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Guest Post by Erawan, my “Blind Buddy,” On Being a Visually Impaired Gamer

July 30, 2014

Dear Reader,

Stubborn wanted me to shed some light on blind gaming, unfortunately I would need to see that light first.

It has been over a year now that I have been blind, well, legally blind (20/200 or worse), and I have more or less accepted the fact that my vision is unlikely to improve. I have gone through several procedures, including surgery on both eyes, to try to correct the damage that was done by diabetes.  I have received several injections directly to the eye to try to reduce the swelling on the retina but to no avail.

The next  step is an implant that time releases medicine to try to get the swelling down. I will also require cataract surgery, but if the swelling can’t be reduced significantly then my vision will only get progressively worse despite the fact that I have completely changed my lifestyle habits.  My vision has improved much since I first started having problems.  The vessels in the eyes get so damaged by the excess sugar that eventually blood hemorrhages into the liquid between the retina and the lens (vitreous).  

For months, all I could see were colors, but two surgeries to replace the vitreous and subsequent laser treatments will, with a little luck, prevent those hemorrhages from occurring again.  If someone had told me to stop guzzling the soda and shoveling the fried foods fifteen years ago I would’ve ignored them;  if there’s one takeaway I hope this post conveys is  that.  

That’s enough about my problems though; I’ll focus on the topic at hand.

My sight is such now that the only way I can see the computer screen is to pull the monitor less than the width of the keyboard. Even then I need to magnify websites to much larger type in order to see it.

A lot of games just aren’t viable for me to play anymore. Most FPS’s are out of the question especially when things are in the distance as I can just barely see the movement.  In a game like Monaco with the old school graphics I was unable to discern the characters from the backgrounds, especially if they weren’t moving.

Playing WOW can be a challenge too. In order to see pertinent information I have to squint and focus on one quadrant of the screen at a time.  Ground effects or dbm warnings in the middle, health bar in the corner, chat channels on the side or hotkeys on the bottom; I just can’t see them all at once anymore and it leads to slower reaction times and some frustration as well.  I frequently miss tells sent to me because I just can’t focus on that section of the screen.

We recently started leveling characters in Elder Scrolls Online (ESO).  I won’t get into a review of ESO, but it is valid in this discussion so I’ll briefly mention it.  I am frequently falling behind because I am slower reading the quest text and figuring out where to go via the map, pertinent character information, etc.  It can get disheartening when you miss a quest mob and everyone else is now a couple steps further on the chain. Then, of course, you get chastised for not being on the same step from one’s teammates.

Whether intentionally or not, Blizzard has implemented several visual enhancements that are invaluable to my condition.  Most lootable items in WOW have a sparkle which is glaringly absent in ESO.  It can be argued that the sparkle makes questing too easy; I can no longer apply this to myself.  Also, most ground effects have a pretty discernible border which makes it easier to avoid.  Stubborn recommended an addon that makes an annoying noise when you are standing in some ground effect; it is undeniably a must have one for the visually impaired.  Obviously, heroic raiding is way beyond my capabilities, but I have full cleared Siege of Orgrimmar on normal as tank.  I even successfully did the belt on Siegecrafter.  I don’t know what sadist assigned me to that but I got through it somehow!


Erawan (siege belt superhero)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2014 6:22 pm

    Thanks Erawan! I am always amazed how people with impairments to hearing and vision can play computer games and I know if I ended up with those same problems I would like to be able to play. Wouldn’t it be nice if the quests were spoken to you like they were in SWTOR? I bet that would make things a lot easier! Stubborn, this is a good way to keep posts up AND be lazy by not writing as well /grin

  2. Malchiah permalink
    July 30, 2014 9:41 pm

    Great post. I’d love to hear more as I feel this is probably an issue very rarely discussed in gaming circles. I don’t know how many game companies take this into account when designing a game, though I’m sure some do to a degree. Being able to tweak the UI is vital in these circumstances and WoW has been good about that. If all quests had both text and speech incorporated into the design, that would also improve accessibility.

    Stubborn posted something a while back about an indie game that changed their design in response to player feedback and I’d like to see this happen more often.

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