The Xbox zero: Why the Xbox One may be the wrong choice for blind people

Both major consoles in our next console generation have been revealed, and while we don’t know everything about them, enough information has been confirmed that conclusions can begin to be drawn. There are some worrisome things which I will touch on here, but which aren’t completely clear. If these things are true, though, and some of them are, the blind may need to be wary.

First and foremost, it has been confirmed that the Xbox One requires the Kinect 2 sensor to be hooked up before one can begin playing. It is an integral part of the console this time around. On the surface this doesn’t actually seem like a bad thing. Blind folks do love the kinect’s voice control features, and if we learn the available commands, navigation could be a breeze. However, it still remains true that not everyone has the large space the Kinect requires for its camera, and this could present a couple problems.

I for one, don’t have the 8 feet of space the Kinect wants. This could, for example, result in me accidentally performing some gesture the Kinect recognizes, and the Xbox switching to something crazy without my knowledge, all because I happen to be within range. While we might be able to say “Xbox home” and get out of that situation, it’s a workaround I fear we’d be using far too often.

That is a minor concern, mostly because there is a workaround, but what about this? Consider the implications where games themselves are concerned. Since every Xbox One will come with a Kinect 2, developers can feel confident that everyone will have that technology. I believe this will lead to an increase in the use of the Kinect in games, and believe me, even when developers bring in the Kinect, they don’t have to use every aspect of it. All a developer has to do is start requiring specific gestures for actions in their game, maybe gestures directed at specific parts of the screen, such as grabbing something for instance, not allowing for voice control, and we almost certainly will be barred from playing that game. I could be wrong about the ways in which I suspect developers will use the device, but I can also tell you that most currently existing Kinect games are unplayable by the blind. I think it’s a valid concern.

I know it’s hard to believe, but the thing is, I actually really like the Kinect. I can respect technology even if I can’t take full advantage of it, and yes, voice control is great wen and where it’s allowed. And yet, I have felt ever since it was confirmed that the Kinect being a REQUIREMENT with the Xbox One is a huge mistake, as well as just being bad for the blind folks out there.

Now, the last concern. This is the one that we don’t have full confirmation of just yet, but if this proves true, we won’t be able to play any disc-based gamees at all. It has been confirmed that every disc-based game for the Xbox One has to be installed to the console. Some of us do that anyway with our 360’s, so we’re OK with that. However, one source I read said you would also have to enter a code which came with the game to download a small chunk of data that then registers that game to your console. You must do this before the game can be played at all. Now, if you’re a sighted person reading this, think about that for a second.

These codes, if they exist, are going to be on little printed cards that come in the game box. This means that, in order to play at all, we have to find someone sighted to at least read the code. Entering it isn’t the problem so long as it can be read. Attempting to scan it and perform optical character recognition is one option, but the likelihood of some characters being wrong is quite high, even with today’s technology. Well, nothing against the sighted, but we blind folk tend not to want to be reliant. We want to be able to put in a game, and play it all on our own. ON top of that, some of us live alone, and have nobody in the immediate area to ask anyway. I see this as the biggest potential problem for us.

I am not, by any means, saying this is the final word, and blind people should absolutely not get an Xbox One no matter what. I’m saying that we should be very careful. Watch the updates as they unfold, pay attention to E3, be as informed as yu can be before making that decision. If it turns out I’m wrong abut all this, fantastic. Go for it. However I feel it was worth it to bring all this up, just in case it hadn’t been thought of yet by others seeking to get the console. If things continue on this trend, it will be a major step backward for Xbox, who was the first to give us an accessible marketplace. Time will tell, though, as more information arises. Expect more on this topic in the future.

The Sony Entertainment Network Store: We’ve Come a Long Way

When the Xbox360 and Playstation 3 first made their appearances, there was a huge gap between them if you were a blind person. One that could really separate those who chose to get a PS3 from those who chose the Xbox. On the one hand, the PS3’s interface was easier to navigate, and the audio visual cues you sometimes got when highlighting a game or saved data were a tremendous help. on the other hand, the PS3’s store, from where you could download full games, demos, and downloadable content to add to the experience of a game, was absolutely inaccessible to those who could not see it. The very first PSN store was actually a web interface that you used the thumbstick to slide a cursor around. That was no good. Then they updated it to a more gamelike interface complete with sound effects for moving between items, but this still wasn’t good enough. We couldn’t rely on menu memorization in an ever-changing environment like the Playstation Store.

When Sony launched their Idea Share program, the blind community became hopeful. Here was Sony asking us, the gamers, to give them ideas moving forward. They said they wanted to know what we wanted, and they’d do their best to implement it. The blind community went insane, went straight to the board, and the outcry began. PSN store! PSN store! We had success there as well once people understood our situation. Some sighted folks actually started agreeing with us, and helping us campaign for this feature. Then, the program sort of died out without any sign that our prayers would be answered. Well, ladies and gents, I’m now convinced that they have been.

It happened in two waves. First, Sony announced they were completely restructuring the PSN store. We figured this would apply to their web site, but, and this is me being perfectly honest here, a lot of us blind people are very jaded nowadays. We tend to doubt we can use something because there are still so many things we can’t. It’s not a good attitude to have, but it’s also a difficult one to get rid of. Anyway, up comes the new web site… and the store is open to us. Using our screenreaders, we can now navigate it via the site, add content to our carts, and complete the purchase. Still, there was one thing missing. We couldn’t put the download into our PS3’s download queue unless we went to the console. We had to memorize our way over to the account management option, and to the giant download list.

This was technically enough, in that I wouldn’t have complained if it hadn’t gone further. The download list was sorted by newest to oldest purchase by default, so what we just bought was always the first item there. This helped, but there was still an occasional issue where content had both the main game file, and the unlock file to download. The purchase from the store didn’t inform us of this, so we had to work that out on our own.

Just today, I have learned that all our troubles are over where that is concerned. Having just grabbed some of the latest Playstation Plus content, I was looking at the order confirmation page, and there I saw a new link. “Download all to PS3 system.” “No way,” I thought. “Like, noooo way!”

Yes way. I clicked on the link, and a few seconds later, the link’s text changed to “in download queue.” I then clicked on that link, and low and behold I was viewing my PS3’s download queue with my screenreader on the web site. I saw that the game was in waiting, as was its Playstation Vita counterpart, which I hadn’t even selected. Hurray for the crossbuy program!

This is truly great news for us blind people. This kind of functionality has been available on the Xbox360 for years now, and we’ve enjoyed it, but it’s wonderful to see this gap finally bridged. Personally, I want blind people to grab themselves up a console because they want to play this game, or that game on that console, not because they live alone without a sighted person willing to help them through the store, and therefore only really have one choice. At last, blind people can choose PS3 and Xbox360, soon to be PS4 and Xbox1, based on content, not interface restrictions. Now the Wii You on the other hand… Well, let us not get into that now, shall we?