Blind gamers play mainstream video games, too

In an article for GameSpot called "The blind gaming the blind", Matthew Peters writes about the accessibility of mainstream games for blind players. Twenty-three-year-old Brandon Cole, who is blind, says that:

"Rock Band is a fun challenge for blind people…Developers don't place the button sequences randomly as far as the instrument controllers go. It makes sense; they do it in a logical way. We have learned that if the next note in the song is a higher note, then more than likely the fret on the guitar that you're going to press is a higher fret than what you're on right now. With that in mind, and a few other tips and tricks I've picked up—like certain ways long streaks of constantly rising notes are handled in these games—I can learn a song just by listening to it."

Three-dimensional audio can make some titles playable for Brandon and other blind gamers. Thanks to a pair of headphones and "whatever technology they use for the audio," Brandon was able to locate the zombies in Left 4 Dead. He also has a web site with demos of audio games, and hopes to post articles about game accessibility as well as game reviews and walkthroughs written by blind players.

Some mainstream games are more accessible to visually impaired players than others; a genre that I've seen mentioned repeatedly is the fighting game. Some players say that the large sprites in a game like Street Fighter II are easy for them to see. Cole mentions the simple directions—only right and left.Blind gamer Brice Mellen uses a combination of sound and spatial sense to play Mortal Kombat;he beat series creator Ed Boon and even went to Japan for a Mortal Kombat contest on Nippon TV.

When asked about making games more accessible to blind players, Brice said:

"I'm pretty sure they could make a talking program that could give you directions and read menus to you, read what's on the screen. They have screen readers on computers for blind people. They should have one for blind people. Either that, or make a Braille screen. You can draw shapes in Braille—it's not hard to draw in Braille. You can draw squares, circles, triangles, and people…. If they made a Braille screen, you could just read it all. It would have the whole area mapped out for you."

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk grew up in a small Nebraska town called Papillion. Although she has a nonverbal learning disability that affects her visual-spatial skills (among other things), she's always loved video games. Her first game system was a Commodore Vic-20, which her mom bought at a garage sale for $20. With this little computer Tera learned to write Mad Libs in BASIC, to play chess and to steal gold from Fort Knox.

But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).

Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.
Tera Kirk

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Dustin Brody
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What I find most impressive is the idea of the blind using three-dimensional audio to tap into those heightened senses. Gives me a real Daredevil charge. A more responsive kind of rumble feature could also prove blind-friendly. Really interesting to read, especially his work on audio-based games. Audio games in fact seem like a perfect direction for the old text adventure games. I’d die to have a portable version of “It is pitch black. You are likely to be devoured by a grue.” and say into my phone/DS “Get lamp.”

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