Overwatch and Disabled Players: A Discussion

Inspired by the lovely Women in Overwatch panel, i set out to interview disabled Overwatch players and gain their insight. The people I interviewed are Ironicgodtier and Cascadia, who are Death Blossoms, Mia, a member of Athena, Waterysalt, a member of Ganymede’s Girls, Momoxmia, Graduate Assistant and researcher at USC and freelance writer, Makayla, Death Blossom, Andromeda member and player on Team Sol, MightyenaBoy, my personal friend and former teammate, and me, Cloud, Death Blossom and writer of this post.

Q: What is your disability?

Ironicgodtier: I have minor hearing problems and of course sight problems. though I do also have minor anxiety and ptsd.
Cascadia: PTSD / Major Depression
Mia: High-functioning autism (Aspergers), emetophobia, depression, OCD
Waterysalt: My diagnoses are Depression, PTSD, and Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
Momoxmia: Deafness, bilateral vestibular hypofunction, and TBI.
Makayla: I’m green-red colourblind.
MightyenaBoy: I am hearing impaired/legally deaf.
Cloud: I have autism and cerebral palsy causing poor fine motor control in my left hand.

Q: What does disability mean for you?

Ironicgodtier: It means anything outside of the norm, something where the person has to try even harder in order to succeed
Cascadia:  A person who has a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.
Waterysalt: For me, it is having mental impairments that limit me in my day to day life
Momoxmia: Thinking of my deafness, I subscribe to the disability social model. Meaning, my disability is created through a social construct. However, I frame my latter two disabilities through a medical model, meaning that they are something I have to manage on a daily basis.
Makayla: In my case it’s something inconvenient but I really have to just find ways to adapt because there aren’t a lot of concessions made for colour blind people. Just because it isn’t really seen as a “real” disability.
MightyenaBoy: Disability doesn’t have to make you ‘below’ other people. Disabled gamers or disabled humans are capable of most of the same feats as ‘ordinary’ people, bar things such as physical feats like walking in some cases. A disabled person is able to think as clearly and sophisticated as any other person.
Cloud: It means I can’t do things the same way as abled people, if I can do them at all, and whether or not they believe me is up in the air.

Our interviewees have a large range of disabilities and different viewpoints on disability, but the main thread between these viewpoints is doing things differently and having difficulty doing things like the average person does.

Q: How does disability affect or enhance your gameplay?

Ironicgodtier: It has affected it by me not properly hearing callouts, or even forgetting/not hearing what was recently said in a small time span. It especially sucks when i can’t get in vc and then i can’t properly hear which direction the enemy ults are coming for or where my team is.
Cascadia: I have known memory issues. I frequently need to ask how I know someone from and sometimes what the latest thing I’ve told them about myself. As for enhanced, I have username amnesia in that I don’t hold onto grudges and get over stuff quickly.
Mia: As an autistic person it’s been a way to connect with people and practice my social skills in a safe environment – I’ve always felt more comfortable online than in real life. The double-edged sword of being an autistic gamer is that it’s very easy to immerse yourself and get lost in games, but you forget that it’s not real life, or that you need to do real life things like eat and sleep.
Waterysalt: Sounds and light effects bother me a lot. A lot of times I will play music over the game sounds if the game allows for it. There are certain games where that can be problematic, so I will monitor the sound channels very closely to pick out which ones seem to be bothering me the most.
Momoxmia: Mostly my deafness does. A lot of games rely on sound cues, which of course I do not benefit from at all. Because of TBI I get chronic migraines, so I can’t game for long periods of time which is obviously very tragic for me haha.
Makayla: The enemies are outlined in red I didn’t know that until a month or two ago when I saw a post by kolorblind describing her issues. It’s noteworthy that the in game filters at that time weren’t helpful so I had to run an additional colorblind filter on my desktop to make the outlines visible. Once I got those outlines the game became immensely easier.
MightyenaBoy: Me being legally deaf has its setbacks. I often have everyone at 200% in discord calls or max volume in OW voice chat, even then it can be difficult to hear people clearly, or hear people over another person. Also, ultimates and voicelines in general are an absolute pain to hear ingame, even with max volume!
Cloud: Playing with one hand has its limits. Even with my mouse, I only have space for 17 buttons, and six of those I use for WASD. So things like the tab key are off the table and I have to rely on teammates to check for me. Also it can be hard to press a bunch of buttons at once so things like Mercy jump tech are extremely difficult.

