Deconstructing Diablo 3: The Irony of Accessible Ableism

The following is a guest post from Static Nonsense:

Static Nonsense is the alias of a group of nonwhite, disabled queer trans folk who spend much of their spare time gaming and lounging on the tubes of the internets in a bathrobe. Formerly console gaming, they have since moved to PC gaming and MMOs, where the problems of the gaming community became (even more) crystal clear. They write primarily at Some Assembly Required and Chronicles of a Crip ‘Lock as a way to hash together their muddled thoughts on society and the effects of sexism, racism, ableism et al, or just as a way to wind down.

Chronic Illness Cat meme generator: “Live vicariously through Diablo III character” ~ credit not mine, unverified


So, I love dungeon crawlers. I remember years ago when I was younger, playing random indie games that I could come across, including one where the entire essence of the game is you looking for treasure. Nothing else, just straight and to the point. Of course, I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it. But since then I branched out into various other games, like the Champions of Norrath series, both of the .hack// series (or rather, rpgs with very obvious dungeon-crawling characteristics), and eventually the Diablo series.

Unfortunately though, I never was able to play much of the latter – I never really had anyone to play with, at the time. Now, I simply can’t play them period. Games that rely so heavily on mouse clicks to move and cast spells destroy my hands in as little as an hour. On bad days, even less than that. Which is one of the reasons why I like Diablo 3 so much.

See, unlike the first two, Diablo 3 includes two particular functions that will make the game significantly more accessible to people with disabilities. The first, you are actually able to change the keybind for moving your character to a keyboard button instead of clicking the mouse. By doing so, you are able to make your character move to where the mouse cursor is, but you don’t have to click repeatedly or hold the button down to keep yourself at a steady pace. For familiarity and ease of access, I have my move button set as W.

The second, and which is notably unique in the games of such a genre, is elective mode. By default, you are only able to assign particular skills of specific types to particular buttons. The reason why this is a major problem is because your class’s primary damage skills are only able to be assigned to your mouse’s left click. When it’s a skill that you are spamming, having to click the button continuously can be incredibly painful, and others may not have the dexterity necessary to use individual mouse buttons in the fashion that they were designed to be utilized in. But if you enable elective mode, you are then able to map your skills to whatever keybinds you decide to set up. Most of mine are set up with the standard 1 2 3 4, with tab as my “stand still and kill shit” button.

It doesn’t come without its own problems, though. If you decide to change your keybindings, you will find that you cannot change the functions assigned to your mouse buttons. Unlike all the other keys, they are locked. I, personally, cannot fathom why, but that may be because I actually have to think about such things on a day to day basis. The other major problem, which is directly related to this, is that for some reason particular skills cannot be assigned to your mouse buttons. This can include some major defensive skills, such as Spirit Walk for witch doctors and Smoke Screen for demon hunters. When you already have to rely on a mouse simply to move (even if you’re not clicking for said movement), it can be difficult to suddenly switch from the mouse to buttons on a keyboard you designate for defensive or otherwise important skills. And it’s even harder for someone who can’t use a mouse well, but is forced to utilize the right and left click just to have access to those two skill slots. There are workarounds for these, such as using a gaming mouse with custom commands for additional buttons and using external macro software to simulate a mouse click when using a keyboard button. But the fact that we have to rely on such things just to get the full accessibility out of a game is just poor programming and execution.

So here we have this game, where its current form is more accessible than its former titles, but with serious limits. Yet even with these in mind, Blizzard hasn’t exactly been stellar with disabilities in the past. It’s great to see progress, and moving away from seriously clunky mechanics and UIs that plagued the series before. But then we look on the flip side, on things that they clearly don’t give a damn about and haven’t for a long, long time.

“Madness” this, “madness” that. It seems like as soon as you decide to get your toes wet, the sheer levels of psychobigotry start piling up from the start. Which, unfortunately, is pretty typical. I mean, come on. Three entire expansion packs for World of Warcraft alone are based on the bad guys having gone mad. Year after year after year, and that’s not even getting into elements such as particular quests or npcs, and even without approaching other games from the same company.

First major story-line quest chain, off to lay the mad king of Tristram to rest. Then it’s off to fight off the clutches of the mad cultists. Let’s not forget the mad ramblings of the cultist leader, and that mad hermit that you are forced to listen to from the spider cave. Then you go off and hunt down the mad cultists specifically, while trudging through the torture chambers of the mad king, while the mad cultists are torturing and killing the dude you’re trying to save.

Have I said ‘mad’ enough yet? Because that’s only the first act out of four.

At least with cut scenes and quest dialogue, you can just hit Esc and not have to listen to it. But you don’t have that option with the random speech bubbles that show up, conversations between you and your follower[s] or other various npcs. I hope you don’t plan on bringing the templar with you, despite him being the most effective follower available, because he will not shut up about it. The fact that you have to go through the exact same story-line with the exact same quests four times in a row per character doesn’t exactly help matters. I haven’t felt like psychobigotry was thrown this much into my face since Rift. Given the fact that I’m no longer playing Rift, one can (accurately) guess that my bullshit-tolerance bar is pretty damn low. Here’s hoping that I’ll be able to work past it all this time and continue to enjoy the game for its mechanics. And if not, well, at least I got the game for free.

