Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Video Games

Let’s Talk About Visual Novel Accessibility, Shall We? An Update

You may remember a while ago I talked about getting into playing visual novels, and how easy it was to tell when one was accessible or not.  Time for an update, because I’ve been trying to play more commercial VNs (think Doki Doki Literature Club, Long Live the Queen) and we’re running into a lot of problems here.

 

When I first got into VNs, I was only playing free ones. Well, I’ve been looking at ones now that are more commercial, have more to them coding wise than the free ones do, and are longer.  They have the same structure as the free ones – text, pictures, choices to make.  Some of them have an RPG element to them, picking a party and doing battles/making a battle formation, which seems really fun…if it were playable.

 

Almost every commercial quality VN I’ve played is inaccessible in some way.  The self-voicing feature can’t be activated at all, or if it is able to be activated, there’s something in the game that it can’t read.  The battle system in one comes to mind in particular, which definitely was a hope dashing experience when I thought I could play a really cool looking game, only to get to the point in the demo where you make your battle formation, choose items, and have absolutely nothing read because you had to drag and drop, or click with the mouse.  Even when navigating with the keyboard, it would make a clicky noise like it was moving to something, but not say what.  If the text is readable when the actual visual novel part of the game is going, then why is it so hard to make the text to speech work when you’re playing with the actual game mechanics?

 

Some VNs read, but the load and save features do not.  I noticed that while playing Blind Love, a visual novel I’m let’s playing on my YouTube Channel.  A visual novel that says on it’s itch.io page that it’s accessible to the blind, where if you didn’t read that on the page, and didn’t know how to activate self-voicing, you’d be out of luck:  it tells you when to activate self-voicing, and how to, after you’ve gone through the naming the character screen.  I’m glad they made a point to have it be accessible to the blind, but seriously?  Just a little more forethought should go into that sequence of events:  Have a narrator, or one of your voice actors say “Press V to activate self-voicing mode” before the title screen even loads up.  In that game, the main menu where it says “Start New Game” “Load Game”, “Quit Game” doesn’t read at all, so you have to just guesstimate where menu items are and hope you picked the right one.  I just decided to save on different files in that to avoid the possibility of not saving, or loading before saving, because saving and loading in it isn’t reading with self-voicing activated either, and it’s frustrating to see a game saying it’s accessible when the menus aren’t.

 

Doki Doki Literature Club doesn’t even allow self-voicing to activate, and that’s the case with all of the commercial, or commercial quality games I’ve played.  I’m enjoying the free ones, but those are usually short test novels for people who are starting ren’py coding and it just doesn’t satisfy my VN itch.

 

 

So I ask:  Why is it so hard to make a text, picture, music medium accessible, especially when ren’py has self-voicing as an option built into the engine?  Is it really so difficult?  Or do developers seriously not know that blind people would want to read their stories.  I’ve contacted a VN developer before, and they were open to adding accessible features to their VN, so I feel like they just don’t know it’s something they can utilize.  In which, it’s up to blind people to contact said developers if they want a change, and see what they can do.  I plan to do this, and I want to branch out into making my own visual novels that are accessible, with cool stuff in it like the commercial ones have, but that’s very far off in the future I feel.  I’d love to see developers put in the effort to do a bit of research, and integrate the self-voicing feature as an option, so blind players can enjoying the story telling of the genre.  I feel like it wouldn’t take much, but it does take making developers aware of the situation, which is something I plan to do in the near future!

 

And that’s an update on VN accessibility.  If you know of some good accessible VN’s, or some good developers to get in contact with, let me know!  I’d love to start a discussion with some devs, and see what we can do.  The only way we’re going to move things in the right direction is by starting a dialogue with game developers!

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