Standards of Story: My Thoughts as a Blind Gamer

Over the many years I have spent both gaming and listening to others play games, a thought has occurred to me more than once. Perhaps, just perhaps, my limited ability to play video games has affected my perception of video game stories. I’m going to try to break that down for you here, and hopefully, it makes sense to someone. I think there’s merit to it, at any rate. Here we go!

Gamers today have incredibly high standards, and why shouldn’t they? They have played through and experienced some amazing stories. They’ve spent hundreds of hours completing the seemingly endless number of fully fleshed out quests in the Witcher 3. They’ve journeyed across a post-apocolyptic united States in the Last of Us. They explored a whole universe of characters and relationships in the original Mass Effect trilogy. And they even traversed the memories of a dying man in To the Moon. Stories in video games can be so, so great, and so fulfilling to experience, as these examples demonstrate.

Yet, all of these examples I’ve given have one thing in common. We blind gamers cannot play any of these games with any amount of success. I’m certainly not throwning any shade at the games themselves, but a fact is a fact. Now sure, we can listen to others enjoy those games, and in all of those examples, I’ve done just that. But the point I believe this blog is going to help drive home, a point that is very, very difficult to convey to non-disabled gamers, is that it’s not the same. Listening to or watching someone else play a game is sharing in their experience, but the experience is still theirs. You can listen to someone play a game, even a choice-driven game like Mass Effect, and sure, you will experience some of the emotional impact of that game, but still, you are missing out on one crucial element. You weren’t the one who made the choice, you weren’t the one who pressed the button. The impact for you is lessened by the fact that it was someone else who ultimately took the actions that lead to that point. You don’t feel like you’re the character, you feel like you’re on the outside looking in, because you are, no matter how much they try to include you. There’s something about the control being in your hands, and entirely your hands. Somehting about making decisions completely uninfluenced by nothing but your own mind. As I said, it’s hard to describe, and hard to convey.

I have come to believe, though, that the fact that we have not truly, fully experienced some of these incredible stories, and even the fact that we cannot in some cases, contributes to a lowering of our standards for story in games. I don’t really mean that as a bad thing. Another way to look at it is that we may tend to be more forgiving toward a story that others don’t necessarily like, whether we’re watching or listening to it, or playing it ourselves. This can result in some very positive experiences.

I recently had one of these experiences myself in Madden 19. Dismissing for a moment my many issues with the gameplay of its story mode, taking a look only at the story itself, I have this to say. Personally, I LOVE the stories in both Madden 18 and 19. Part of me knows that they are full of clichés and commonly used sports movie tropes, but that doesn’t really matter to me. Can you guess why? It’s because I get to experience them for myself. I feel like I am the characters of Devon and Colt because I play through their big moments. I do that. It’s my experience. And the thing is, there aren’t any games I can actually play that can offer me a similar or better experience. So when your personal scope is more limited, you may find appreciation where others find the same old song and dance.

But it goes further. Because my standards are different than the average gamer based on what I’ve played, they even affect my perceptions of games I can’t play. I can give some examples here as well. Mass Effect Andromida was pretty much universally panned, not just because of its animation issues, but also because people claimed it had a largely boring story. Well, though it’s a game I can’t play, I will tell you right now that I personally love what I’ve heard of Andromida’s story so far, and I genuinely look forward to my fiancé finishing it at some point. Yeah, I said it, I love that game. And guess what? Here’s another admission you average gamers probably won’t like much. I like, and can follow, the stories of Final Fantasy XIII parts 1, 2, and 3. Yes, I even like part 3. People always tell me Lightning has a wooden personality, and that the stories are terrible, but personally I don’t see it. I had a blast playing what I could of XIII, and listening to the other games in the series, playing what bits of those games I could, and all the while I enjoyed the story.

I’ve also heard many people say Final Fantasy X-2 is ridiculous. I haven’t even heard that entire game, but I’ll admit right now that I enjoyed what I have heard so far. I’m not sure if general perception of that game stops at the admittedly silly dress sphere concept, but that aside, I think the story’s quite good, and takes some rather dark turns. But here again, maybe that’s my lowered standards of story talking.

Recently, the games we are able to play, including those specifically made for us like A Hero’s Call and Manamon, as well as games modified for accessibility like Madden 19, have helped us grow as gamers in such a way that I believe our standards will eventually start to rise, and potentially equal those of the rest of the gaming community. I still imagine a future where we have a Witcher 3 equivalent, or a Mass Effect equivalent. When I listened to the gameplay trailer for Cyberpunk 2077, something I discuss at length in another blog, I ached to be able to play a game with that much story and that level of detail.