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10 Responses to Deconstructing Diablo 3: The Irony of Accessible Ableism

  1. Nonny says:

    Umm… while this isn’t quite directly related to the article, may I ask what the issues with Rift were? I only got up to about level 20, and googling around turns up with useless search results because rift is apparently a common word. >_< I was thinking of poking back in sometime cause I'd heard good things about it later on but if it's got serious issues there I might rethink it.

    It gets REALLY frustrating that almost EVERY single game out there involves the villains going mad or some bs. I loved Dragon Age 2 but omg with the EVERY SINGLE SPELLCASTER YOU MEET being insane. *headdesk*

    • several rifts that opened up in the areas that you had to level in in order to progress made announcements of needing to curb the madness or insanity of the being that opened them or who they are attached to. in the starting area there’s also the one where madness starts to seep into your mind. seeing as there are no ways to bypass this, given how they are announced in the center of your screen no matter your level, location in the area or willingness to participate, it was wearing on me pretty quickly. i play games to cope with my conditions, not to have them thrown back in my face. unless i spent my entire time in the major cities, there was no way i was free of those triggering rift events. and that just kills the novelty of the game and the rift system for me.

  2. Nezumi says:

    If I may go off on a tangent, I have a similar “psychobigotry” (For some reason, I just plain don’t like that term) issue with a tabletop game I otherwise like, called “Abandon All Hope.” It has a sanity mechanic, which can be problematic but isn’t necessarily automatically ableist (Like that Firefox doesn’t think that’s a word, by the way), but its handling pretty clearly is. The “madnesses” a character can have have no real connection to actual mental illness — “detachment” and “delusions” are at least recognized psychological terms and symptoms, even if they’re not disorders unto themselves, but the others are things like “lunacy” (closest actual mental illness would be psychosis), rage, and nihilism (philosophies are a form of insanity now?), they’re also all structured so that a “mild” madness is entirely a positive thing (Mild delusions don’t cause any of the difficulties they actually would in real life — they just make demons less scary), but higher ratings are entirely negative. (If Delusions goes up to moderate, it starts causing the confusion and distress you’d actually expect, but the positive aspect magically disappears)

    Erm… no. Just no. Mental illness isn’t all happy fun times until it gets sufficiently severe. Depression sucks no matter how mild. Others can vary depending on their severity, nature, and how the person views them — but tend to have at least some negative element, if only because of the social stigma associated with mental illness; even if your mental illness doesn’t significantly impair you and you consider it part of who you are, people hearing you have a mental illness are going to think you eat cats and sacrifice children to sock puppets, which is kind of a downer no matter what. Also, mental illness is not a grab bag of whatever effects seem awesome. There are actual codified types of mental illness that mean things and have certain symptoms and effects.

    • there’s another table top roleplay game that i can’t remember the name of where your character can literally develop schizophrenia via the game’s officially established rules. true story. that one pissed me off to no end – i’m sure if someone wants i can try to find out from a friend of mine what the name of that game was.

      • Nezumi says:

        I’m curious why that one is particularly upsetting to you. My personal perspective is that that’s actually better, because schizophrenia is an actual mental illness that people actually develop, rather than a nebulous “bad thing” with no real connection to actual mental disorders… but different people have different reactions to the same thing, and I’m curious about the “why” of your perspective.

        • the game is call of cthulhu. i just asked my friend about it, i suspect it uses the same sanity system that the game you mentioned does. so it’s considered a negative trait and is treated as such. seeing as my own condition is within the same spectrum as schizophrenia, it is not something i look upon lightly. as far as i remember, it’s the only one that is mentioned specifically by name. which is just more of the extreme negative stereotypes that are usually attached to the term by folks that know nothing about the condition or the spectrum of which it is in.

          • Nezumi says:

            The Sanity mechanics for the two games are actually quite different… and I see your point now that you put it that way. Thank you.

  3. Mazed says:

    Regrettably, I’m not sure the thought even crosses the minds of Blizzard’s writers–and to be sure, their writers have many, many problems, but to speak specifically of this one; presumably this “madness” refers to that abstract concept in fiction which is something that only happens to villains. Not, of course, actual psychological conditions, because to portray those accurately would require actual effort.

    It’s interchangeable with “corruption”, as every World of Warcraft player knows, which has in turn become interchangeable with “now beat this guy up for loot”.

    While perhaps not all for the same reasons that Static Nonsense speaks of, it might be safe to say that the rest of the playerbases for these games feel that the writing in this regard needs serious improvement.

  4. Lisa Harney says:

    I really appreciate this post.

    On the first topic, I have fibromyalgia, and playing Diablo III actually causes a lot of pain for me – I haven’t experimented with moving skills and the move key around so I can click less, but I think I’ll give that a go when I get back into it. It was actually really bad starting in Nightmare Act IV, when corrupted angels and morlu incinerators were promoted to champion packs, and I found I had to really concentrate on the game, but every fight left me in pain and the only reason I continued was to finish off Diablo. It was worse in Hell and even worse in Inferno, although I limited my playing time to mitigate it. And when I outgeared Hell that really helped. Harder to outgear Inferno.

    And the madness… that annoys me so much. The whole idea that the best response is to kill a mentally ill person to so they can have “peace” that got reiterated over and over again by Lachdanan and the vision on the way to the Skeleton King was driving me up the wall. Also, when the Templar says he used to pity Leoric, but the more he sees, the more the Black King deserved his fate. And I thought his fate was that Diablo tried to possess him, this driving him insane, at which point Lazarus manipulating him into doing all kinds of horrible things and believing horrible things about his trusted advisors, friends, and family. How does anyone deserve this?

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