No Pictures Please! Visually impaired gamers: where to go & what to play!

In the early days of video gaming visually disabled gamers hardly encountered any accessibility problems. Games consisted primarily of text and therefore very accessible for assistive technologies. When the graphical capabilities in games grew, the use of text was reduced and ‘computer games’ transformed into ‘video games’, eventually making the majority of mainstream computer games completely inaccessible. The games played nowadays by gamers with a visual disability can be divided into two categories:

1) games not specifically designed to be accessible (text-based games and video games)

2) games specifically designed to be accessible (audio games, video games that are accessible by original design and video games made accessible by modification).

Text-based games
Text-based games have been in development for at least the past 20 years. These include textadventures (sometimes also referred to as “interactive fiction”), classic tabletop games such as Yathzee and Battleship, and online (HTML-based) Multi-User Dungeons (MUD’s). There are hundreds of these text-based games with many developed in the 1980’s by regular game developers and many more recently with the rise of the Internet by web designers. Unfortunately, text-based games are often very simple, do not offer a lot of variety and lack the ‘computergame’-experience that mainstream games provide. Text-based games are also less common these days.

Mainstream Video games
Some mainstream video games are playable by gamers with a visual disablity due to extensive use of auditory feedback. A fine example is blind gamer Brice Mellen from Lincoln, Nebraska, who beat Ed Boon (developer of Mortal Kombat) in a game of Mortal Kombat. Interestingly, many examples include Fighting Games, such as Tekken, Mortal Kombat and Soul Calibur. The Grand Theft Auto-video games are known to be quite fun to play around with by many visually disabled gamers due to an advanced sound engine as well as the open structure of the game. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of mainstream video games that provide such advanced auditory feedback. And although this type of game is playable by the blind, these games are not fully accessible. For instance, these games still use visual menus without auditory feedback.

Audio games
Audio games are games that consist of sound and have only auditory (so no visual) output. Audio games are not specifically “games for the blind”. But since one does not need vision to be able to play audio games, most audio games are developed by and for the blind community. There are well over 100 audio games. Examples include Drive, Kaze No Regret, Demor, Chillingham, TopSpeed, KM2000, Shades of Doom, Alien Outback, Troopanum, Super Liam, Dynaman and GMA Tank Commander. Audio games are developed by small dedicated companies (1 to 3 developers/designers/programmers), hobby game designers, academics in research projects and gamers themselves. Most audio games are very simple games (compared to mainstream games) and lack much of the properties of mainstream games such as diversity, multiplayer functionality and good replayability.

Video games that are accessible through original design
There are several examples of videogames in which accessibility for the blind has been included throughout the design of the game. Examples include Terraformers, Sudo-San, The Blind Eye, Banjobusters, KM2000, Skyballs, and Tag. Unfortunately, not many examples of this type of game exist and many lack properties of mainstream video games such as good replayability and fun gameplay.

Video games made accessible through modification
Games are sometimes modified by gamers themselves to give it more or different functionality. So by modding a game it is possible to add accessibility-functionality, enabling blind gamers to play a regular game as well. Only one example of this type of game is known and that is Accessible Quake – an accessible modification (or “MOD”) for Quake 1, developed by Matthew Atkinson & Sabahattin Gucukoglu of AGRIP.

Start Gaming
Here’s a summary of resources that will help you find accessible games for visually impaired gamers.

  • AudioGames.net is an online archives of audio games and blind-accessible games and includes developer links, download links, game descriptions and reviews, articles, cheats and walkthroughs, mods, audio reviews and a very popular and active forum to support the community. The site also hosts a few exclusive games, an extensive links list as well as back-issues of Audyssey Magazine.
  • Choice of Games is a website featuring 38 different text-based games. Most of them are multiple-choice, so choose wisely what steps you make. The first levels are free, but if you want to play more you have to buy the game.
  • Voice America radio show for the disabled. Various topics on disability issues. Also with live captions for the hearing impaired. Every Tuesday.
  • PCS Games’ list of developers is a frequently updated list of developers of blind-accessible games, maintained by Phil Vlasak.
  • BlindCoolTech.com offers podcasts and audio-reviews of various blind-accessible games.
  • Interactive Fiction Archive includes thousands of text adventures, text adventure development tools, articles, essays, hint files, walkthroughs, jokes, and sly references to Greek politics, which are all contributed by the interactive fiction community, past and present.
  • Infocom Adventures Online Website offers a service to play many old Infocom adventures such as Zork and The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy online for free.
  • Sebo’s Link Headquarters is a German-language website has a big list of links to blind-accessible games, as well as a list of downloadable games (some of which are quite unknown).
  • Whitestick is a visually impaired information website which features two large lists of links (a list of online games and a list of offline games) to games for the blind.
  • ZoneBBS is a website that offers a variety of online (text-based) games such as Anagrama Mania. Playing games costs points (you recieve an initial 500 points) but by playing the online games you can also recieve points.There’s also an accessible games message board and a file area where you can download older (audio)games and DOS-games such as Othello.

There are various resources for the development of games for and by the visually impaired.

  • The Audio Adventure Engine is an engine that is being developed by Robison Bryan. With it you will be able to create Audio Enhanced Text Adventures, with the option to include still picture illustrations (like comic books), as well as the option to create Real-Time 3Dl Action scenes. Still-pictures will have text descriptions for the Visually Impaired and Audio Captioning will be provided for the hearing impaired as well. The complete gaming system is made of a Language, an Engine, a Wizard and an Explorer/Editor.
  • Ambrosine.com offers a huge list of Game Creation Resources, such as video game development tools, engines and more. Various can be used to create accessible games.
  • The Interactive Fiction Programming Archive contains a lot of used and unused Interactive Fiction (textadventure) authoring toolkits.
  • The RPG Game Engine and Map Maker is an accessible RPG Game Engine which enables visually impaired gamers to make their own Role Playing Games. It includes a Map Maker as well!
  • TiM (co-developed by SITREC) stands for Tactile Interactive Multimedia. TiM is a Research Project funded by the European Commission within the "Information Society Technology" (IST) Program. The overall aim of the TiM project is to provide young visually impaired children, with or without additional disabilities, with multimedia computer games they can access independently, that is without the assistance of a sighted person. TiM is, among other things, a toolkit that can be used to build blind-accessible games.

There are various community places on the Internet such as newsgroups and forums.

  • The AudioGames.net RSS News Feed is an RSS email service where you recieve an email for each post on the AudioGames.net forum.
  • The AudioGames.net Forum can be accessed through this link.
  • The Blind Games newsgroup is a Dutch-language group that discusses audio games and games for visually impaired players.
  • The Blind Gamers list originated from the Audyssey Magazine web site where visually impaired people discuss new and existing computer games. Blind Puzzlers is an email list for those interested in swapping information about accessible word and logic puzzles. To join send a blank email to blind-puzzlers-subscribe@smartgroups.com.
  • Gameport is a German-language group that discusses everything related to blind-accessible gaming, from hardware to software.

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