With Makayla being colorblind, I specifically asked her for her opinions on the updated colorblind settings.

Makayla: They’re a step in the right direction. Lime green is the best colour for enemies in my opinion but unfortunately I can’t use that when I’m grouped up because it looks exactly the same colour as your group mates. The inability to change the colour of your group limits the number of colours I can use for enemies to only a few. But the settings are helpful because I can play without washing out the game with the actual filters.

Q: What in your setup is different than the average abled gamer’s?

Ironicgodtier: My setup isn’t really different, i just have friends who help me along by sticking super close with me in games so that i don’t get lost or confused.
Momoxmia: I use cochlear implants for competitive games (cause they aren’t accessible at all). I use a mini mic directly plugged into my computer and a remote that connects me through wirelessly.
MightyenaBoy: As I am now, there isn’t much different since, for hearing impaired gamers, the only thing you can add in is an extremely good sound card, even then the change is barely noticeable.
Cloud: I play games entirely one-handed using an MMO-style mouse.

With varying disabilities, these players all have different methods for playing Overwatch. Important to note is many of them don’t have drastic differences in their setup.

Q: How often do you play Overwatch?

Ironicgodtier: I play it as often as I can, sometimes I’m just too anxious to play it so I’ll be off of it for a week or longer until I can deal with it again.
Cascadia: 2-4 times a week. Much more while playing Tournaments with my Team, Lotus. Much less if I’m having a rough mental health week.
Mia: Several nights a week, although I go through phases of not playing at all sometimes.
Waterysalt: Everyday hehehe. and it is a lot, but I have been playing video games all my life and for the most part it has become second nature to just adjust things as I need to.
Momoxmia: If I’m honest, probably 10-15 hours per week. I take long breaks though, sometimes up to a month. Yay for being a full time student and employee.
Makayla: Most days now probably a few hours a day
MightyenaBoy: I play Overwatch mostly whenever my friends do or when coaching in things such as Scrub Cup. Tournaments I participate in are also times I play it.
Cloud: 3-4 sessions of 2-3 hours per week. More during events or if I feel like it.

Q: How does your disability affect you socially? Do you run into ableism?

Ironicgodtier: It’s not so difficult, I don’t talk unless I’m in a group with my friends, I would rather have people not yell at me for minor ptsd reasons.
Cascadia: It limits how much I speak in groups. I discussed above some of the things my brain meats likes to do. I tend to be one of the more quiet ones. I don’t have much to contribute to discussion. When doing Tournament matches, I can be forgetful of strategies or counter picks to gain an edge over the other team… (on the subject of ableism)… It’s a meme to comment that they want to kill themselves, their depression and, of course, how you should kill yourself and sometimes in intricate details of how you should do so. This trivializes depression and depressed people who say these things and mean it.
Mia: I am a bit more likely to misunderstand or require further clarifications than most people, and I get overwhelmed/stressed easily which can be a problem in a game as fast-paced as Overwatch. (And) …“autistic” has become a go-to insult especially in the gaming world and I often see it thrown around in chat. The few times I’ve mentioned being autistic myself the responses have been pretty toxic.
Waterysalt: A lot of times people will ask me to get into team chat and I cannot, this is either met by silence or ridicule. I have even been reported. I am a strong support of the Stop the R word movement. My hope is that people will be more aware and compassionate for their disabled teammates.
Momoxmia: In terms of friends, not so much unless it’s hearing friends. I join discord but I can maybe understand 30%. In term of the community, folks are chill unless I don’t join voice comms for ranked games. Players lose their minds! If I say I’m deaf they don’t even believe me or if they do, they treat me like crap.
Makayla: Not so much socially because I don’t bring it up that much. I kinda put it on myself to make adjustments such as calling positions that don’t rely on colour. That said I’ve made some obvious mistakes irl that have been embarrassing and really highlighted it. There have definitely been times where due to similar colouring I’ve popped offensive ults/attacks on my teammates.
MightyenaBoy: I rarely play solo-queue in Overwatch since I can hardly hear people. In order for me to hear people best, I need to get accustomed to their voice, tone/pitch, and manner of speaking. Not only this, but my lisp (due to my hearing and other things, I developed a lisp), I get made fun of consistently.
Cloud: Overall I’m not particularly affected socially, although I do run into casual usage of the r word and autistic.

