Pokemon Go has not just been an overnight sensation. For those of us playing since Pokemon Red and Blue was released for the Gameboy family somewhere between 17 to 20 years ago depending on where you live, you have been along for the whole ride. You have loved your magical friends and their enchanting universe without falter. You basically lived together, right?
As you have noticed, it has taken some time for Pokemon to socially progress. It was not until Pokemon Crystal, released in Japan in 2000, that we could choose to be a female character. X and Y was the first game a player had some control over skin colour, but that was removed in Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby.
Pokemon will forever be beloved by millions of people, myself included. It's one of the few engaging, nonviolent video games that allows you to have adventure, make friends, and shows you the meaning of care. To me, that is the perfect game. It allows you to escape while teaching you important lessons. However, it is discouraging and heartbreaking when a very large audience cannot participate and is not represented.
For example, Pokemon Go. A lot of us are left out in the disability community. Many of us are also being aided by its existence. I am staunchly in the middle when it comes to this issue. Do I believe the game itself is ableist? No. I don't feel like it mocks me, it is preventing me from living my life fully, it is furthering my debilitation, nor hindering my progress as a successful, autonomous person.
Now, if a person on Niantic Lab's (former subsidiary of Google and the company who produced the game for Nintendo,) team, said or thought, "Nah, I specifically don't care to include accessibility features because this population just is not our demographic," then that is ableist. People determine progress, and the tools they create enact the change we feel. For me, there would have to be something pretty extreme and offensive in the game to say, "yep, ableist." Right now, it is just a game, and it's a game that I have fun playing sometimes that helps me enjoy the outside. Sadly, I don't get to play it a lot because I am sick and cannot get outside. Simply put, I don't Go well.
I do feel like it could include accessibility features to promote inclusion. To clue Niantic Labs in on how, I believe, some of the disability community is feeling, I wrote them a letter, which you can read below.
Dear Niantic Labs,
My name is ElleJay Volpe. I am an Ambassador for Abilities Expo, (the North American convention for people with disabilities,) IZ Adaptive, Wheel:Life, and other organisations serving the disability community as well as author of Frill-Ability.com. I have also been a fan of Pokémon for eighteen to twenty years.
When there was official rumour you were developing Pokémon Go, I was pretty thrilled. I had a feeling back when you released the Google Maps x Pokémon collab, and I regret I never had a chance to play Ingress. I started making detailed plans for my adventures. This involved buying a trainer's hat, of course, (which I have done,) and furiously Pinteresting very detailed outfits. (future plans) Friends and I regaled stories of the glorious battles and discoveries we would have.
I am learning recently there are heart risks, as in, heart failure, and potential just unpleasant things like alopecia. There have even been rare connections to Cancer, those accounts I cannot share due to the individuals' privacy.
It was disappointing watching all of my friends move ahead in the game while I stayed at home because I had no choice. I am not angry at the game. It is not the game's fault. You made it great for a lot of people, in fact, it is super fun for me when I can get out. I hear it even helps other people with other physical and mental disabilities in a variety of ways.
However, it would be a great help if you could add more accessibility features. For example, I would love the option to play inside. Not all of us can "Go." We might not be able to move much or maybe we have severe mental health issues. Could Pokémon come to me without lures? Could I virtually transport to a few nearby gyms and Pokestops? Can we have the option to play with and nurture our Pokémon, perhaps choosing one that will have regular needs we will need to satisfy?
Here is how I propose this is done, regarding accessibility features without cheating. If someone declares, for example, an "ADA Mobility Mode" they would be locked into a determined radius. If they move outside of it, the mode is auto-deactivated. That way, a person in Chicago is not transporting anywhere they want to go, say, New York, abusing the game, but they can reasonably enjoy the game like a normal person. Say they are transported or can get out, they can activate and deactivate at their leisure. When the game notices stillness for an extended period, it could even offer a declared ADA user to enter said mode.
I don't know if you are already, but are you offering haptics/vibrations/audio/et cetera for the blind and deaf communities? Would it be possible to work with the non4profit AbleGamers to discuss integrating an intermediary switch for those who have fine motor difficulty? (via Bluetooth, perhaps?)
I've been trying to observe the community at large to see what can be done, and there are some things that cannot be helped, but I believe a lot is workable because you have such a great, family friendly product. Pokémon is beloved by generations and will continue to be. It would be a great honour if we could work together towards greater inclusion.
Make Good with Your Ability
What have been your thoughts with Pokemon Go as a Pokemon fan and a disabled person? Has it impacted your ability to play? Do you think the ideas in this letter would help you? What would you like to see change? Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments! If you like what you read and want Niantic to hear us, please share this!
Sometimes, making good with our ability can be exhausting. The more of us who unite to be heard that our needs are important, the more people are apt to change with us. Sending you lots of love and light.
Sorel Estrada Volpe