Editorial: Accessibility in Games – No, the Other Kind

If you have been to competitive tabletop events anywhere in the US North-East, you very well may have seen me, and would recognize me without having met me.  I’m one of a handful of wheelchair users, and want to share my experiences as part of this community.

I suppose I want to share this story from the beginning, as one does, to provide a little context.  I was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a form of Muscular Dystrophy (of Jerry Lewis, and “ice-bucket challenge” fame).  It has left me in a wheelchair from birth, and led to a host of adventures and challenges that are stories for another place, and time.

Relevant to our discussion, games, tabletop and video-game, have been the way in which I could transcend my bodily limitations, explore worlds, and express myself.  That said, despite loving the idea of tabletop gaming from an early age, insecurity kept me from getting involved.

Actual picture of this author. Note giant bulbous head and dinky t-rex arms.

I thought to myself, “I am disabled, I can’t build models.”  “I am disabled, I could never learn to paint.” “I am disabled, I can’t push models on a table.”

Bull***t, I can’t…

Going back about twelve years ago, my now wife, an absolute angel of a human-being gave me a copy of Assault on Black Reach, and said that if that was a thing I wanted to be doing, then it was happening.  I’m sure she regrets that kindness, nine 40k armies, countless other systems, and several game design jobs later… but I digress.

Not terrible for painting with one hand?

The point is, tabletop gaming became my deepest passion, and with it comes life altering, and valuable considerations that I think every one of us benefit from.  Our incredible hobby brings with it feelings of accomplishment (for even the most modest hobby achievements), and a sense of camaraderie, and social interaction which is quietly meaningful.

My fears of being welcomed, and included at gaming clubs and venues, were just that… fears.  Yes, this is intended to be a bit of a kumbaya moment, but I sincerely want folks to feel good about how generally warm, kind, and inclusive I have found gamers to be.  Clearly I cannot speak for others, or all communities, but I can count on one hand the number of folks who have made me feel lesser, and I can’t even wrap my tiny t-rex arms around the number of amazing people who have instead left me feeling greater, and wanted.

The wife and I at our first ever competitive 40k event, a lifetime ago.

I know that the range of games and gamers in this hobby, especially in the age of the internet, can make it seem like we are a scary, divisive group of folks with extreme attitudes, but in every moment that I have been face-to-face with another player, I have been overcome with how generous and decent the vast majority of people really are, and how little our differences matter when we unite over shared passion.

This isn’t to say it has all been flowers and rainbows.  It is naive to think everything just works, rather than sometimes requiring work.  I have met incredible TO’s who have bent over backwards to help provide me a dice-rolling buddy, etc… and others who outright dismissed my requests to accommodate death-clock rules which start getting REALLY tricky to negotiate when you have to convey to a third-party where you would like unit-X to move.  I also appreciate how contentious a request like that can even be. Should accommodations be made to include everyone, and if so, how does one balance the line between accommodation, but also the sanctity of fair treatment and the spirit of competition. It isn’t for me to be a sole voice in that discussion, but I do think it is one worth having as our hobby continues to grow, at least partly, closer to the realm of sport.

Being a gamer with a disability can also just frequently be weird.  There are plenty of other stories I can share if anyone ever happens to want to hear them.  Let’s just say creative bathroom usage is a very real thing when event organizers haphazardly book venues without giving folks in wheelchairs much thought, but to get those tales out of me you’ll need to buy me a drink next time you see me.  The Emperor would surely be proud of the times I have suffered for his cause.

In essence, and all BS (ballistic skill, of course) aside, I really did just want this to be a feel-good piece which reminds people to savor all the best things the tabletop wargaming hobby can be.  For a whole lot of folks in the world, this provides a way to be a part of a community, and interact with others in a world that increasingly ends up isolated and behind screens of our own making (and I don’t mean bubble-wrapped Guardsmen).  The next time you’re opposite someone in your store, club, etc. take a second to really appreciate all the good these games afford us. Maybe compliment someone on their first painting attempt, no matter how bad, or offer a demo game to the kid who has been watching everyone play for a month, but never says a word.

Look at that room full of cool folks, winning prizes and rolling dice.

Thank you all for helping me when you see me in need, and for giving me a voice, an outlet, a calling, and so much more. You, yes you reading this, are a fine person, and I appreciate you. (Especially if you are among the God-tier of TOs such a FLG friend Loopy who helped give me the confidence to even try tournament gaming.) I’m not in unbelievable shape, and I don’t know how many years of playing or designing I have left in me, but you had better believe I will be spending every one gaming with all of you, and cherishing the terrific friends I have made through these games.

