It’s been a week since a small, free cell phone application forever changed the mobile gaming market. Questions and concerns about the accessibility of Pokémon Go have flooded AbleGamers’ contact channels; in the name of accessibility, it was my duty to spend hours upon hours tracking invisible monsters only visible to my cell phone.
From the time I’ve played Pokémon Go, it’s pretty evident that the game is very inaccessible… BUT, there are some ways that you can play the game outside the basic conventions of the title and still be able to share in the Pokémon Go experience. Of course, there are a number of ways Niantic can improve the accessibility of the game, but we’re currently dealing with what we’re dealt.
Mobility Accessibility is Severely Lacking
The game requires a bit of movement, but there’s ways around parts of it. Pokémon only show up in specific areas (usually areas that have a lot of cell phone usage, like supermarkets, parks, etc.) which requires the player to be there with their mobile device in that area, and to actually catch the Pokémon requires the player to flick their screen to throw a Pokeball. Numerous difficulties become evident at these two requirements.
Some people, due to their disability, require assistance moving from their home to other locations, causing problems actually finding Pokémon or gaining access to locations that provide items, while other potential Pokémon masters can’t make the motion required to fling a Pokeball to catch their new monster friend. Different disabilities can cause different issues with the game, but these can be easily handled with accessibility options that fix what is keeping people from enjoying the game.
I was told a story by a friend and supporter of AbleGamers who wanted to play Pokémon Go, but their significant other’s muscular dystrophy didn’t allow them to make the swipe motion to play. Her disability prevented her from playing the game, and in kind he refused to play the game. Neither of them are enjoying playing the game due to the inaccessibility of the game.
There’s not a good way to replace the swiping method to throw the ball outside of a $35 watch accessory that isn’t released yet. The game features a gravity-like mechanism, so the swiping motion is almost like throwing the ball in an arch in front of you, it’s not something that allows you to drag and drop the ball. It also takes into account if the swipe is straight or curved, as well as requiring more intense swipes for Pokémon that are farther away from the player. It’s really a nightmare for those who can’t swipe.
The game is playable on iPads and other large tablets, so some who can’t use a small screen could have a better time with the larger screen, but it still requires the same high precision to bonk the Pokémon in the face with the capture device.
Gamers looking to play without moving around can learn some tips from AbleGamers Scholarship winner AJ Ryan’s experience with Pokémon Stay. That method, however, will cost some real world money. The game doesn’t cost anything intrinsically to get started, but you can pay to get ahead.. A little pay to win (or if you are disabled, pay to play).
If you’re looking to maximize your Pokémon Go experience, finding Facebook groups of local meetups and hot spots of player activity can lead you to rarer Pokémon, closely-knit Pokestops, and preventing you from wasting your play time. Using these events are the best way to minimize your traveling and needs for moving, as well as maximizing your Pokémon caught, items found, and players to meet. The only part of the game this strategy doesn’t help is with hatching eggs, which require movement to complete. However, players have discovered a few things could help assist in the movement aspect, such as putting your phone on a record player and letting it spin, or attaching it to a ceiling fan and letting the fan spin. Both of those options are possible ways to kick up the distance traveled by the player without leaving your home.
If you are leaving your home on a Pokémon adventure, know that the GPS tracking of your movement only activates below around 20 mph, which makes driving through low-speed areas like parks viable grounds to grind for items as well as distance travelled. The game doesn’t track footsteps, it just tracks movement, so carrying it with you, having the app open, and moving works for collecting distance on your eggs. Ultimately, if you have severe mobility challenges, Pokémon GO is going to be a challenging experience.
Visual Accessibility Has Some Options
An important thing to note for players who have visual handicaps is that the game by default features an AR mode, having players move and twist where their phone is looking to find the Pokémon in the environment, using this to aim their Pokeballs at their virtual monsters. This is why you’ll see Pokémon Go players in public places turning and twisting their phones to face odd directions. Thankfully, the game allows you to turn off the AR function, lining up the Pokémon within the player’s view whatever way the game is facing, greatly improving the experience for those with the inability to emotionally or mentally process augmented reality; and enables setting the phone down and swiping as an entirely viable playstyle. Sadly, there’s not a way to do more to change the method of swiping required, but we can dream of it changing in the future. Microsoft recently released a video of Hololens version of Pokémon Go, while still not completely accessible, having a simple motion is easier for some than swiping on a screen. As always, the more options, the better.
One option that the game could really use is a colorblind option. The difficulty of catching a Pokémon relies heavily on your ability to see colors. The game indicates an easy catch with a green ring, and a difficult catch with a red ring, with the color changing through yellow in the middle. While the green ring is incredibly light and the red ring is very dark, the shades of yellow in the middle could throw color deficient players off with variations of red/green colorblindness.
Audio Not Required
If you have audio concerns, none of the audio is important to the game. Vibration can replace necessary audio cues, such as when a Pokémon appears nearby. If vibration is an issue, you can turn it off and just use the visual and audio indications. The game could definitely use better and more detailed tutorials; there’s many systems the game doesn’t explain, alongside misinformation on the internet. Players discovering locations of hidden Pokémon lairs, how best to use systems in the game, even how key factors of the menu function, all of it discovered through player interaction. Communication is a key part of the game experience, which isn’t explained in tutorials.
The Social Side Of Pokémon Go
Some players aren’t okay with interacting with strangers, and that’s totally okay. The game doesn’t require you to directly interact with players. Even battling with other players is done at gyms and without direct interaction. But if you’re looking for an icebreaker to help meet other people, the game’s play style welcomes interaction with people around key locations. For those with anxiety and a fear of large groups, know that there’s plenty of locations of Pokestops and Gyms in solitary areas that you can pass by, grab your goodies, and keep on your way. A parent of a child with autism recently posted how amazing the game was for her child’s social experience, which you can read more about on Reddit.
TL;DR: Accessibility still isn’t caught by Niantic for Pokémon Go.
Pokémon Go has many challenges ahead to overcome it’s unaccessible traits. Surely the success of the app can fuel into an increased collection of accessibility options to get more players into the game and improve the quality of that experience for players who aren’t able to play. A function that allows players to traverse the map without actually moving from their location, even in a centralized local area, can possible put players with limited mobility in range Pokestops, gyms, and their favorite Pokémon. This function could help players find those Pokémon that are in locations their disability won’t let them traverse, alongside aiding players who are trying to avoid walking into private areas. Colorblind options can help get more players into the action and completing their captures of new friends successfully. New ways to capture Pokémon that don’t require an incredibly precise swipe of the finger can bring people with physical disabilities into the collective experience. Niantic has a long way to go to break down the barriers presented in Pokémon Go. It’s not impossible, but making their app to be the best for everyone, like no app ever was, they still have a ways to go. The base game of Pokémon Go is solid, but if Niantic wants to capture the entire market, from bug catcher to ace trainer, along with the disability community, they need to commit time and improve the accessibility… after making sure the servers can stay working, of course!