Every once and a while, I search for news on accessible gaming. I know how fast different games on different platforms, in different genres can pop up considering how big the indi game development scene is, so after I wrote my last post about accessible gaming, I figured why not give the search phrase “Are visual novels accessible to the blind?” a whirl?
I found some interesting results! I tried visual novels because since that medium is text, music, sounds, pictures and voice acting, it seemed like it would be the easiest thing to make accessible. Not only did I find some good results, but I’m getting obsessed with playing VNs, and reading kinetic novels, to the point where I also downloaded software and am working on learning code to eventually make my own – I have always loved video games, not so much for the gameplay, but for the amazing stories and characters that such an extended gameplay time gives you with them. With games like Rakuen, and To the Moon becoming popular as well, I also thought that using that medium to tell amazing stories is something I’m a lot more interested in then making a story a radio play, not getting many views because that scene is sort of dying down and hard to market in, and just feeling discouraged. Plus this combines all of my favorite things: writing stories, making music, using sound effects…why, it’s pretty much a playable radio play!
But with that mini tangent aside, what I’ve found in VN/KN accessibility is really interesting. For the most part (and I do mean most part – I’ve only downloaded one game that wasn’t accessible at all, and one that is decently accessible as far as I can tell but can’t get to the preferences to lower music volume) and it’s all because of the platform they’re being made on, Renpy. Renpy has added a self-voicing feature on its platform, so all I have to do to figure out if something is accessible is load the game, hit V, and if the Windows narrator voice doesn’t go “Self-voicing enabled” I can get on out of there without wasting any time. So much nicer than downloading a game and trying really hard to figure out what’s what! A minor nit pick I do have, is it would be nice if the developers wrote in the description of the game that this was available in their game to save me the time of downloading, but all in all, I’ve had an enjoyable gaming experience. I used to love choose your own adventure games, and being able to play the modern equivalent of them is really nice and something I didn’t think I could do.
Renpy has a great library of games you can choose from, as well! I’ve just been scrolling through, and looking for games that sound interesting. There are a lot of free ones to play, so I’ve just been downloading them and playing. I actually wasn’t aware that kinetic novels were a thing until I downloaded one, only got to make 2 choices within the first hour of gameplay and went “Why is this VN so un-interactive? This is boring me”. It was the first one I downloaded too, so when I downloaded my 2nd one and it was way more interactive like the interactive fiction games I’m used to I went “So is that game just bad?” until I remembered it said it was a kinetic novel in the description and google the term haha. I learned something today! A kinetic novel is something I want to do as my first dive into working with renpy, because this is also my first time ever working with code and I had to figure out that you don’t make indents or double space in code, it’s very bad. That took me about four hours last night to learn so…I think I have a decently long road ahead of me! But learning some sort of coding is something I’ve always wanted to do (Renpy uses python, I believe) so this is a fun adventure I just decided to dive into which honestly has always been my M.O. XD
In all honesty, the Renpy code seems easy enough, and it was more my inexperience with coding in general that happened (but the quick start guide had those indents in it so I assumed every line needed them so…grr).
I found some other really cool accessible games in the works I want to make a post on, and also I want to talk more in detail about the visual/kinetic novels I’ve been playing. So I guess VN/KN reviews will be popping up on this blog, as well! Some of the VNs I’ve downloaded have full voice acting as well, which is really cool! I heard an acquaintance of mine in one game, but sadly it’s the game that I still need to figure out how to lower the music volume. The inaccessibility of that in that particular game is odd to me, because every other Renpy game had the same menu interface. I may just have a sighted person look at it and see so I can finish the demo of this game and see how accessible it is, it seems like it will be fine after I figure out how to lower the volume of the music but we’ll see.
I’m soooo happy I can play these games. I find it a little disheartening that a medium that originally was all text, all accessible to the blind is now one where you have to do guess work, but people like the developer of the Renpy software are taking strides to make sure we can still play games by adding the self-voicing feature in the software itself. That way, it’s up to the developer’s of the games to also make their games accessible, but at the same time the blind have a nice enough cushion with these games and can say ok, I’m pretty sure this will work, load the game, hit V, and move on if it doesn’t’ work. A lot less of a headache than my usual finding out if something is accessible fair!
Before I finish up this post, I’d also like to say I love that every VN is stand alone. I tried using Steam a while back because I knew there were games I wanted to play on it, but Steam is entirely inaccessible with the screen reader I use. I’ve seen others have other success with other screen readers, but I didn’t have that one because well, it’s suuuuper expensive. So when I saw the site itch.io had where you could just download the VN, I did so and that’s how my exploration of this genre started Super awesome!
All in all, this experience has been great. I’m 2 days in and love all the games I’ve been playing and stories I’ve been reading. I’m ready to jump all in on this VN/KN genre!