Imagine, if you will, your favorite video game. Picture its opening menu screen, it’s first level, it’s most epic boss fight. Picture your favorite part of the game, whatever that may be. Now, pretend you can’t see any of it. That’s the first part of what it is to be a blind gamer. Sounds rough, right? Well, it can be, but fear not. Things are not all bad for us blind gamers out there. We’re going to talk about this, as well as discuss the current landscape of blind gaming. Let’s go!
If you’ve never witnessed a blind gamer in action, you may be of the mind that, if you can’t see a video game, then you can’t play video games. This is an understandable point of view. They are, after all, called video games, and the emphasis is often on their visual aspects. When I was younger, even I associated video games with vision, and would have completely dismissed them had it not been for a practical joke my older brother played on me. That, however, is another story.
The point here is that yes, we can indeed play video games. The how of it very much depends on the individual game, but what it amounts to ultimately is that we use the game’s sound, and as many workarounds as we possibly can. We are gamers. We want to game. To do so blind sometimes requires a little bit of extra effort and patience, but it can be done. Let’s talk about how.
The most basic and easiest example is fighting games. As it happens, fighting games have a sort of natural accessibility. Think about this. We never have to worry about where our opponents are in relation to us, because in a fighting game you’re always facing down you’re opponent. Of course there are other considerations, like spacing for instance, but we can deal with that too. The stereo sound of the game tells us all we need to know. If we’re on the right side, then our character’s sound effects come from the right. If we’re all the way right, and our opponent is all the way left, we can tell that too, as the sounds will be as spread apart as they can be in your speakers or headphones. From there, we just have to learn what each character’s voice sounds like, what each attack sounds like, and what any environmental sounds might be heard on each individual stage, and we’re good to go. From there, it’s just learning the same mechanics any other player does. What are the moves, what are the combos, what moves beat others, everything a fighting gamer needs to learn. Of course, professional fighting gamers use things like frame data, which we can’t see, but we can still learn it by utilizing comprehensive move lists on the internet, or if worse comes to worst, just asking for the numbers so we can get an idea. Trust me, all this really works. There is one particular blind gamer who went to Evo, the international fighting game tournament, as a competitor.
So that’s the most basic of explanations, but fighting games are certainly not the only games we can play. Rather than explain every single playable game and how it works, though, I will break this all the way down to its key component. That, friends and neighbors, is information. Consider any game you like, and what it would be like if you couldn’t see it. All that is information we lack. Consider that information on its own. Can you think of any other way we might get that information? Is there perhaps any audio in the game that conveys the same, or at least similar information to what you get if you’re sighted? Is there a discernable pattern of some kind, such as a quicktime sequence we could theoretically memorize? Are you considering a massive game level, such as an open world? If so, how simple and/or complicated is movement in the game? Could we walk around and, with a little patience, eventually stumble onto our objective? Is there anything that will help us locate that objective if we can’t simply find it? These are just some of the questions breaking it down to information will lead to. Now, consider one more thing. If you can’t think of an answer to these questions that exists within the game you’re thinking about, then one of two things has happened. Either we use a workaround that you wouldn’t have considered simply because you may not know it exists, such as optical character recognition technology that helps us read some text in games, or you’ve found one of the goals of the work I do. You see, we blind gamers are always looking for new experiences in games. We ultimately want to play all of the same games you are playing, though in many cases, we currently cannot. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the game I asked you to consider didn’t allow for any positive answers to those information questions. It is my job, though, to think of ways that we could get the information we don’t have, to come up with methods for distributing that information and/or working around not having it, and communicate all that to game developers in hopes that they will then make their games more accessible to the blind. It’s not easy, and certainly there is a lot of work involved on the developer side in some cases, but in most cases, it is entirely possible. And that brings me to my next topic, the landscape of blind accessibility as it currently stands.
No matter how unbelievable you might think it is, game developers have started listening to, and working with the blind community to make their games more accessible. Madden 19 has specialized force feedback functionality that gives us some of that tasty information, such as a vibration when our kick meter has reached maximum power, and a short or long vibration to indicate a running or passing play. It also has a menu narration feature, though sadly this only works on the front menus of the game. Speaking of menu narration though, Mortal Kombat 11 has several fully narrated menus if their narration feature is on, and might be considering adding more. The Division 2, Crackdown 3, and now Minecraft support menu narration through text to speech, meaning that if we have our text to speech set up correctly, we will have a complete suite of narrated menus in those games. The fighting game Skullgirls on PC fully supports screen reading software, which is software most blind people use daily to interact with their devices. As long as that software is active, menus will be read to us from the moment we launch the game. These are some great examples of blind accessibility already being implemented, and this is only the beginning. Hopefully sooner than later, we will all, blind and sighted alike, be discussing the incredible things we did in the latest games. That is my dream, and that is my goal.
Thank you so much for reading. I hope this article has served to show you a little of exactly what blind game accessibility is, where it is, and maybe even give you an idea of where it’s going. I will close with this. The future is bright indeed, even if we can’t see it.
More on Game Accessibility:
Blind Accessibility - Step One: Get to know your players by Adriane Kuzminski
It’s the Little Things: How Mortal Kombat 11’s Smallest Audio Details are Actually Accessibility Features by Brandon Cole
October 02, 2019 at 07:09 pm
Hi. Much about the accessibility of games is seen through The Blind gamer. That is a very good thing, very productive, and I am proud to say that steps have been taken by game developers to get things going so that Accessibility in it's present state is progressing. Yet it is a fact most often bypassed, that there are Blind program developers as well whose ambition is to produce games playable both by the sighted and blind communities. I am such a developer, and much to my dismay, most of the mainstream game audio engines aren't as accessible as they should be. The situation is ironic isn't it? Audio, the most accessible, helpful component needed by blind people, it's development isn't or hasn't reached the stage whereby fledgling, independent blind game developers can make use of the tools supposed to enhance the experience of blind gamers and developers alike. Wise audio isn't useful or accessible. The installation process itself isn't accessible. Unity has a plugin to make games accessible, yet this plugin isn't accessible to blind developers because of the interface which is mouse driven and no attention paid to keayboard accessibility. FMOD studio, an audio tool released by Firelight technologies is less than partially accessible. The playing field isn't yet level, and as long as the powers that be don't realize or if they continue to close their ears to the needs of the Blind game developer, then those of us who want to expand our dreams to be able to break into the gaming market will be left behind. Even main stream game engines themselves aren't as forthcoming when it comes to accessibility, so that we have often had to rely on frameworks like SFML, SDl and such to hard code our game ideas. Unity won't listen, neither does UE, and I am not hopeful that Wise itself will make their Audio engine accessible any time soon. The only positive initiative I am aware of now is Quorum, www.quorumlanguage.com. They are coming up with Quorum Studio which among other things will make their 3D editor accessible, and this, is something to be lauded and that hopefully, other gaming software application developers will imitate. So while blind gamers are getting a sniff, we blind game developers live in hope that more game development software can be made accessible so that the door can be opened for us to compete on a more even playing field in the gaming market.
January 31, 2020 at 02:01 pm
That's great! Make a game that just the audio can make the player visualize the whole thing have A LOT of potential! ...Games like "Spider-Man" for the ps4 gave me this feel...i can't play that game without sound.