The general language of the community, as well as the usage of slurs and insults is a common thread between most of the folks interviewed.

On the topic of general accessibility in Overwatch, the consensus is that it’s better than a lot of games, but could always be improved.

Ironicgodtier: Like most games I think they’re still trying to help people, like with the color blindness setting, but there isn’t a whole lot games can do for everyone.
Cascadia: Overwatch has done their research when it comes to working with people who are colour blind. I expect nothing less from AAA company.  Overwatch has keyboard mapping controls which is essential for people who need alternative button selections for devices.
Mia: Could be better – what appealed to me about Overwatch was that unlike most multiplayer PVP games it felt like they wanted to have characters that anyone could play, regardless of aiming skills, and I’m worried that they’re steering away from that the more Overwatch becomes established in e-sports.
Waterysalt: My favorite feature is the chat wheel. being non verbal, I can still communicate with my team effectively and that feature helps tremendously. And although I am not colorblind, I hear it has great support for that as well in the game settings.
Momoxmia: For DHH, it needs work. Big things like sound cues and sound bars (pictured below) need to be addressed. I can’t always rely on the damage directional bar. But even small things, like Blizzard doesn’t even caption their shorts. Last I checked, the tutorials don’t have captions either. Such easy solutions that costs the company nothing and they still don’t do them! It’s a shame. (Author’s note: Blizzard has started subtitling their shorts’ dialogue, but it’s nowhere near the required closed captioning.)

(Screenshot of sound bar from Fortnite at work. Credit to Momoxmia.)

Makayla: I feel like the new colourblind settings benefit the general population more than it does specifically colourblind people. Which is a shame because we’ve been waiting since launch for something that works for us. Afaik there’s no reasonable way for the hearing impaired to get the sound cues that the rest of us have and that should be a primary focus.
MightyenaBoy: Accessibility in Overwatch is decent. The game devs have things such as color-blindness mode which helps a large majority of the population. However, due to game balance, things such as subtitles unfortunately won’t be possible, which is upsetting but understandable. Overall I think Overwatch is doing good so far.
Cloud: It could always be better. We lack a really good colorblind mode, subtitles, and a lot of heroes who were less aim-dependent are being worked into aim-dependent heroes, which isn’t a direction I particularly like.

Q: What would allow Overwatch to be more accessible for you?

Cascadia: I would love the ability to adjust the particle and UI effects. I feel like they get me tired quicker from the stimulation than in earlier versions of the game. The halo of healing icons is brain draining.
Waterysalt: more control of sounds. Currently there is not much you can do about the beeping noise that happens during overtime. That sound is so distressing to me. I am pretty sure I have lost a few games just by being disoriented by that sound.
Momoxmia: A sound bar, similar to the one in Fortnite. Captions for tutorials, etc.
Makayla: If I could adjust all of the colours such as group, but also if the thickness of character outlines was adjustable.
MightyenaBoy: The only thing I can think of is subtitles, but again, due to game balancing issues it can’t be implemented.
Cloud: Give me even more control over keybinds, especially if I could double up. The main one I want is that Hammond’s Piledriver could also be bound to Space.

