Let’s Talk About Let’s Plays

I have said before that we disabled gamers out there long to play games ourselves. We want the same experiences we know others are getting, and just watching a Let’s Play isn’t enough, as it is still someone else’s experience. This remains true, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still watch Let’s Plays, to get from some games what we can. We love video games, after all. So, if you’re a let’s player out there, or someone who is thinking about starting a Let’s Play of a game, this one’s for you. You see, there are things you can do, things some Let’s Players already do, that make things just a bit better for us in the visually impaired category. I want to talk about those things, and also give some mention to a couple folks who already set pretty good examples. A quick note before we begin, though. This really applies to any disability, though the examples I give here focus on visual impairment.

A lot of what playing games for people is, or at least what it should be, is knowing your audience. As your viewership grows, so does its diversity. As word gets around about you, you’ll attract various different types of people. Maybe, just maybe, one of these types is visually impaired. If you get a message in a comment, or in live chat, from a visually impaired viewer who enjoys your content, consider doing what you can to give them the best experience possible. In an ideal world, it would be great if all let’s players did these things automatically, but that’s not the world we live in, so doing them in response to learning that you have that audience will suffice.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, read the text. Even today, many games rely on text-only dialog and story events. If a blind person is watching a let’s play, they obviously wouldn’t be able to read and appreciate these things without your help. Imagine playing an incredible game like Undertale and not being able to read any of the text, or see any of the graphics. Suddenly, the game goes from being the wondrous experience it is to a collection of sound effects. Undertale lives on its story. Take that away, and you essentially have nothing.

Next, be descriptive. We know your audience is likely primarily composed of sighted people, but we’d like to know what that cool thing that just happened was as well. You can disclaim it by saying you’re describing something for your visually impaired viewers if you feel it’s necessary, and no you don’t have to describe absolutely everything, but when an especially neat, or even an especially awful thing happens, it would be nice, and you will be appreciated for it. Again, we know we’re not your only audience. We get that it would take a lot to describe every single room you enter, and every single character you meet. The goal here is to simply provide us as much of the experience you’re having as you can, as you do automatically for the sighted folks who view your content.

Keep in mind that both of these things involve you. They require interaction which, I can’t stress enough, should be a staple quality of any content creator. We blind folks are not likely to watch playthroughs without commentary unless we’re doing it for a second to get a taste of a game’s audio. If you are one of those people who stays involved, if you do communicate with your viewers, great! These are just a couple ways you can keep us involved.

Now, a couple shoutouts. These are people who, for whatever reason, already do the things I’ve described. They set great examples for Let’s Players out there, and should be checked out if that’s what you’re looking for. First, there is Darksyde Phil, who can be found on www.twitch.tv/darksydephil where he streams gameplay almost every day. That gameplay is uploaded to his Youtube channel, www.youtube.com/dspgaming Phil is a colorful individual, and most certainly not PG rated, but he is very considerate of his audience. He reads most, and sometimes all game text, and he ensures subtitles are always on for the hearing impaired as well. Check him out if you want examples of these things with some colorful humor thrown in.

Second, a channel that actually exists for the soul purpose of describing gameplay to the blind. I introduce you to Audio Described Gaming, found at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0liuqhnIvfLbMeL-g3THoA
This individual sadly hasn’t uploaded a new video in a few months, but has several playthroughs, including the previously-mentioned Undertale, that might interest any blind gamer out there. This guy does it all, actually taking the painstaking time to describe every room, every character, and every major in-game moment, along with of course reading the text. He’s a true soldier for us, and I am not alone in wishing he had more content to offer.

That about does it for this particular blog. For my blind readers, I hope I have accurately described the things we’re looking for, and maybe that I introduced you to a new Let’s Player you didn’t know about before. For everyone else, I hope I gave you something to think about in case you ever considered doing a let’s play of your own. Thanks for reading, all, and as always, continue to be awesome!

