Uncategorized · Video Games

My Experiences with Text to Speech Features on the Playstation 4, and a Basic Run Down of said Features

Hello everyone, it’s been a while!  My long absence is due to a lot of things.  Mainly, I’ve been putting a lot of work into my YouTube Channel – I always have posted video game and anime covers over there, but in the past few months I’ve also started vlogging and been enjoying that thoroughly.  It kind of took over the blogging, since that and vlogging are very similar.  I enjoy both however, and have something to talk about now, so here I am again!  Honestly no clue when I’ll post over here again, so if you like my content, probably subscribe to my YouTube channel for more frequent updates.
I’ve noticed a spike in followers over here, and would like to say thank you!  I’m honestly surprised, considering how long ago my last post has been, but I’m very happy to see you here, nevertheless.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the content here, and will continue to enjoy it, no matter how infrequent I post!

 

I talk about a lot of nerdy things over here.  In fact, my last post was about how awesome the web series RWBY is.  I also talk a lot about gaming over here, but have never actually had a modern console…until now!  Me and my brother both went in on a Playstation 4 recently, and the very first game we bought was for a very specific reason.

 

Team RWBY in a fighting game Team RWBY in a fighting game AHHH AHHH AHHHH!!!!!!
I was so pumped!!!  As soon as I heard that, I was like “We are buying that game”.  It was so funny, because my bro had told me about the BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle trailer and was like “There’s some girl named Ruby in it?” and I just figured it was a new BlazBlue character until I was recommended a RWBY reveal trailer on YouTube, because I haven’t played BlazBlue since Calamity Trigger.  So imagine my surprise when I saw my girl Ruby Rose in a trailer for a fighting game!  And my favorite character Weiss alongside her!  It was so cool!

 

So, that was the first game we got for the console, no contest.  I had been gushing about RWBY to my brother for months, but me saying we needed to get the game because they were in it got him to finally check out the series, and now he’s just as hooked on it as me woooooo.
But that tangent aside, we haven’t had a newer console for years.  Not only that, but text to speech options weren’t even a thing the last console we had.  So, it was a major learning curve setting up PS4 accounts, learning the ropes, and all in all getting back into modern gaming, and how it works.  Thankfully, my Mom is always willing to read things for us just in case we get lost, but I wanted to focus more on the text to speech features in this article, because in all honesty I see them get a lot of flak by the blind community, and as a person coming into the newer era of gaming, I’d like to share my experiences as a new blind user of the text to speech features on the PS4, and of the PS4 in general.

 

Getting Started

 

Getting text to speech up is the tricky part I feel, because there’s no way around needing a sighted person to select the text to speech feature.  You have to go into settings, accessibility, and pick text to speech, and turn it on.  After that, it’s rather smooth sailing, and you can do everything the text to speech has access to.  I will say, I think Sony should set up some sort of feature where you can turn it on at system start, maybe some sort of button command, like apple devices have, but honestly, I’m used to this sort of stuff.  When dealing with PCs, you initially need to have sighted assistance to set up your screen reader, so I don’t see it as that big of a curveball thrown at blind users:  It’s something they’re used to doing, and have probably adapted to getting done easily at this point.

 

What is a little frustrating is setting up your PSN account.  I had to have my Mom walk me through the process, because it reads out pretty much nothing but the keyboard when you’re typing in commands.  You can go do all of these things on the website, I’ve noticed from further investigation (playstation.com) but I find it a lot easier to do all of the setting up on the console.  So pretty much, you need a sighted person to sit down with you and set everything up if you are a brand new Playstation owner, but once you get past that point, you can do pretty much anything that you’d do on the Playstation store, on the web browser.

 

Buying Games, Themes, and DLC

 

 

 

Another minor ding I have to give the text to speech, is that the Playstation store on the console doesn’t read at all.  It’s pretty obvious when text to speech won’t work in an area, because the console will instantly say “Text to speech not available”.  The work around for this, is to buy everything from store.playstation.com, which is so awesome and cool, and something my teenage brain would have never imagined being able to do.  When we first tried to buy BlazBlue on the browser, for some reason it didn’t work:  I have a feeling it had to do with the PS4 not being verified as ours yet to the webstore, because as soon as my Mom bought the game on the console itself, I went and  bought a theme from the PSN store and it worked just fine.  I don’t like the basic theme’s music on the PS4, it was driving me nuts!  So I did some searching for, you guessed it, a RWBY theme and am so happy I did because it changed the music to one of my favorite RWBY songs, so I always wind up humming it while I’m on the menu screen, and can’t wait to explore more avatar’s and themes.

 

Buying from the webstore is just like buying from Amazon or Ebay.  Add the game to your cart, and purchase.  I will highly recommend adding your payment options before purchasing, because it was a huge headache trying to add at checkout and I found myself just linking my paypal before purchasing to save that time, because for me putting in the info at check out wasn’t super accessible.  Some buttons weren’t registering when I clicked on them for some reason or another, but Payment options is a link you can just click at the top of any PS Store page, and add a credit card or link a paypal account easily, so I just did that.