And on the more specific topic of event accommodations and physical disability… hey, this is Frontline, and we ARE the ITC baby.  Let’s hear some people’s thoughts and maybe create some healthy consensus. Comment below, email me, whatever… but maybe it is worth formalizing some of our ideas so that the next generation of folks like me can sharing in this beautiful thing we all love.

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!



About Mark Gottlieb

Writer, Game Designer, and owner of Fortunate Sun Studios, I have always tried to lead a life in some way built around paying back to gaming, and the gaming community. This hobby, and everyone in it, saved my life on more than a few occasions, and now I get to put my heart into helping it thrive for everyone!

10 Responses to “Editorial: Accessibility in Games – No, the Other Kind”

  1. Yarium January 4, 2020 7:29 pm #

    Thanks for sharing! I really do believe that our game is a fantastic one, as are most of the people that play it. 40k is what got me to come out of my shell, and since then I’ve known that it can help everyone. Really glad to hear the efforts you and others have put into this 🙂

    And I would very much like to buy you a drink to hear more in the future, should we ever have the pleasure of meeting 😉

    • Mark Gottlieb January 5, 2020 6:37 am #

      I’m so glad to hear my experiences aren’t exclusively mine. This hobby really is about creating things, which I think can really help bring out the best in people!

  2. Rob Butcher January 5, 2020 12:34 am #

    A great article that needs sharing widely.

    How about a follow-up one with a checklist of what you need to enjoy a tournament?

    • Mark Gottlieb January 5, 2020 6:36 am #

      I can do that! Thanks so much for the kind words! I’ll see about writing that follow-up!

  3. John Knapp January 5, 2020 3:59 am #

    I am barely a newborn in this whole gaming experience. But anything in this world that brings people together with a sense of decency and community is a very good thing. I will go forward knowing there are good and kind people like you, Mark. Thanks!

    • Mark Gottlieb January 5, 2020 8:40 am #

      Awwww. You’re the best. I hope this great hobby will be as fulfilling for you as it has been me!

  4. Casey H January 5, 2020 1:57 pm #

    Mr. Gottlieb,
    A suggestion for your next article on accommodations:

    I forget if BCP shuffles table assignments according to wins, like literally having tables 1 – 8 being the players with highest scores, or if they had a ‘randomizing’ table assignment algorthym. Or it’s an option depending on the TO’s preference. Anyway:

    Let’s say a venue has a long run of 6 tables, end-to-end as their set up. You’re assigned one in the middle of aisle. We, as a community, ought to establish a simple mechanism:

    At the beginning of the round, you or other handicap players get to ask/tell the guys on the end table to swap tables for that round. The TOs can weigh in, too, or just order it done.

    That ought to ease the ability to go ’round to the other player’s side to eyeball models that are out of LOS from yer side, instead of the long traverse around players (fat doods), chairs, trolleys, back packs and all the debris 40k players bring.

    We can put this out to the ITC TO network. Which, hey, I’ll speak to a couple judges directly to have this put in place. Putting it in your article would be good as Spikybits, BloodofKittens or others will likely repost and the word can spread. So those guys getting the end table, will be cool to go, “Oh, yeah. I won’t mind picking up the couple models I’ve already deployed. Let’s swap.” srsly, no sarcasm.

    Lastly,I have use of both hands and your posted dwarf’s paint job puts all my best efforts to shame. And I started with Battle for Maccragge, 4e.

    Hunt me down if you get out to a California event.

    Casey H
    Team BeerHammer

    • Mark Gottlieb January 5, 2020 4:07 pm #

      Thanks Casey! That’s a terrific suggestion. I’m compiling ideas like that for a follow-up, and maybe as a community we can package the best, and most generally agreed upon, ideas in a document I can put before the full ITC for consideration. Really great idea, man.

  5. John January 10, 2020 4:42 am #

    This was a lovely article. Really lifted my spirits to read it. The hobby should be as accessible as possible in my view, and accommodations should always be made wherever possible. Any of us can become disabled at any time and we should always treat others as we would like to be treated in that situation.

  6. Carl Monke January 24, 2020 1:56 am #

    I was so happy to read this! Thank you for sharing! 🥰

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