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A Beginners Guide To Emulation

Image of Sonic the Hedgehog - apart to start the first level of the first game - Green Hill Act 1.

The A.T.E. Arcade: Accessible Through Emulation

Video games can present many barriers for disabled gamers making play unfairly hard or even impossible. Barriers include being forced to use unsuitable controls, having no way to adjust the diffculty level in a meaningful way, game play being too fast and so on. Disabled gamers include:

Children with hands too small to grasp a traditional joypad. An amputee or left-handed player forced to use uncomfortable control layouts. Sight-impaired people struggling with the small screen of a hand-held console. People with slowed reaction times due to age, illness, disability and even plain tiredness. The list goes on and on.

Try playing this one handed! Early example of a very difficult rigid control scheme - William's Defender - 1980.

Emulation offers a solution, but what is emulation? Put simply, it's software that makes one computer behave like another. For instance, using the MAME emulator, a home PC can be made to faithfully replicate a real arcade game down to the "insert coin" requests. From there, many things are possible.

Using a PC typically gives you access to a huge range of accessible controllers, such as jumbo sized buttons, head-trackers and more. Emulators typically allow you to redefine and position these controls to best suit the individual and the particular game. There's much more though. Take a look at the video clip of Space Invaders below...

This game is being played using a single large button and nothing else on a standard PC. This is possible thanks to a combination of MAME, an auto-fire 'cheat' mode and a small utility called 4Noah Lite. You may also notice that enemy fire has been disabled making things a little easier still.

Let's keep things as simple as possible though for the moment. Take a little time to browse through the Games section and Gaming Utilities area to get a better idea of what is possible. From there move onto the Emulators page, where I recommend starting with the Atari VCS emulator.

Which ever path you go down, have fun, but prepare for a steep learning curve. Going down this route is not the easiest, but until game developers start to give more thought to accessibility, it will be one of few choices for disabled gamers.

LEGAL NOTICE: Many game ROMs remain the copyright of the original owners who may or may not be happy for them to be played under emulation. Put in the context of these games impossible to play in their original format for some disabled gamers and I would hope that attitudes would be more relaxed. Support developers by letting them know why you can't play their games and offer some solutions.