I Think I’d Play That: Suspension of Uncertainty

Here’s a question for all you sighted readers out there. Have you ever looked at a game, maybe via a trailer, or maybe even actual gameplay, and thought “Hmm. I might like to play that game, but I’m not sure.” Have you had a situation where you remain undecided until the very moment you play the game? I ask you to consider that feeling for a second, and then apply it to a situation in which a game someone may wish to try is inaccessible to them. Pretty lousy, huh? Well, let’s talk about it.

The inspiration for this blog came from a conversation about, of all things, Fortnite. I know that, in its current form, Fortnite is inaccessible to the blind. I can listen to others play it, though, and have done so, but during this conversation I’ve mentioned, I realized something. Even though I’ve listened to many, many Fortnite matches, I am even now unsure if I would like the game even if I could play it. I was intrigued by this feeling, and decided to consider it more deeply.

On the one hand, I personally am a very story-driven gamer. I love a game with a narrative I can sink my teeth into. Fortnite has almost none of that. This is an automatic turnoff. It would, I should think, be very difficult for me to get into a game that doesn’t have one of my favorite aspects of gaming. Yet, I enjoy games like Feer, a game I blogged about previously, and offered tremendous praise to. So… Maybe it wouldn’t matter after all?

Looking at Fortnite’s positives, though, it’s tremendously popular for a reason. It has loads and loads of ever-changing challenges to complete, it has lots of unlockables and game mechanics, and it even has world events that chane aspects of the game. All this sounds great. It sounds like it would really hook me, and enable me to get past the things it doesn’t have. All that on top of an ability to play the game with my friends would admittedly be pretty awesome.

This is where it gets unique, though. For me, for us blind gamers, that’s where the consideration ends. Not only can we not play Fortnite, but we don’t have a Fortnite equivalent that we can play either. So this wonderment I feel, this question of whether I would get into it if I could play it or not, will never have an answer, or rather, won’t have one until some very drastic things happen in the world of accessible gaming. Minecraft is another case like this, where I’m not sure if I’d end up liking it or not.

Again, there isn’t really a message here, save for the constant push to further the cause of accessibility. I was just stricken by how intriguing our position as gamers is sometimes. Our gaming palates aren’t even fully formed, as blind accessibility hasn’t broken into some genres just yet. It’s an interesting thought, and that’s really the only point I had. I hope all this has interested you in some way as well, and I thank you for reading my ramblings. As always, continue to be awesome!

It’s OK to be Wrong: The Resident Evil 7 Revelation

“Nah, Resident Evil 7 isn’t playable at all by the blind,” I proclaimed to many people. “It’s missing all the features that made Resident Evil 6 playable, like the map trick we use. Plus the layout requires you to do a lot of backtracking, and also I tried the demo… Yeah, it’s not gonna work.” I’ve been saying this for a while now, as my discussions of Resident Evil 6 often lead to talk of Resident Evil 7. Well, it turns out, I was completely and totally wrong. Blind people have apparently been completing the game right under my giant nose, utterly ignoring the fact that I had dismissed it entirely. But how could this be? Am I not supposed to be knowledgeable about these things? Well, let’s discuss.

Here’s the first fun fact. People, as it turns out, are wrong all the time. Experts are wrong at least some of the time. It happens. There are many contributing factors to this. In the case of Resident Evil 7, I believe my problem was that I was holding it up to what Resident Evil 6 was, which is really quite a different game, rather than looking at it in a new light. I was concerned that I couldn’t navigate as easily, yet after following the examples I heard about and trying to play the game again, I discovered that with a little more patience, I could get to where I was going. I was concerned about the fact that ammunition was considerably less in RE7 than in RE6. I’m not far enough in the game that I can confirm how much of a problem this is, but facing facts, people have obviously gotten around this issue. These things are understandably difficult to argue when the facts are in front of you.

But here, folks, is the second fun fact. All of this, all of it, is OK. It’s OK that I was wrong, it’s OK for anyone to be wrong. It’s almost great, even. It shows the perseverance and determination of the blind gaming community that they kept trying, and found a way. It shows the depth of what accessibility means, and how things can be different even for those with the same disability. It stresses the importance of options when creating accessibility features, or in my opinion, any features.