Q: What part of gameplay is problematic for your disability, but can’t be worked around?

Ironicgodtier: I guess the hearing could be worked around, but I can’t have sounds up too loud, it’s just bothersome, so I do miss out on some lines and tips to help me identify where an enemy is.
Waterysalt: I think the most problematic thing would be people that spam voice lines. I have to have the voice volume up (for characters, not the voice chat). But that can be worked out by asking them to stop, although that doesn’t always work.
Momoxmia: I don’t think there is. Folks say deaf people would have too much of an advantage if there was a sound bar or captions; “it would lose it competitiveness!!” But that is not true, it works for other games.
MightyenaBoy: Callouts and ability voicelines are a pain to hear and comprehend, and can’t be worked around even with full volume.
Cloud: Blizzard keeps adding more and more buttons you need mid-fight and I’m out of room. Without crouch, I can’t superjump as Mercy really well, and I can’t get information from the tab screen unless I remove my hand from the mouse, and… you can probably guess why I don’t do that.

I next asked about what change they would want in Overwatch and got answers ranging from characters to accessibility options.

Ironicgodtier: a heavily less toxic community for a game people bought to have fun with.
Cascadia: A way to reduce the amount of particle and UI effects on screen.
Mia: More characters with disabilities in their backstory. Symmetra means a lot to me as the only hero with autism in any game I’ve ever heard of, but I’d love to see heroes with other mental disabilities as well.
Waterysalt: I think it would be cool if there were an option to auto mute everybody with an open mic.
Momoxmia: Sound bar for sure. Captions are great, but sound bar would make the game actually playable.
Makayla: It’d be nice if Blizzard took accessibility more seriously. It’s been years to get to even this point.
MightyenaBoy: Perhaps a way to increase volume for certain things (100% overall volume, plus ways to make certain things louder).
Cloud: I’d love an option where Guardian Angel doesn’t prefer beam target, but if you aren’t looking at anyone, you fly to the beam target.

Finally, I asked about any closing remarks and anything they want abled players to know.

Ironicgodtier: We’re all people playing one game, we’re here to have fun not be cussed out at because people don’t know how to take things less seriously.
Cascadia: I’m on DB to play games and get away from RL garbage. I appreciate when people shut down toxicity and ableism. I’m not here to be a teacher about Disability or a “representation of my peoples”. What we do need is more allies.
Mia: Don’t use “autistic” (or “retard”, while we’re at it) as an insult, and don’t let other people get away with using them either.
Waterysalt: I want them to know that using Autism as a meme or a slur is very hurtful and they should report anybody doing it. Video games provide relief for many people with disabilities of all kinds, and they deserve to feel safe in the communities they call home.
Momoxmia: Disabled folks are people to—we deserve equity in gaming.
Makayla: I mean if we as a community could just lower the general toxicity of the game I think everyone could have a more positive and comfortable experience.
MightyenaBoy: Be patient with disabled players. They’re in the same rank or MMR as you, so they must be doing something similar to you/something right to have gotten there!
Cloud: We’re here now, and here to stay, so our needs should be addressed as well.

Accessibility is always an issue when it comes to disabilities, and as it is improved, and the mentality around disabled gamers as well, the better the experience will be for all players. So next time you think about what Blizzard needs to do next, consider our needs as well.

You can find Cascadia on Twitter and Twitch as CascadiaQueen, Momoxmia on Tumblr at deafgaming, and Waterysalt on Twitter and Twitch under waterysalt.

One thought on “Overwatch and Disabled Players: A Discussion

  1. Great article. I hope Blizzard begins to take accessibility more seriously in the future. A sound bar seems like it is a simple solution to aid people who cannot hear as well as others.


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