The New New

Nintendo’s New Games Are Miserable for People With Disabilities

Innovation has its drawbacks

Mark Brown (Game Maker's Toolkit)
Published in
6 min readNov 8, 2018
Photo: SOPA Images/Getty

IIt’s an unspoken downside of innovation: Sometimes a push into new technology can leave certain people behind. Ideas like virtual reality, touchscreens, and 3D television might promise new experiences for most of us. But for people with disabilities, they can mean motion sickness, muscle pain, or worse.

This innovation-disability gap is a major problem in video games, and one company is doing a particularly bad job dealing with it. While Nintendo rides high on the success of its new Switch console, people with disabilities struggle to enjoy the company’s games. These gamers complain of trouble navigating hits like Super Mario Odyssey — if they can play the games at all — because they’re packed with fiddly interactions requiring a flick of the wrist or sensitivity to a controller’s vibrations. Nintendo didn’t reply to a request for comment before deadline.

These problems with the Switch have actually plagued the company’s products for years. The company’s Wii console, launched way back in 2006, also relied on innovative motion controls that shut some people out of the system — ironic, because the Wii was supposedly designed around accessibility.

Super Mario inventor Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to make a game controller that got away from the complicated buttons, sticks, and triggers you might find on a typical gaming joypad. Aware that nongamers might be intimidated by something like the standard Xbox 360 controller, Miyamoto created the Wii remote with an accessible design “that would make people want to pick it up and try using it.”

The remote ended up being painted in glossy iPod white, had few buttons to press, and looked like a stylish TV remote. But the secret ingredient was a motion-sensitive chip that could translate swipes, wiggles, points, and shakes into gameplay on the screen.

Suddenly, playing a golf game was as intuitive as holding the controller like the handle of a putter and swinging it toward the TV. The Wii remote could magically transform into a tennis racket or baseball bat, a conductor’s baton or a musical instrument, a sword or a pistol.