accessibility

How Disabled Players Are Able to Play Complex Games Like Monster Hunter

Even with a degenerative muscle disease, Sidney Tinsley can slay an anjanath because Capcom put in enough controller options.

Patrick Klepek

Patrick Klepek

Image courtesy of Capcom

Monster Hunter: World is intimidating, a game full of complex mechanics and systems that take dozens of hours to fully appreciate, and a punishing combat system demanding players be on their toes at all times. At first blush, it didn’t seem like the kind of game Sidney Tinsley would be able to play, let alone invest more than 40 hours in. That’s because Sidney has, since birth, dealt with a disability that results in his muscles becoming weaker as he ages. It makes playing certain games...complicated.

“When I was a kid I could use a controller fine, I was just bad at games like almost all kids are bad at games,” the 20-year-old told me recently.

As Sidney’s body gets bigger, his muscles move in the other direction, getting thinner. This regression happens in fits and starts, with his teenage years being some of the most tumultuous because his body was constantly changing. Once things settle down, there’s a new normal, and he adjusts to what his body is capable of doing. Change is unpredictable, and it’s common for his muscles to stay in the same state for years.

“Now I'm 20, and of course things change,” he said, “and I have to think about how to connect what I want to do with what I'm actually able to do. With gaming, this came in the form of looking up controls of a game before I buy it, and sometimes before the game even comes out.”

Sidney has to be careful about getting excited for games; there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to play them. Everything depends on what options the games will include, and while the industry has been moving in the right direction when it comes to accessibility, some companies, like Nintendo, haven't taken basic steps to recognize disabled fans.

“Often in games, there are controls that I just have to ignore altogether because I can't do them,” he said, “and so I have to find ways to use other controls in the game to compensate.”

Sprinting, for example, is a problem. In most games, running is initiated by clicking the left or right stick, which is tough for Sidney. Thus, running is now out of the question. (It’s possible to remap buttons on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but in a game that assigns crucial functions to every button, that might not help much.)

“Games like Battlefield or Call of Duty are frustrating due to this,” he said, “and while I don't often play shooters, I'll go through those games crouching and peeking my barrel out behind corners. Or I play the dreadful role of a stationary sniper.”

Sidney had toyed with Monster Hunter on the PSP, but it didn’t stick because he “was young and didn’t feel the need to read tutorials.” Still, he enjoyed beating the crap out of a dinosaur, and payed attention as Monster Hunter: World neared release.

The stars aligned with Monster Hunter: World, where it’s possible to re-assign running—in this case, to a shoulder button—without losing any critical functions. Because the game includes a wide variety of weapons, he could stick with a preference for slow, timing-based attacks that don’t rely on mashing buttons. If a weapon asked for a button configuration that was too awkward, he could find another.

Right now, he prefers the great sword, hammer, and switch axe.

Monster Hunter actually has a long history with people controlling the game in unconventional ways. Remember, the series originally took off on PSP, a machine that didn't have two analog sticks! This lead to people developing a unique method of fighting and manipulating the camera by holding the PSP in a position called "the claw:"

After Sidney shared his experience on reddit, other disabled players chimed in. leftjun, for example, can only use one hand, and holds a PS4 controller like this:

Image courtesy of reddit user leftjun

"First thing you might notice is I prop it against my body rather than on a flat surface," they wrote. "This is due to the extra angle I need to bend my wrist (or think preying mantis) to reach the necessary buttons and yet have control."

You can see how leftjun holds all sorts of other controllers via this image post.

The options, as it turns out, are what’s really important—not whether a game is "hard."

“I think this might be important to discern,” Sidney said, “a difficult game is not a disability unfriendly game. A difficult game like Monster Hunter involves lots of patience and calling the monsters movements before they happen. Often in the game, it's about placing yourself in the right spot at the start of a monsters action. I gave the game a shot because I had finished Dark Souls 3 last year and missed that feeling of ecstasy you get after beating bosses. I knew Monster Hunter would be the same thing.”

Some day in the future things will, once again, change for Sidney, and there’s no clear indicator when his muscles will get weaker. It’s possible games like Monster Hunter: World, even with every possible customization option, will eventually become unplayable. Sidney is ready for that world, whenever it might come.

“I have many other passions including writing and producing music, reading, writing fiction, and studying philosophy and history,” he said. “On top of that, I know there will always be games in my favorite genre—turn-based JRPGs—that I can play.”

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com.

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