Xbox 720 Accessibility Fears

There are a lot of things that people ask me – some of which is weird, some not so much. I’ve only read 12 news articles on the next gen Xbox – that’s all. I haven’t really heard a lot of stuff either, just speculations and things like that from various points of view. Is it credible? Yes. The console hasn’t even been developed fully yet. Oh how the vast recesses of the internet are swallowed up by online blogs. Yippy!

Despite owning an Xbox currently, I’m seeing trends that will force to switch to the PS4. One such trend can be found in the Xbox Kinect. Even now as I sit clutching a physical controller in a desperate hope that Microsoft will at least take a last look at accessibility and disabled gamers, I’m realizing that my woeful cries into the night are not heard. This is even more evident with the new Xbox 720, code named ‘Durango’.

I don’t need to take jabs at the hardware because there are a bunch of other articles that will point all of that out for me. I’m here about the accessibility side of things. As I have said before, it doesn’t look good.

I’m the type of legally blind gamer with another disability in addition to my visual impairment. My cerebral palsy, a nerve disorder in the brain that effects muscle movement, making movement difficult. Accompany that with the visually impaired label, the near sighted label, and the tunnel vision factor, then I’m sure that you, as an astute reader, can see why the emphasis on Kinect makes me want to weep and clutch my old Xbox controller in desperation as well as a silent cry for inclusion.

It’s rumoured that the new Xbox will toss its handheld controllers aside in favor of the new Kinect motion tracking, this does of course leave me, and people like me, out of the mix entirely. Since I’m visually impaired, I have to sit a certain distance away from the TV, rendering something like the Kinect useless to me because, if I step back far enough that crisp clear view of the TV screen becomes blurry as if I stepped into an alternate dimension.

I tried a Kinect a few times and it’s practical if you don’t have to do a lot of movement, but even when that instance came up I was still blindly playing with luck, wondering if I was even doing anything. I decided to try Puss in Boots for my first Kinect adventure. When the screen blurred to a gray splotch the further I stepped away from the screen, I suddenly felt as though this game of chance wasn’t going to be much fun at all, and I was only in the main menu trying to start the game. I knew you were supposed to move to evoke an action but I didn’t know how I was supposed to move. I clawed the air looking to start the game. Something happened, but I didn’t know what happened. Feeling confident that I made the game menu do something – I clawed at the air again. Without any audible guidance as to how to move, deduction told me do cat things in order to make the menus interact with your movements. After the ding sound of more menus opening up, I decided to abandon all cooperation and do jumping jacks, hoping that I at least would accidentally hit the start game button. I did after a series of ‘blings’ met my ears. Throughout the entire first few minutes of the demo, I didn’t know what to do or even how to move – not to mention that text filled the screen. I suddenly slapped my leg in frustration, to which puss leaped somewhere, and he died. I had now lost all patience and gave my Kinect to a very good deaf friend of mine.

Looking back on that experience, I can only shudder in terror as the prospect of completely accessible gaming is yanked away from me by inaccessible motion controls that my sighted friends can utilize with ease while I flail about like a fish out of water. When I heard that the Xbox was going to have a lot of emphasis upon this piece of technology, I immediately lost all hope that the next gen video games on the Microsoft side will be playable by me or people like me.

Xbox hasn’t released any definite details yet, but from the outlook, it’s not an accessible world where gamers like me can  giggle with sighted and able-bodied gamers. In May, Microsoft’s Xbox event will happen. Microsoft’s next Xbox is expected to debut later this year, with a full unveiling at E3 in early June. Microsoft recently revealed that Xbox is part of the agenda for its ‘Build’ conference in late June, where developers will likely learn about the company’s next-generation plans. I understand that the next-generation Xbox software will be based on Windows 8, feeding into Microsoft’s strategy of placing Windows at the heart of its products and services. With an Xbox event in late May, alongside E3, and Build in June, it’s shaping up to be a busy summer for Xbox and a world where disabled gamers will have to cry in order for Microsoft to hear our needs.

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Robert W Kingett

Robert Kingett is a gay blind journalist, and author, with many publications in magazines, anthologies, and blogs. He has judged many writing contests and has won many awards for his writings and advocacy.

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