We should, as a community, continue to feed each other what information we can about the games we play. We need to keep talking about them, teaching each other how we were successful at this or that game, and accepting as well that we, even amongst ourselves, are different. We all have different strengths and different skill levels, but so do the members of any other gaming community. To be clear, I’m not saying these things aren’t happening, just that they should continue. I just think an example like this brings their importance to the forefront. It’s a big world out there, and there are a lot of games in it. Let’s keep trying, keep playing, and keep working to make the ones we can’t play more accessible for everyone. Thanks as always for reading, and continue to be awesome!

Echoes from Levia: Echoes From my Mind

There is a game out there for IOS called Echoes From Levia: Soulbound. It is an audio game, made so it can be played by the totally blind. I have recently completed this game, and I have what may be some unique impressions of it that I wish to discuss. Impressions that are, at least, very different from those of my friends. Let’s get into it.

Firstly, I’m going to be completely, perhaps brutally honest. There is a lot wrong with Echoes from Levia: Soulbound. The game controls extremely poorly, feeling unresponsive most of the time, and slow and clunky the rest of the time. There isn’t a moment in the game where this isn’t plain. Movement is slow, and combat which should be, honestly, extremely simple, may not work out that way because of the game’s tendency to fail to recognize your input. Since you can only take a few hits, this just makes the game all the more frustrating.

On top of that, the voice acting is almost universally bad. When it isn’t, when a voice actor demonstrates their talent, they are hampered by poor dialog writing and direction. The editing, too, is a problem, as weird decisions made during editing completely take away any emersion. If several characters are supposed to speak at the same time, say while raising a toast and saying “Cheers,” they are never allowed to do so. Instead, each individual voice plays about a third of a second apart, making the whole thing sound like a seriously coordinated sitcom bit. It is, well, it’s cringeworthy.

It seems clear that Echoes from Levia: Soulbound was inspired by A Blind Legend, which is a game that plays similarly, but does literally everything better. Movement is not clunky, combat while still simplistic is actually fun and responsive, and the story, writing, and voice acting are all decent, though still not great. A Blind Legend is a good audio game that, given its 4 star rating on IOS, I would say did pretty well, and it seems Echoes from Levia is attempting to capitalize on its success.

Now here’s where things get interesting. I am aware that I have been quite harsh with Echoes of Levia, and I think that, given its pricetag, it’s worthy of that criticism. After all, even Frequency Missing is a better game, with better gameplay and voice acting, and it’s free. However, I still believe Echoes from Levia should be acknowledged for its attempt to iterate on games of this type. Yes, it is a bad game, but it did try some new things as well. For instance, when you’re walking through a city in Echoes from Levia, you’ll come across little cut scenes that feature random townspeople discussing events, or in some cases being a part of them on the side. These aren’t side quests or anything, just additional plot development which, I’m pretty sure, you can miss if you choose not to approach them. A Blind Legend, meanwhile, stays very linear and focused on the task at hand. It works well enough for that story, but there are some areas where A Blind Legend could have benefited from a side jaunt or 2. A Blind Legend never really asks you to explore, Echoes does try to do that.

Second, Echoes from Levia contains some pretty neat puzzle segments, requiring you to move carefully with very little room for error in order to find the solution. These are the game’s high point in my opinion, and again A Blind Legend’s focus on story progression and combat means these don’t really exist as much. It’s another touch that makes Echoes stand out, and deserves at least some acknowledgement.

So Echoes critics, I hear you. I am ultimately one of you. However, iteration doesn’t happen without developers willing to take risks and try new things, and I think Echoes at least achieves that. If the good things about Echoes can be applied to a game that plays, and is written as good as or better than A Blind Legend, we’ll have a fantastic product on our hands. I hope you found something to take away from this blog, and as always, I thank you for reading. Continue to be awesome!

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!