My Perception of Perception: A Rant and Review from a Blind Gamer

I never thought the day would come when I would regret backing something on Kickstarter, but it has finally arrived. I do not back Kickstarter projects very often, because I have little enough money that I have to make decisions on how to spend it. However, if I really believe in a project, I will take that leap. Such was the case with Perception by the Deep End Games. Allow me to explain what got me hooked.

Perception is a game in which you control a totally blind character named Cassie as she explores a mysterious house. It’s a survival-horror style game, made by developers who have done work on games like Bioshock. Now guys, just looking at it like that, it sounds utterly amazing. I was totally in.

Then, over the course of the Kickstarter campaign, and finally getting a chance to try the game myself once it was released, I have learned the awful truth. The game is, in fact, an insult to the blind on not just 1, but 2 completely different levels. Let us discuss.

First, let’s talk accessibility. After all, you would think that, if you’re playing as a blind character, then a blind person would be able to play the game, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. In fact, the 2 primary focuses of the Kickstarter campaign were the voice actress for the main character, (and yeah, she’s pretty good), and the visuals. That’s right. Look, ladies and gentlemen, upon these visuals which, if the character were actually blind, would not exist. Aren’t they gorgeous? Isn’t the art style, like, so super cool?

Now, OK. If I force myself, I can get past the visuals being there. It’s a sighted world, and we want them to get some enjoyment out of this game. Sighted people like graphics, therefore we need goodlooking graphics. But then, I’m yanked backward because… The developers should want EVERYONE to enjoy this game, right? Should the blind not be invited to hold Cassie up as their own video game icon?

Apparently not, because I promise you, I guarantee you they barely tried at all when it comes to making their game blind accessible. Oh yeah, it was brought up during the campaign, and they addressed it pretty early on. Their answer was, quite honestly, pretty disgusting. This isn’t word for word, but they said something like, ‘Well, we tried, but we just can’t find an engine that will work for us.”

So what that tells me is that The Deep End Games was basically looking for a magical win button. Some piece of code they could just plop into their game, and boom! It’s accessible just like that! I feel like they googled “Blind Accessibility Engine,” and when they didn’t find anything, they said “Oh well, we tried.” I do not believe for one second that they consulted with a single blind gamer to discuss how the game might be made accessible. They certainly didn’t consult with me, and I’m a pretty good resource for this kind of thing. And maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong, but hey, perception is everything, right guys?

Here’s the worst part, folks. There are building blocks for blind accessibility in that game. Yeah, that’s right, they actually did a couple things correctly which, had those things been expanded upon, may have made the game accessible to us. For instance, Cassie’s 6th sense ability can be used to point you toward your next goal. It works very much like Resident Evil 6’s accidental accessibility where it shows you your objective, and points the camera at it, making forward movement then lead you in the right direction. Of course, this feature only mocks us, because it is taken away from you several times, asking you to “explore to find your next goal.” We also run up against the Resident Evil 6 problem of getting stuck a lot, but the point is that it sometimes helps, but not as much as it could.

The second thing they did right is that the audio recordings you can find have ambient environmental noise before you find them. The sound is like that of a running tape in a tape recorder. You can hear these from decently far away, though, so finding them is still difficult. Also, the “memories” you can interact with, or more accurately, things that trigger memories, have ambient ghost whispering noises that play until you find them. The problem here, though, is that the whispers are infrequent, so if you miss one, you may be wandering for a bit until you hear it again.

And third, the ironically funniest of them all, Cassie’s phone is almost completely accessible! Why? Because it has to be. Once again, they did not do well at passing her off as a real blind person, which we’ll get to later, but they would have failed utterly had Cassie’s phone not been equipped with Text to Speech. So yeah, I can listen to her text and voice messages, I could read a note if I had found one as she uses her phone to scan it, and I can listen to her… Oh wait! Look! Another glaring problem! Yes, most of her phone is accessible, but the text to speech does not read the items in her music collection. Sure is lucky she only has like 3 or 4 songs, instead of the hundreds and thousands most people do today. Whew!

The point that I’m making here is this. Everything that might be considered an attempt at accessibility was done in a half-hearted manner, and maybe most of it wasn’t even done for that reason at all. The developers never really tried, or even cared all that much about accessibility. But putting accessibility aside for a second, let’s get to part 2 of this rant. The second reason this game is an insult to the blind.

A message to the Deep End Games. Blindness does not work the way you think it does, or the way you desperately want it to work so you can justify your game mechanics. The game begins insulting the blind during its insanely short tutorial. “Sound is how we see,” says Cassie’s teacher, who is apparently a super knowledgeable blind person himself. Well actually, Mr. Teacher, that is not completely accurate. Sound is only one component. Turns out we have 3 other senses that we also use, all of them working together to compensate for a lack of vision.

The insult continues as you learn how this apparently works. First, we hear the sound of a fan, and the teacher asks what it is. It should be noted that the audio design takes a hit here, as the fan was not on before the teacher asks what the sound is, and when it does utrn on, it is just there, at full strength, rather than spinning up the way a fan would. Anyway, Cassie identifies the sound as a fan, making no other observations about it than that. Yeah, I actually made one. To me, it sounds like a fan with a small piece of paper or plastic caught in the blade. I made that observation without even tapping my cane! Let’s talk about that, though.

