I was never into games as a kid. I’d go to friends’ houses and they would play games such as Mario and the Legend of Zelda on their Nintendo’s. Kids would get into trouble in class for playing with their Gameboys. When I tried to participate in game play, I quickly became bored. The music and the sounds were cool, but they didn’t make sense without a visual context. As a family, we got our first computer when I was 8. I was excited to learn that it had games, but disappointed once I realised I would need sighted help to play them. Mum and Dad spent hours reading through the screens for Hugo’s House of Horrors, which I certainly appreciated, but it wasn’t the same as being able to play independently.
Fast forward a few years. At age 15, while sitting in a technology class on a holiday camp for students who were blind and vision impaired, I was introduced to a new computer game called Grizzly Gulch Western Extravaganza. It was “designed with the blind in mind”, as we say. Set in a western town, players completed missions to catch criminals, purchased items from the general store, put money in the bank, and interacted with the fictional game characters. There were no visual elements at all, and gameplay was carried out entirely with the keyboard. It wasn’t reliant on a screen reader as it had in-built speech. I didn’t rush out to purchase a copy, but I enjoyed playing it at the camp, and noticed that the staff members who were blind were hooked. This was revolutionary for us.
Some friends then introduced me to Shades of Doom, another audio only game with a futuristic setting. The game concept was influenced by the popular Doom video game series. I’m generally not a “shoot ‘em up” kind of girl, but nonetheless, its surround sound and music were impressive at the time, and the game itself was challenging to play.
As exciting as these new games were, I still felt something was missing. I could talk about them with friends who were blind, but couldn’t share my interest with sighted peers at school. It was great to finally have some accessible games, but they weren’t the same games my friends were playing. In saying that, it was better than nothing, and since then, a plethora of text-based and audio only games have been developed for people who are blind and vision impaired, both on Windows and iOS platforms.
Up until recently, however, little was being done to bridge the gap between blind and sighted gamers. Similarly, gamers with other disabilities have also been excluded from mainstream gaming communities.
Coming up on A11Y Voices, I will be interviewing game developers who have an interest in accessibility, and explore the conversations being had to change the accessibility landscape of the gaming world.