Greetings, my oh-so-wonderful readers,
If you’ve been following my twitter feed and some recent posts on this very site, you are aware that I recently attended GDC2014. I was invited there to speak on a panel called Beyond Graphics, reaching the Visually Impaired Gamer. Well, let me tell you, lots and lots of things happened at GDC, but for this first GDC-related blog I’m going to focus strictly on the panel. Subsequent blogs will address the talks I had while just walking through GDC before and after the panel, and the very very special thing that happened to me while I was there. For now, the panel.
The panel consisted of me and 4 other wonderful gentlemen. Ian Hamilton, who has done much to advocate for accessibility in games for all types of people, Brian Schmidt, who created an audio only IOS game called Earmonsters, Jonathan Hersh from Splinesoft who made an awesome little app for IOS called Mudrammer, and Alex Macmillan, formerly of Six to Start, the developers of Zombies Run. All in all, a very good panel given the subject matter. If you ask me, anyway.
All told, we got about 50 attendees to our panel. Certainly acceptable, but in a room that can hold over 200, we were admittedly hoping to get more. Still, we said to ourselves “Well, the important thing here is that people, any people, listen to what we have to say.” And so, we headed in with real smiles on our faces because, 50 people or 200, it was time to start spreading the news.
Ian kicked off the show by laying down some facts and figures. Mentioning, for instance, how a large portion of Solara’s playerbase is blind, and how the blind players have proven to be the most loyal, and willing to spend the most money on the game. He also mentioned some of the things I intended to mention later, like the accessibility of a couple mainstream games like Skullgirls and Injustice, but no worries, folks. I adapted.
Next came the 3 developers on the panel, all discussing how they made their particular games accessible. All of them also talked about their own playerbases, and in all cases a large number of them were blind. It was clear that when we find something great, we latch onto it and refuse to let it go. Good for them, and good for the panel, because I think every time one of them made a statement like that, people paid attention.
After their super interesting speeches, it was my turn. I started with a joke because, well, duh, and then I spoke briefly about IOS and how great it was for the blind community. I praised my fellow panelists for what they had accomplished, but after that I needed to move on, because I had work to do. I told the audience that I didn’t want anyone to think that this was it. I told them not to believe IOS was the only answer, that we blind people had found our little gaming corner and intended to stay there. Oh no. I then proceeded to tell the story of how I got into gaming at all, which has nothing to do with IOS and everything to do with a trickster brother. That amused the crowd, as that story tends to do. I then went on, talking about things I had done in gaming, things I had played, and games I had tried that were both playable and not. I talked about some of the amazing discoveries that blind gamers had made like Resident Evil 6, and so on. And yes, I made it clear that I was not the only one, ending with what I personally believe is a great line. I basically said “Guy, we, the blind gaming community, are here, and we want to play to.” I then proceeded to receive much applause, although I will humble myself and say that it was for the entire panel of course, not just me. Humbling myself about that is difficult, though, because I was told immediately by Jonathan that I had “killed it.” There was another word in there, but I choose not to print it here.
Anyway, it was question time. This was the first time I was able to really gauge the success of the panel. Several people asked questions, and all but one of them was directed at me. Even after the panel was over, I stuck around, and am glad I did, as I received several more questions after that. Everything from what kind of games I played, to what is needed to make a game accessible for blind people, and were there guidelines and so on. And think about this, guys. The people asking these questions were the right ones. Game developers, many of them just getting into game developeent. These are the ideal people you want, because hopefully, accessibility will now be something they consider for the whole of their careers.
I’m personally quite pleased with how the panel went. Let me put it this way. I collected about 20 business cards while I was at GDC, and after that panel was when they really started floaing in. Or maybe it was after the thing that happened only a few hours later. Hmm. Well, that’s another blog as I’ve said. My fellow panelists told me later that they felt they were the opening acts, and I was the main event. While that is extremely flattering, I prefer to think of this panel as something we did together. We got the word out there. All of them did a fantastic job, and I would work with any of them again any day of the week. It was a successful panel, and a tremendous victory for us, the panelists. It is also, I feel, the first of many for the blind gaming community.