 

Downloading a Game

 

Downloading the game was by far the easiest, and coolest part.  You can download remotely from your web browser, technology is magic!  After purchasing the game, go to your download list.  Click “Download to PS4” and in real time, you get to see your game download to your console.  You need to turn your PS4 on first for it to work, but if you click it without the PS4 on, the browser page just says “Waiting” and once the PS4 gets on, it switches to “downloading” after a bit of time.  The page doesn’t tell you how much time it will take to download, but the PS4’s text to speech does read it out.  If you keep the webpage open while downloading, and the download finishes, “Downloading” changes to “Playable” and I’m sure this is average to people but like I said new console, new hardware to me, super super cool because I  remember having to have my Mom buy eeeeeverything on the Wii Eshop back in the day, so even though this is technically a work around, because you can’t buy on the PS4 itself, I don’t care because it works super well and allows me to download games digitally.  Of course, a physical copy is still an option, but you would still have to have some sort of labeling system for the discs, when…

 

Text To Speech Features on the PlayStation 4 as a Whole

 

The text to speech reads the games in the library, so you can navigate and start them yourself!

Does the PS4 read every section on the console with text to speech?  Not by a long shot.  I’d say it probably reads about 25% of the features on the console.  There are a lot of apps, you can’t use without some work around.  Does it read the things you would need to access the console?  Yes.  For that reason, I think the text to speech suits me fine.  I know this is a topic of contention amongst blind users, but I think the PS4 reads everything you’d need to fully function the basic use of the Playstation.  I know we’re used to having multi media everything on every device nowadays, but at the end of the day, the PS4 is a gaming console.  Can I easily access my game library without sighted assistance because of the text to speech voice?  Yep, no problem.  Can I send messages to friends, and add friends?  Yep, no problem.  Can I adjust most of the settings as far as gaming goes?  Yeah.  One thing I will say is there are some odd areas where the text to speech decides to not be available on some features.  Like I added a friend who sent me a friend request, but when I clicked to see who it was “text to speech wasn’t available” so I had to have my Mom read who it was, and make sure I was on ok so I didn’t accidentally decline said request.  Now, I know there’s a friends section on the Playstation.com website, but I haven’t used it.  Generally though, the web version and console version of the site work generally the same, so I’m sure you’d have no issues just adding friends via the site, since that’s how I changed my avatar.

 

Third party apps are a whole different story, and something I’m not going to hold Sony itself accountable for.  Sony, I’m sure, has made developers aware text to speech is on the console, so they can develop accordingly and it isn’t their job to build accessibility into those apps.  For example,  I was surprised to see Netflix works with text to speech really well.  I haven’t found a way to search, but you can browse through titles, pick them, play/pause, and change the language.  This means you can change it to have audio description and watch on the PS4, which is cool.
I was also surprised to see that both Spotify and YouTube aren’t accessible through apps, though YouTube is accessible through the Internet Browser app on the console.  Spotify is a completely graphical interface, and the work around I found to use it was to sync my account through the desktop app, and that way, I can remotely control my Spotify on my computer, and hear it on the PS4.  It works super well, and I’m honestly fine with this work around because I use Spotify mainly on the computer anyways, no biggy.

So all in all, the text to speech does the basics.  Let’s you open up games, add friends, join parties and communities, check notifications and trophies earned.  Could it do more?  Sure, but we’ll see what comes later down the road now that this feature is on the console and can be worked upon.  Anything can be made better, and I’d rather praise Sony for what it is doing right, then go on a crusade over what they are doing wrong lol.

 

Final Thoughts

 

I’ve only had my Playstation 4 for about a week, so I’m sure I’m no expert on using the console.  There are probably more work arounds, more features I just haven’t used, more hiccups as far as accessibility goes.  But as I said before, does text to speech allow you to play video games easily?  It does, and although watching Netflix, playing YouTube  and Spotify are cool features to have on the thing, I have other devices I can do that more easily on, and would prefer to do it on.  Gotta say it was fun rocking out to some RWBY songs I thought should be in Cross Tag Battle via Spotify while playing, but I was able to do that via remote access.  Anything you’d want to do on the console is doable, with an easy work around, or with the text to speech itself, which honestly I’m impressed Sony had the forethought to make things workable via using the web browser.    Honestly, living my entire life by doing visual things alternatively to be able to experience them, this is a huge step up from what I used to have to do to access console features, and I’m happy to see a huge break through, no matter how big or small.

 

So, if you want to pick up a console and are blind, I’d highly recommend the Playstation 4!  I will say I have no experience with the Xbox 1 and do know they have text to speech features as well, but if I’m being real with you guys, I really don’t care for the exclusives on there and prefer the PS4 ones, and anything I’d want to play on Xbox 1 is on PS4.  Playing games blind is always going to be a hurdle, and I think it’s important to show developers and hardware makers that we are willing to work with them, because just telling them to fix things when they are fixing things gradually just puts an air of negativity out there and doesn’t make them want to collaborate, or help the blind community.
I really hope this very long article helps someone, or interests someone haha.  I hope I made up for my long absence with this article!  Now if you excuse me, I’m off to use my girls against some Blazblue characters, can’t escape from crossing fate, Fight!

 

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!