Chloe Newman on living with invisible illnesses, finding a gaming community online and why the industry needs to do more to encourage inclusivity. This article was created in association with Aardvark Swift.
Chloe Newman (@dottie089_) has been an advocate for accessibility for years, speaking both via social media and publicly, raising awareness of the fact that there is still much more to be done by game makers and platforms on the subject.
“I have Fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain condition. It’s caused mental health issues, anxiety and depression. When it’s at its worst, I have bad tendencies towards agoraphobia and not wanting to leave my home,” she admits candidly.
“The whole experience has been a learning curve for me and my partner, as I also have joint hypermobility syndrome, IBS, chronic urticaria and chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s like a collection of small annoying things that add up and hit me with random bouts of fatigue and pain.”
Chloe started gaming as a child on the Super Nintendo, making the transition to the Sony ecosystem from the original PlayStation onwards, but never forgot her Japanese gaming roots. The hobby took a backseat in high school, but she picked up gaming again in her early adulthood as an escape from the isolating factors of her emerging conditions.
“When I was more mobile, I used to be really social. I’d travel the world, meet up with friends and work out. When my fibromyalgia surfaced, I lost a lot of those social bonds. Certain friends didn’t want to navigate my limitations and expected me to be how I always was. That’s the problem with invisible illnesses.”
Her partner, Sib, reintroduced her to the gaming community she’d taken a step back from. Through the PS4 she experienced great titles such as Little Big Planet, Tearaway and the Lego Star Wars series of titles. It wasn’t until she was surprised with a Nintendo Switch for her birthday that she fell in love with gaming again.
“I adored Breath of the Wild instantly, but I always felt like something was missing from my gaming habits.” Although she enjoyed the distraction, Chloe was playing games focused on single player experiences. What she was actually searching for was a community.
“I ended up finding that with the “Nintenmau5 & Friends” Discord server. I couldn’t just go out and see my friends like I used to, so I made new ones and brought them into my home life. Twitter, Discord and Twitch were all instrumental in that. The more I put in, the more I got out. I suddenly had friends at the touch of a button.”
This sense of community and newfound companionship even allowed her to go outside of her comfort zone. She now meets up with her gaming family multiple times a year; where possible.
Despite her positive experiences with gaming, Chloe still feels like the industry isn’t doing enough to open gaming up to more people. “Nintendo is at the forefront of innovation. They’re doing things the other big names just aren’t trying, look at the Switch and the Wii. Where accessibility is concerned though, they aren’t making any real moves and are lagging behind the competition. The Joy-Cons cause me pain through extended use, they’re fiddly (especially when used independently as a two-player set-up), and the options for UI customisation is extremely limited. Don’t get me started on the size of subtitles nowadays.”
She does have faith that gains have been made though, especially with the Xbox Adaptive Controller and with the work of charities such as Special Effect and GamesAid. Video games are a fantastic tool and can broaden the horizons of those of us with more limitations. By improving hiring practices, we can create a more diverse gaming industry. By including more varied perspectives at all levels of the development cycle, titles will continue to improve and become more inclusive to a wider range of gamers.