Roll for Insight: Wargaming & Accessibility

January 25, 2019 by ludicryan

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Wargaming & Accessibility

La Ferme des Collettes - 1908 - 1914

Between 1908 and 1914, Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted Les Ferme des Collettes. After moving to the estate of Les Collettes at Cagnes in the south of France, Renoir took inspiration from the beautiful sunshine of Nice to paint his estate. The colours blend into one another suggesting the movement of the olive and orange trees. Renoir didn’t just capture the natural beauty of landscapes but brought the liveliness of a crowd to the canvas in Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette  and Luncheon of the Boating Party. What is most remarkable about him as one of the leaders of the Impressionist art movement though, is that for the last 20 years of his life he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. It’s a condition which can affect the hands causing pain and swelling - it can make careful brush strokes difficult to achieve.

Impressionism was an art movement that took contemporary scenes of everyday life or the countryside and created a sense of the passage of time within the canvas: the shifting of the light, colours blending together. This style would hint at the passage of time in a scene. It is tragic that one of its most formative members would then suffer at the hand of time with a debilitating condition such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Wargaming & Accessibility

The Skiff - 1875

Time will affect us all in many ways and we may be visited by conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis which will rob from us our fine motor skills. Conditions such as a stroke or multiple sclerosis can leave us with tremors, making it hard to paint or assemble miniatures. However, it’s not just time that heralds these conditions. Some are born with conditions like cerebral palsy which can act as a barrier to the wargaming hobby. And military veterans may have suffered a range of injuries which makes it harder to engage in this hobby.


It’s important to use the platform we have to make things equitable for those less fortunate whether they were born with debilitating conditions, or were struck with an injury, or even felt the test of time. By making wargaming a more accessible hobby we can encourage those who have been previously left out and look after those who are afraid they can no longer participate.

As an able-bodied person, I must acknowledge the incredible fortune I have to navigate and participate in a variety of pursuits uninhibited. But I must also admit my own ignorance in what is necessary for those with a disability in this hobby. Are the standard paint brushes sold in art shops and in specialist wargaming retailers comfortable for those with fine motor control issues? Are the triangular shaped brushes from Army Painter better designed for those who might struggle to hold regular brushes? Though painting handles might give more stability for the models, is it easy for someone with fine motor control issues to get their models in and out of the holder?

Disability can arise in so many different ways. And when disability isn’t accounted for by those who provide the tools to engage in the hobby, then barriers can be unintentionally created.

We can be encouraged, however, by the work being done in tabletop games and videogames. Meeple Like Us is a website run by accessibility researchers Michael Heron, Pauline Belford and Hayley Reid. They analyse board games according to how difficult it may be for different categories of impairment to play these games. In a recent academic article they outline the list of categories they look at from visual and socioeconomic impairments to physical and communicative impairments. Their website helps to build a discussion around accessible design that can include more and more people. Their reviews and accessibility ‘teardowns’ aren’t just informative but achieve a conversational and easy to read format.

Wargaming & Accessibility

There is an incredibly interesting quote from Michael at a panel at UK Games Expo this past year where he outlines the difference between the medical model of disability and the social model of disability.

The disability is not the wheelchair. The disability is not the person in the wheelchair. The wheelchair is an accessibility aid. It’s not a problem, it’s a solution. The problem there is actually the stairs because the stairs are the thing stopping someone getting from one place to another. And the thing is, stairs don’t occur naturally in real life. They don’t just spontaneously generate in front of doors on a second storey. That door was there for a reason and that door was put there by somebody. So what the social model is saying is that we have to be mindful of those kind of things.”

In the medical model the condition of the person is seen as the barrier. Whereas with the social model the tools around the person are seen as the barrier. Designing board games for accessibility is a difficult endeavour. Each one is its own unique interface that requires a rulebook to engage with.

Videogames in contrast have certain advantages here. With a kind of uniformed input system to engage in a large number of games (the console controller), a solution such as Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller for Xbox takes a step forward for accessibility. Made in tandem with the charity Special Effect the controller is flexible in how many inputs it can have so it can account for a wide range of disabilities. Problems do still remain in that some of the accessories are not available for sale in certain regions. And the controller doesn’t work on all systems, but it’s a really important step forward in accessibility.

Wargaming & Accessibility

What Can Be Done?

Having one of the largest companies in the videogame industry commit to accessibility is something lacking on the tabletop. So what can the wargaming side of tabletop games do to help make the hobby more accessible?

Most importantly is to have an advocacy group or charity like Special Effect, Able Gamers or Extra Life that work with disabled gamers or kids in need and figure out their needs in relation to the hobby. It’s easy as an abled bodied person to look at the Meeple Like Us model for board games and theorise what might be necessary but I couldn’t possibly understand the day to day experience of trying to assemble and paint a model with limited control of my movements. These advocacy groups can work with the biggest companies in the hobby to develop assistive materials and equipment that could help so many.

Even having the condition can make it intimidating to approach the hobby. This reddit thread is a heartening well of encouragement for someone with colour blindness but it can be difficult to find other resources of information for getting into the hobby if you have a disability. So having a website or resource that people can visit to get information or encouragement for starting the hobby could be helpful. Having this resource centre might be helpful to gather a list of third party companies who provide assistive materials for hobby painting.

Renoir and Positivity

For someone whose whole life was dedicated to painting, Renoir must have suffered terribly dealing with rheumatoid arthritis. But it doesn’t show like you might expect it to in his work. His paintings become brighter and the use of colour more pronounced. Renoir benefited from friends and family who would help him get to the positions he would need to paint from. They would strap the brushes to his hands with soft cloth to prevent sores from developing. He moved to warmer climates that would be easier on his condition.

Renoir certainly benefited from having been successful earlier in his career to be able to afford travelling to hot spas and warmer climates, but the pain and inhibited movement would stay with him for the rest of his life. And despite this his contemporaries were amazed at his positive attitude towards the condition and his resolve to continue painting. Henri Matisse commented that:

as his body dwindled, the soul in him seemed to grow stronger continually and express itself with more radiant ease.

Wargaming & Accessibility

Le déjeuner des canotiers - 1881

Depression can have an impact on the pain suffered by those with rheumatoid arthritis. That Renoir embraced a positive outlook on life despite this condition is remarkable. But we cannot expect everyone living with a disability to put a smile on when there are designed barriers to hobbies they might like to try. Whether we are helping those with an existing disability or looking out for the problems that old age can bring we should try and embody the social model of disability a little more to make our hobby approachable and accessible for everyone.

It’s important to listen to and amplify the stories of those who encounter barriers into the hobby. If you have a story to tell or know someone who would like to get into wargaming but can’t, then let us know down in the comments or get in touch with me at [email protected]

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