Sports writing may not exactly be our thing, but occasionally there's a story that adds enough depth and promise to the sphere of gaming that it's just impossible to resist. Take note that this one deserves to be filed under "news articles that could probably be made into family movies with heart-wrenching soundtracks." (Yes, that'll be with 'N.')
The idea of one-button gaming has an interesting history as a genre. At first, it was a purely mechanical convenience--early arcade and home console titles would use as few buttons as possible, which sometimes meant clicking a 'Turn' button multiple times rather than use dedicated left or right directions. As the years went by and gaming became a race to complexity, the art of button reduction died out. Now, with the recent explosion of mobile gaming as well as the ever-creative indie scene, the challenge of packing deep and fun gameplay into a single button is looking better than ever.
And more accessible, too, if you're as devoted as Hans Smith--a disabled gamer who reached out the the San Diego Sony studio behind the MLB: The Show franchise. As a sufferer of cerebral palsy, Smith can't make it out to the field himself, but his passionate letter about baseball and the Cardinals moved the team so much that they actually included Smith as a "virtual athlete," an unlockable player in MLB 11. After a few more weeks of talking with him, they also decided to throw in a handy feature for even more inclusiveness: a separate difficulty mode named for the Association for Disabled Virtual Athletes, which will allow the game to be played with just one button for swings and passes, with an AI handling the aiming and other decisions.
This will mean more baseball fans living their dream out on the field, according to Smith. "People come up to me and ask me all the time, 'So are you a gamer?' I tell them, 'No, I'm a baseball player.'" As someone whose condition prevents him from ever setting foot on a field, the game is his actual season--and he couldn't be any happier living out his dream, going so far as to sit out for four weeks when his player was injured.
Accessibility in gaming is a relatively new priority, but certain studios are slowly coming around. FPS games and puzzlers are seeing some encouragement from their fans to include colorblind options to stay competitive, and Valve's co-op gem Left 4 Dead saw some changes after their testing revealed that certain gamers did much better with a visual silhouette than just sound cues when they needed to rescue a friend. Obviously, an added focus on options for disabled gamers sometimes just leads to better UI design than the status quo.
As for Hans Smith, he'll be playing as his virtual self alongside the rest of the San Diego team, who are proud to have him. At a recent game, Smith was allowed in the dugout to chat with the baseball players, and he found himself admonished by closer Ryan Franklin: "I was telling him about my season and when I told him my stats he said, 'C'mon Smith, you need to step it up! You're representing the Cardinals now.'
"It felt great," Smith said.