When playing video games, certain genres tend to demand more complex inputs than others to play through. Games like the recently released Say No! More can be largely played with a single button, while MMO Raids or Monster Hunter boss fights might require more complex inputs to be strung together in quick succession.
For some disabled players, these strings of quick complex inputs can be an accessibility barrier, and may be best overcome using macros. A macro is basically a program that tells your PC that when a specific single button is hit, it should execute a series of inputs automatically in a set order, at a set timing. This can reduce the mechanical complexity of certain in game actions, making them more accessible, but also have uses outside of accessibility.
Recently, a story unfolded online where it was alleged that the developers of a game called Path of Exile had banned a disabled gamer for using macros as an accessibility feature, prompting backlash online. While the story turned out to have been fabricated, I still feel it’s important to take the time to look at what happened, and more importantly at the role of MAcros for disabled gamers playing games.
So, this week on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about Macros. We’re going to break down the recent story about Path of Exiles and the fabricated macro ban, as well as delving into the importance of macros for disabled gamers.
Let’s start by digging into the Path of Exiles accessibility story that recently broke, and was debunked.
In a post on Reddit’s Legal Advice subreddit, a user claiming to be a disabled player stated they had been banned from playing Path of Exile, a free to play action RPG with MMO style cooldown abilities, for using macros to automate certain button press combinations while playing. The user claimed that following an industrial accident, they lost the use of one hand completely, and some fingers on the other, and as a result have difficulty playing video games. They claimed that as the game requires certain builds frequently cycle between potions on number pad keys in quick succession, which they cannot manage, they set those buttons to a macro.
Now, so far everything here holds water. This is a very believable situation in which a player might need to make use of a macro for accessibility. Frequent pressing of multiple keys in rapid succession can be an issue if you struggle with manual dexterity for example. This is a big part of what made this story believable, this is very much the kind of situation where macros can be really helpful for disabled players.
The issue at play is that many online multiplayer video games ban the use of macros on paper, due to their potential to give non disabled players a competitive edge. If a player who is not disabled maps multiple button inputs to a macro, they may be able to play the game faster than their opponent. That said, generally it is understood that disabled players should be exempt from these rules. You might not be allowed to use macros in a tournament setting for a game without prior permission, but the idea of banning a disabled player for using macros is very much frowned up in most communities.
The thread on the Legal Advice subreddit quickly rose in visibility, and ultimately garnered a lot of attention in the wider accessibility community, with many contacting the game’s developer, Grinding Gear Games, for a comment on the situation, and to remedy the ban applied to this player. However, the story had yet to fully unfold.
Grinding Gear for their part looked into the allegation, but were confused, as their policies shouldn’t have led to a ban for this user using Macros, and when looking through their records of bans applied to users they could not find a ban matching the description given in the original story. This is because it did not exist.
In a second post to the Legal Advice subreddit, which was later deleted, the original user claimed to be an educator, who was teaching a class about how easy it is to manipulate public opinion and discourse through social media. It’s unclear if this is true, or yet another lie, but is seems clear that someone invented a fake story about being banned from a game for making use of macros for accessibility, and in the process harmed the credibility of future disabled users attempting to get their needs heard by developers.
Putting aside the questions of why this redddit user lied about being banned, the situation does act as a valuable springboard for a wider discussion about the importance of macros, and a conversation that we need to have with game developers about how macros are handled in terms of game moderation. From my research, a lot of games that have rules against the use of Macros in online competitive play essentially treat disabled players and their accessibility needs as a bit of a grey area, not formally addressed in terms of service or game rules. I’ve seen reports of games where users have been banned for using macros, and later had account access restored by contacting developers to explain their situations, but rarely if ever do I see disabled player macro use officially on paper acknowledged by developers.
Obviously, there are difficulties to be addressed, such as how you rule who gets to use macros and who doesn’t without grilling disabled users to prove their identities, but I would love to see more developers address this topic more directly. Have a public statement on whether or not you support disabled users using macros. Address whether you have tech in place to detect macro usage. If a user gets banned for using macros as accessibility, have a clear path they can follow to have their ban reversed. State up front if disabled players are allowed to use their macros in competitive settings, and if so what limitations, if any, you have on the speed of inputs programmed into those macros. Perhaps even provide that functionality yourself, acknowledge that macros are an accessibility feature, and let everyone use them, opening up the playing field for anyone who wants to use them. Have a stance on macros that acknowledges their value to disabled players, and how you view their overall use in the community. Don’t leave them as this undiscussed aspect of your game where disabled users have to use them and hope that’s okay.
Macros can be invaluable to disabled players, and we shouldn’t use the fear that they might be abused by higher end players to stop us from acknowledging their existence, and having public policies on the right for disabled players to use them.
While it doesn’t seem like Path of Exiles actually banned a disabled player for using Macros, the fact the game’s developers didn’t have a publicly available statement stating that disabled players are allowed to use macros when playing their game, which could have debunked this story, is something I would like to see game developers address. This is something actionable every game developer could, and should, do in the wake of this story. Decide how your company feels about disabled users using macros, and make a publicly visible statement to that effect. Let disabled players know they can use macros without fear, and if they do get banned what they should do to fix the situation.
It doesn’t matter if you already quietly permit disabled users to use macros, make that information public. Perhaps list that information in your game’s accessibility settings menu if you have one. Make sure disabled players know they are safe to automate buttons where it would help them compete on an even playing field with their peers.
Macros are an important accessibility feature, it’s time developers stood up and proudly acknowledged their support for them, rather than leaving their support an unanswered question.