Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Video Games

What An Accessible Video Game to the Blind Means to Me

Disclaimer:  This is an opinion piece, I am by no means an expert and am just voicing my viewpoint on the subject.

 

I see it often, as news on Twitter and Facebook.  “A game fully accessible for the blind!” and I go check it out, and it’s a game that’s just a completely black screen, with auditory feedback only.  Perhaps some tactile feedback as well, but to me, those games don’t quite cut it.  I won’t say it’s not accessible, because it is, but at the same time it feels like it’s still limiting the amount that the blind can play with their sighted peers.    Before I get fully into this post though, I’d like to say I’m super happy with the headway accessibility has gotten in the past ten years.  The fact that it’s something game developers are even thinking about, and implementing in their games is amazing, and makes me want to get back into gaming again.  I saw that even big companies, like Microsoft and Sony are putting text to speech controls in their consoles, and I’m hoping that the Switch will follow suit (though the HD Rumble is a step in the right direction).  Indi developers that think about how to adapt their games, and create games specifically for the blind isn’t something that I would see when I was a teenager and pre-teen, and it warms my heart to see that people are even thinking of how to make things easily available for everyone to play.
With that out of the way, I feel like making games without graphics isn’t exactly the right way to go with making games accessible.  I know being legally blind is a rather blanket term, but being legally blind, or visually impaired, doesn’t always mean someone is 100 percent blind.  There are people who have full sight out of one eye, have light perception, tunnel vision, peripheral vision, and so many other visual spectrums, that developers should account for.  Sure, a legally blind gamer who has sight in one eye but none in the other may like to play a game that doesn’t have any visuals, but they also may not care for that sort of game and want to play something that has graphics they can see to the best of their ability, to immerse them further in the gaming experience also available to their sighted peers.

 

Blindness is a term a lot of us use because it’s easiest to say instead of something like “I’m actually visually impaired, I can see colors and light perception” because to a lot of people, that’s hard for them to grasp.  I know I’ve seen a lot of blind gamers just say, give me good sound design in a Triple A title I’ll do the rest with my other senses.  For some, being able to magnify things is enough, while for others, the text to speech menu options are all they’d need.  Others would just need inverted color schemes, while others may prefer a fully audio, fully tactile game.

 

What I prefer in a game, is just to have the entire experience, like any normal game.  Sound design is fantastic nowadays:  I watch videos of games on YouTube, and can tell what’s going on just by the placement of the sound.  I don’t have any new gen consoles, but I can only imagine how easy it is to play and how immersive it is for a blind gamer.  I memorize where things are, or get sighted help from friends and family when something is too difficult, but overall that’s usually my gaming experience.  That being said, I love fighting games for how easy they are to just pick up and play.  Pick a mode, pick a fighter, and you’re good to go XD

 

Like I said, I’m super impressed, and happy to see the strides that developers, both big and small are taking towards gaming being doable for everyone.  But when I see a game that says it’s fully accessible, but is lacking in features, I’m always so conflicted.  I love that people are doing it, but at the same time, why not do it so it’s literally accessible to everyone?  Games like 1, 2, Switch are doing a good job of being playable for everyone, while not looking like it’s excluding anyone from being able to play, and I think that’s more what developers need to stride for as far as making a game fully accessible goes.  A no graphics, audio only game may be interesting, and a good game to have out there but at the end of the day it’s very niche and won’t be as interesting a game to play as say, a Final Fantasy game and I’d overall just like to see more access to games that are more mainstream.  Good steps in the right direction on all fronts though, very interested to see where game development for the blind and visually impaired will be going in the next few years.

 

Have any thought’s on the subject?  Would love to hear in the comments!

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9 thoughts on “What An Accessible Video Game to the Blind Means to Me

  1. I haven’t heard of this game you’re talking about, but it sounds like it isn’t so much “accessible for the blind,” but rather “created for the (fully) blind.”

    As you said, the various kinds of visual problems people have get lumped into one word by both sides. Even developers with the best intentions can fail to understand how different the experience can be for two people who are both considered “blind.”

    I’m inclined to agree with your opinion on this one. There’s no reason to make the game completely non-visual unless that’s somehow the point of the game. Using this method of making it “accessible” for one group of players prevents another group from having the kind of experience they might want.

