What It’s Like to Be a Blind Gamer
Welcome to Press Play, POPSUGAR Australia’s first-ever gaming initiative focused on accessibility. Our aim is to shed light on the experiences of people with disability who play games, while helping to identify the features needed within games to make them truly accessible to all players.
The initiative includes interviews with key figures in the gaming space as well as first person pieces produced by writers with disability who can speak from experience about these features. Press Play is supported by our newly launched text-to-voice feature. You can find all the pieces here.
“When I was little, there weren’t really any computer games that blind people could play,” Grace, now 36, told POPSUGAR Australia in a discussion about what it’s like to be a blind gamer.
“I’d often sit and watch my sighted sister play one of her computer games that looked really fun. I’d listen and help her play. But I was really sad there weren’t really any accessible games for me.”
So how do blind people play games? Eventually, Grace found a few games she could play using her notetaker, a device for people who use braille. She would play games like Hangman and Bongo, a braille version of Pac-Man that Grace loved dearly and played often.
When Grace was in high school, she made an exciting discovery in Starfighter, an online multiplayer game created specifically for blind people. And thanks to a multi-channel sound card, Grace was able to game, chat and communicate online using her screen reader.
“It was basically a glorified version of Battleship,” Grace explained. “But we were really excited. We thought it was so great to have this game that two people could play together across the internet.”
“Everyone else had games like this for ages, and it’s now quite primitive, but we thought it was so cool, and it meant a lot that we could actually play the game.”
Before long, other accessible games began to join the market, including audio games like Shades of Doom, as well as Bounty Hunting and Chillingham, a game where you have to investigate a mansion and solve puzzles.
“A lot of the games we play would blow the mind of any sighted person,” Grace said. “There’s a game called Crazy Party, which has a lot of mini games that are played by sound. It starts off really easy, where you have to protect a duck by walking close and holding an umbrella over it. But as you progress, the games become more complicated, where you have to jump over lava pits, dodge fireballs, press buttons, and run through doors within a certain time — all only using sound.”
“If a sighted person sat down to play it, it’s actually really hard. There’s nothing to see. You have to use your ears and keyboards, and many games like this aren’t very forgiving.”
Over the years, more accessible games have joined the party, like audio adventure game The Vale by Falling Squirrel, where you play as a blind princess adventurer. Some mainstream games have even been made with accessibility in mind, like Code 7.
“Code 7 is such a brilliant game. It’s a hacking thriller game that has an accessibility mode that allows the game to talk to you, and allows you to skip some of the puzzles that aren’t doable when you can’t see.”
“You could navigate relatively easy through it, although some of it was really difficult. There’s one part where you’re trying to make a little robot move through corridors, and I could do the first few, but as the mazes became more difficult, there was no way I could understand what the maze looked like without touching or seeing it.”
“But thankfully, someone built a guide to show you how to get through the mazes, which helped a lot.”
While Grace says that a lot of blind gamers take pride in being able to finish games for sighted people, it’s still vital to have accessibility options.
“It’s so important to make sure games have a self-voicing option so it can speak directly to you, or games that can be used with a screen reader,” Grace said.
“But it’s also important to have inclusive options for people with different hearing abilities. Blind gamers are quite a diverse group of people, so what works for one person won’t work for all, so you need options.”
“It’s also important to consider things like being able to move from place to place easily, and not just trying to run across a massive world trying to find a certain location. I once played a game that was supposed to be only five hours long, but I spent three hours alone trying to figure out where to go.”
Grace says that many blind gamers use PC and Macs, thanks to the ability to use screen readers. And although Microsoft has an option for screen readers, consoles — and game developers — need to catch up. As an actor and voice actor herself, Grace says having disabled people included in the game-making process will be a huge help in making sure games are accessible and inclusive.
“Have disabled characters in your game, and get a disabled voice actor to play them. There are all sorts of blind artists, musicians, voice actors, writers and all sorts of people who would be happy to help in game creation.”
“I’d love to be able to pick out any game and know it would be accessible for me, but we’re so far off that.”
“Blind people definitely want to play your games. Blind people want to buy your games. So make them accessible. Don’t just forget about us.”
Zoe Simmons is a disabled journalist, copywriter, author and speaker who writes to make a difference in the world. She lives with mental illness, chronic pain and chronic fatigue, and hopes sharing her experiences can smash stigma and help others not to feel so alone. When not writing articles, you can find Zoe writing her first book on her community’s survival in the deadly 2019/2020 Black Summer Bushfires. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn for more!