a means through which students can have positive and enriching experiences that can further their learning and growth. For some students with disabilities, these opportunities to experience that growth might otherwise not be available to them if not through gaming.
The importance of accessible player experiences
Through the AbleGamers Player Panels Program, players with disabilities are able to share the impact of gaming in their lives. To understand that impact, the AbleGamers research team asked players “Why is gaming important to you?”
While manuscript for study is still in progress at the time of writing, AbleGamers can share that in addition to powerful themes like connecting with other people and diverting from daily stresses, players said that gaming helped them feel enabled. The importance of this enablement through gameplay was that these players could learn, play, compete, and socialize on an equal playing field as their nondisabled peers.
The theme of enablement is particularly poignant when one considers that the digital arena may be the only place where some of these players can interact with their peers on a level playing field. For a student with a disability that affects their mobility, playing a game involving physicality with peers during recess or physical education may not be a reality.
Read: Reading as an adventure
A student who has a cognitive or neurodiverse disability may struggle with the social components of playground play. While a digital playground may still present barriers that limit access for players with disabilities, the gaming industry’s increasing focus on improving accessibility from both a hardware and software standpoint means that games are increasingly able to be tailored to suit the skillset and more importantly, the personal preferences of the player.
For players with disabilities, gameplay isn’t just about being able to play, but also about being able to play the same games as everyone else. It’s imperative that children with disabilities have their own accessible player experiences so that they can have their own enriching experiences as they grow to become contributing members of our culture and society.
Gregory Haynes is the Lead Games User Researcher at the AbleGamers Charity. He will be discussing this topic at DA’s FETC 2020.