In my life, both inside and outside of social media, I’ve been asked time and time again: “How do you play video games when you’re blind?” In this article, I’ll describe how I play video games when I’m blind. This is… my four-step guide to playing video games without sight.
Sound is a key feature of video games, especially old-style arcade and console games such as Space Invaders (1977), Centipede (1980) and Millipede (1982). It is useful for alerting the player to incoming attackers, level-ups etc. For example, in Centipede, spiders are indicated by a series of repeating high-pitched bleeps and falling flees are indicated by a low-pitched buzzing sound that quickly slides downwards in frequency. The Atari 2600 version of Millipede has the same sounds, but the spiders are slightly lower in pitch than the spiders of Centipede and the sound of the flees is a bit higher. Newer games use stereo and surround-sound to let you know where the enemy is located I.E. to the left, to the right, behind, in front, above, below.
The controller gives out a quick pulse when the player is punched or repeatedly vibrates when the player is getting shot. These haptic cues can be very helpful to a blind gamer as it lets them know they’re getting attacked and they need to speedily dodge out of the way to avoid dying or getting knocked out. Combined with the power of sound, the player can fight back and gain the upper hand against their opponents.
This one isn’t about video games themselves, it’s about the technologies that allow us to play them. Some modern video game consoles, like the Xbox One, come with screen readers that allow blind gamers to navigate the console by speaking aloud what is on screen. Most console emulators, such as RetroArch and PCSX2, have the screen reader compatibility to allow blind gamers to open CD or game cartridge files and play games as though they were being played on the actual console.
Many video games, such as The Last of Us Part II and Mortal Kombat 11, now come with narration features that allow in-game elements such as menu items and chat messages to be announced aloud using either text to speech (TTS) or, in Mortal Kombat 11's case, a real, live human voice. This allows blind players to interact with items in the game, such as primarily visual cues, that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
I hope this guide was able to give you some insight (no pun intended) into how us sightless folks experience the wonderful world of video games. Remember, just because they're called video games, it doesn't mean they're all about shiny visuals and high class graphics. The audio aspect and functionality are just as vital!