The teacher asks Cassie what’s in front of the fan. Apparently the only way Cassie can figure this out is to tap her cane. Yeah, the only way. She is in fact instructed to do this by her fully grown, very knowledgeable blind teacher. She does, and just like magic, she knows there’s a coffee mug in front of the fan! Wow! Now, maybe her cane actually hit the mug, which ya know, would risk knocking it over and possibly breaking it, but let’s say it did. I can’t verify that, being blind and all. But then why, if the mug was in cane-striking distance, would she not just reach out and find it that way? The whole thing is completely ridiculous and wrong, and sets up the game mechanic they’re trying to demonstrate to feel like an insult everytime you use it.

So here it is. Here’s the conclusion to all this. Perception is a terrible game that could have been great. Had any actual effort been put forth to make it accessible, it could have been a game that brought the blind and sighted together in a cool survival horror experience. And in this time, where video game accessibility is actually starting to become an accepted and widely-discussed part of game development, it is a shame this was not done. It is an enormous, enormous missed opportunity. The ntire game comes off as an attempt to cash in on a new survival horror idea without considering the immense possibilities that could lead to, and then tries to pat itself on the back for taking a couple real world inspirations. (Be My Eyes is used in the game, and it is a real app for the blind). I am finding it difficult to truly express my anger and disappointment with this title, and I worry that it will actually become a step back for the blind, making people who play it think we just swing our canes around everywhere like bumbling idiots. (It is actually possible to walk around and unknowingly break small things during the game). I understand this rant may unpopularize me with some, but I feel it needs to be said for the sake of the blind community.

6 thoughts on “My Perception of Perception: A Rant and Review from a Blind Gamer

  1. While you do raise some good points, I respectfully disagree. I too backed this game on kickstarter. I am legally blind, and play both mainstream and audio games. The developers did actually communicate with blind and visually impaired users, such as myself. I E-mailed back and forth several times during development. I sent them links, descriptions, and videos of games I’ve covered that make a first person type game accessible, both on IOS and PC. I also described and sent videos on things to consider regarding how to represent blindness, and how a blind person navigates around an environment, including sending them videos on common, proper mobility techniques. Finally I sent them info and a few of my videos on apps like KNFB Reader, Be My Eyes, Etc. They also communicated with other blind and visually impaired gamers.

    As for the game’s accessibility, or lack there of, they definitely looked into it. We discussed various possibilities a few times. A large factor in how difficult a game can be to make accessible, is the game engine used. Common Engines like Unreal and Unity don’t have tools in their frameworks to allow for accessibility. Just recently, there are some third party plug-ins that are starting to address this. There’s a lot more to making a sighted game fully accessible than you’d think.

    As for how they portrayed blindness, I have mixed feelings. There are people who do use echo location, but they are fairly uncommon. The coffee cup example in the beginning is definitely a huge stretch. The fan would be easy to tell, but the cup, not likely. There have to be some concessions to make the game fun, and not tedious. Could the game have used more traditional mobility techniques like regular tapping of the cane? Yes. Maybe there could have been a disclaimer in the beginning of the game that stated something like, this is not the primary/exclusive way blind people navigate, and link to a couple of mobility and blindness resources. I have a couple of other issues with the mobility representation in the game myself, but they did a decent effort.

    I also talk a bit more about this in my YouTube video covering the game from a low vision perspective: https://youtu.be/m4lSUt5Q-fw

    I will also be making some more observations in my upcoming Let’s Play of the game, coming soon. I do appreciate that Cassy is more than just a blind person though. She has more character in the game than just being blind.

    • Greetings to all,
      I wanted to reply directly to this comment to let everybody who might read these comments know that I appreciate all feedback on this post. I understood that I would likely be disagreed with by some, and that is fine. The commenter has a separate, followup email from me, but i wanted to let the rest of you know that this is totally cool of him to do.

    • I can’t comment on the representation because I have not played this game at all, but if you look at games like Kingdom Hearts, the fighting system is completely accessible because of the sound design. Surely, no matter what engine someone uses, sound design and sound mechanics would not be hard to make so that blind gamers can get information or use?

    • Exactly! There are tons of examples of accidental accessibility like that found in Kingdom Hearts. Just takes a little work and some creative thinking, and games like this can be made accessible.

      • Speaking as someone who studied programming albeit not specifically game programming I would like to point out that plugins and frameworks that exist in something like an engine are just ready made functionality thqat can be dropped in to make things easier on the developer, everything that can be done with such a tool can also be done by writing it from scratch. In the case of accessibility with no such existing resources it is perfectly possible to do this, it isn’t like lego where the lack of a pre-existing piece prevents you from making a certain object so much as it’s like a combination of sculpting with some ready made pieces and your own work out of raw clay you can use in combination to make a whole. I’ve long been of the opinion that accessibility features are not only easier than developers think but in many cases may help either other disability groups or just generally improve the enjoyment of games for the sighted as well, good 3D sound design being an excellent example.

        Now I realise some genres and game mechanics are more difficult to make accessible than others but this is a matter of finding a way to represent the world and the information you need without graphics, if you can imagine a way to do this then that’s most of the difficulty overcome. Expecting the engine to do accessibility for you is utterly unrealistic given how varied games can be, not to mention being flat out lazy. The one and only place I could see the engine providing significant assistance would be if it included libraries for accessing a speech synthesisers of some description, which could of course assist people with limited vision as well as other reading related conditions such as severe dyslexia.

  2. Hi.
    wow. So, just to clarify: The game is totally inaccessible and not possible to beat as a blind gamer? I was thinking about bagging the project and I wrote to the developers asking if the game would become accessible or not. I got a reply saying that the game wouldn’t be accessible, so I just forgot all about the game and didn’t cared much about it. But if the game is playable or beatable at some point, then I would give it a try.

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