That day is not today, and may not be for many years, but until then, we do have stories to appreciate, and to love. It is as if we, the disabled community, are a couple generations behind, as standards for all gamers have certainly gone up over the years as well. So hey, no matter what we like, let’s like it with all our being, and keep fighting to get on equal ground with everyone else. Let’s just be the gamers we are, and love games, no matter what anyone else thinks. And speaking of thinking, let me know what you think of this blog. Comment, discuss, do all the things. Thanks so much for reading, and continue to be awesome!

Audio Games: Inspiring a Mission of Accessibility

The work that I do these days has a lot of inspirations behind it. We’ve been through many of them on this blog. Today, though, I want to talk about audio games, and their influence on my way of thinking. There are hardworking developers, usually a single individual or team of 2, that make and have made audio only games for the blind, and they don’t get enough credit for their work. It’s time to give them what I can.

The inability to play a lot of video games leaves a lot of holes in our entertainment choices compared to your average sighted individual. Audio game developers sprung forth from this emptiness, seeking to fill those gaps with quality games of all types. Their motivation was to make games resembling those everyone else knew and loved which could be played by the blind. To me, though, they served as both inspiration, and proof positive that my ideas could work.

I can’t even begin to list all the inspirations for me that have come from audio games, but I can go over a few. Audio Games like GMA’s Shades of Doom showed me that shooting enemies blind was possible if you had enough audio indication of where they were. It also showed me that, with a little extra input, we could locate objects lying on the ground. It even had a few secrets for people willing to blow stuff up, which of course I was. It’s a fantastic game that I still enjoy playing today.

Another pretty sweet game called Superliam, created by L-works, taught me that even side-scrolling adventures with occasional platforming elements weren’t out of the question. A fast-paced, sometimes quite intense thrillride, Superliam’s gameplay was frenetic and fun, and I finally got to experience those super Mario moments where you accidentally jump just a little too far off a platform. Whoops!

My mind continued to expand when I played a game called Monkey Business, currently owned by Draconis Entertainment. Monkey business offered up a 3D environment filled with things to find and interact with. One particular level is actually an old western town, and is probably the best example of this. Hear the piano playing in the saloon, walk toward it, and right on into the saloon, where anything might happen next. It felt alive in a way that Shades of Doom didn’t quite replicate with its tight corridors. I personally believe, as crazy as its premis is, it holds up as one of the best audio games to date.

Remember a long time ago when I published my ideas for how a point and click adventure game could be made accessible through the use of interactive menus? Well, that idea was also inspired by audio games like Grizzly Gulch, and Chillingham, both from a developer known as Bavisoft. Sadly, as I understand it, you can no longer play Grizzly Gulch on modern systems, but I’ve heard Chillingham still works. At any rate, those games used systems like that for all of their gameplay. Navigation, inventory management, using one item with another, all of it. Honestly, even combat was sort of menu based, as targets would appear on your left, in the center, or on the right, and you used your arrow keys to switch between those 3 options. Actually, if you were insane, the hard difficulty levels of those games switched things up from 3 options to 5 during combat. It was not easy. I remember both of those games fondly, and still wish Chillingham actually got its sequel. Freakin cliffhangers.

I believe the point has been made here. Audio game developers were the original outside the box thinkers. Their desire to create, and their ingenuity allowed them to come up with amazing ideas that, as far as I’m concerned, developers can apply today. Everyone out there who is a developer of any game, and is looking to make their game blind accessible should check out some audio games. Learn how those developers got around the issues that might exist, and build off of that knowledge to make something awesome happen. These days, we’ve got zombie shooters just for us, we’ve got a card battle game, we even have a couple RPG’s like A Hero’s Call thanks to the entrepreneurship of Out of Sight Games. We’ve got all these, and more as well. You can find more information, and eeven links to these games, on www.audiogames.net

One final clarification. While audio games are, as many other things are, an essential part of the groundwork for making games accessible to the blind, they are still games produced by small teams. This is why I have said before that audio games don’t quite match the scope of today’s epic experiences. This is why the mission of accessibility holds true. You just read that there are actually a lot of audio games out there, and we love them, but we still want to play what everyone else is playing. We still want to play EVERYTHING else. Thanks all for reading, and of course, continue to be awesome!