    It’s much better to have a game that is accessible to the widest audience possible. This way, players with visual or other kinds of impairments can enjoy the same game that someone without a disability does. Add audio cues, include colorblindness and brightness settings, allow button remapping, and enable 3rd party software interfacing (looking at you here Nintendo) so companies like AbleGamers can make equipment that will open up your game to a variety of needs you might not have designed for.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes Nintendo really has to get on the bandwagon with this! I saw some videos with text to speech access for menus on Xbox and Playstation and was so happy but then at the same time I was like “…but I want a Switch more” lol. I’m going to mess around with seeing if any sort of third party screen reader can possibly work on the Switch when I get it, so we’ll see haha.

    I didn’t think of controller remapping also, that’s a great idea!

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  3. Allot of the problem I think is that most audio games that aren’t just mostly unplayable gimmicks, their for the sake of being unique, are created by other blind people.
    So even if they want to do graphics, (plenty of them do) they can’t do it on their own, and since the large majority of them are working alone or with another blind person, with no budget or at least a very small one, they can’t afford to higher someone to help them with it.
    I mean even if they did, I imagine the communication of specific concepts would be pretty damn difficult, so as the developer you’d have to be okay with your ideas being subject to allot of artistic license.

    When it comes to the big companies, the blind community is just too much of a niche market to be worth the time and money. I’m sure they would like to modify their games for more accessibility, if nothing else for the PR, but if not built in from the start it quickly becomes a ridiculously high cost to reward ratio when you start talking about making more than the bare minimum truly accessible.

    Now that said, you don’t have to go all the way, after all just look at Injustice (they added basic audio cues for the position of on screen throwable objects, which can’t have been too much work but was still appreciated.
    And now Soni and Microsoft are adding basic screen readers to their consoles, which was honestly a complete surprise to everyone I think, but I guess it became more viable and cost effective in the last few years with all the open source resources available and with multiple operating systems now having their own solutions.
    Thankfully for the blind community, it’s now become a contest just like anything else and we will benefit from it. 3:-)

    Oh and, as an unintended consequence, the headphone ports in controllers now make it easier than ever to play games where positioning is vital, E.G. fighting games, without having to shell out for a high quality stereo system and dealing with switching outputs on the fly.

    Another promising and recent advancement is the new SoniFight software, which adds audio cues to some popular fighting games via a third party program, using memory addresses from the game it’s self, though it only works on PC.
    And honestly projects like that, I believe, will be the main driver for bridging some of the gap between blind and sighted players, a gap which, I truly believe will never be fully closed before such time as medical technology closes it for us, by curing our blindness.
    E.g. we will change for them before they change for us, and why not, we are by far the minority, and while I get just as envious of my sighted friends when they play the newest triple A titles as the next guy, I also want to be realistic about it for my own sake.

    Projects like a hero’s call, the blind swordsman, and a few others, which use both audio and “high quality” graphics are freaking awesome, and they also have the effect of shedding more light on our community, but they are few and far between and I just don’t really see that changing any time soon, so I’ll just appreciate them even more when they happen. 🙂

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    1. I wasn’t aware of what they did in Injustice with the throwing audio cues, or about the Microsoft fighting software and controllers with headphone jack, shows how out of the loop I am with gaming info haha. True we are a nitch market, but still like you said I think if they just integrated accessible aspects into their games from the start and had a bit of forethought in development, it would be easy enough to add. Wishful thinking on my part, but I can dream!

      Thanks for such an insightful response to this post, learned a lot from it!

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  4. You know, to be honest, I may have spoken a bit too soon anyway.
    I forgot about killer instinct, a game that had even more audio cues added to it than Injustice, along with fine grained volume settings for all audio streams, as well as Skullgirls, which got screen reader and OCR support.
    Their is actually a really interesting article about Killer Instinct, an interview with the guy who handled the changes, where he talks about how even though he had to scale back some of the more cinematic elements, in order to make the important parts easier to hear, (something which I can see allot of big companies being reluctant to do) it actually didn’t negatively effect the over all audio environment enough to make any difference, surprisingly enough.
    That gives me hope that, at least one company may be more willing than before to standardize those design choices for some of their upcoming titles, even if only the ones most likely to be played by blind gamers, thanks to the success and relative painlessness of Killer Instinct’s implementation.
    Here’s the link to the article on gamesutra
    https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/305735/Postmortem_Greater_accessibility_through_audio_in_Killer_Instinct.php
    In other news, the guy behind SoniFight is starting work on a program that does the same thing but for other genres, though their is a snag with getting memory address for the games that aren’t automatically supported by SoniFight, so he’s working on making cheat engine more accessible with a script in order to let people get those easier.
    Oh, also, just got randomly broadsided with the news that another major production, one which at least basic visual map support (Echoes from Levia: Soulbound”) a game I don’t even remember hearing about but apparently contains over a hundred separate voiced entities and was worked on by a team of ten people for two years, is almost complete and has a trailer out as of yesterday.
    So yeah, I still believe that Indi projects will be the major push forward for audio games by a large margin, but things are starting to ramp up (unless this is all just a coincidence) and the fact that A hero’s call not only got mentioned in the freaking Washington Times, along with many Indi gaming related news sites, but also took home an ID@Xbox Gaming For Everyone Award at GDC17 gives me hope that we’ll get more interest, and therefore more Indi projects.
    Oh, also, their is an audio game about a rescue dog which will have full graphics, called “lost and hound” (cute I know) the status of which is unclear but very likely not abandoned, as the dev is a freelance sound designer as well.
    We’ve also got someone from EA’s accessibility team who’s been running around on audiogames.net and reddit for a few months gathering accessibility ideas for games like NHL, UFC, and WWE, though she’s admitted her self that she doesn’t have much sway, but she really does seem to care.
    Also, we just concluded our second audio game jam maybe a month ago, you can check out “Liam Erven’s” youtube channel for playthroughs of the submissions, though I’ll tell you right now that “Escape Beat” is the best, followed by “The forest that lost it’s voice” and then “freefall”.
    Not to mention that audiogames.net just got a huge influx of students from an audio only game design course (imagine that!) out of the University of Baltimore, who are submitting all their game prototypes for feedback.
    We also seem to be getting an uptick in the amount of Indi devs and indi sound designers, but it could just seem like that do to the new vetting system that was recently put in place making them more obvious.
    So yeah, a pretty damn exciting time for audio games right now, to say the least.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All such excellent news! Exactly what I was thinking: all it takes is one company starting the ball rolling, then others following suit. I bet as soon as the devs see that sighted gamers probably like the changes just as much as the blind would we’re getting somewhere. I’m a huge believer in that indi devs are the wave of the future as far as gaming goes, they make the best games right now in my opinion at least, and are the most open to creative changes and artistic game creating.

      I saw a few of the game jam entries through Liam’s channel, and really liked the Forest one! I’ve been swamped lately s completely forgot I wanted to go download and play some of the entries, but I love how innovative audio games have become. Love that the EA person is collecting data also, like I said above these small changes are what will make the big ones come.

      Is a Hero’s Call out? I follow the devs on twitter and didn’t see any news about it’s release. I hope it is, because I’ve been dying to play the game, was the release I was most looking forward to this year. But now that rescue dog game sounds cute also, so can’t wait for that either 😀

      Thanks for all the great info, I’m loving hearing all the accessibility news! I really need to get back in the loop with audio gaming lol.

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  5. Dec 29 of this year for A hero’s call, no graphics at first which is annoying considering they got over 3.5 times their funding goal, but at least they are promising it (for what that’s worth) and aren’t being jerks and charging for the upgrade when it comes.
    They used allot of that money for adding things they wanted to before but couldn’t though, so, ya know.
    Echos of Levia is early 2018.
    Forgot to mention that Madin 2018, an EA game, actually has some audio cues and such do to this woman’s persistence.
    Wish I could edit my post, I have a missing word or two. LOL
    You gotta check out the audiogames.net forum more.
    If you chose to sign up, than I think the people their would like you allot, and you could spread the news of this blog, which I actually stumbled across while looking at weather a hero’s call had gotten mainstream media recognition, VIA like, the 6th Google page result. LOL

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    1. Nice! Happy to hear A Hero’s Call has a release date because I was super bummed when the devs said it was coming out in July and it didn’t. I bet adding graphics was something they always wanted to do but didn’t think they could, so just didn’t put the forethought into actually doing it if they hit their funding goal lol. Aaaah so exciting to hear all the audio game news!

      lol I probably should join audio game.net, I’m so bad with keeping up with forums like that lately but doesn’t hurt to join. Interesting to hear how you found the blog: I always wonder how people find it 😀 lol, I need to start updating it more, but true I could share it around if I join audio games.net!

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