Some years ago I was playing Layers of Fear with my friend. At some point of the gameplay my character turned around, and my friend said: “Oh, now all the world turned black and white!”. I responded: “I do not see any difference.”.
Yes, I am totally colour blind, I also have several more visual disabilities. And I play video games. In this article I will try to explain how I deal with that kind of entertainment and what a person like me might find useful or annoying during gameplay.
A good audio, besides adding a lot to the overall immersion, allows me to locate enemies or expect what might happen next.
As I am visually impaired, it is natural that I have good hearing and rely on this sense much more than other people do. This feature is called compensation. This is why I pay close attention to the audio design of the game. A good audio, besides adding a lot to the overall immersion, allows me to locate enemies or expect what might happen next.
A good example of how the sound design can be helpful in gemaplay, is Alien: Isolation. The main enemy in this game can appear anytime and anywhere, and as you cannot kill it, the determination of its location is crucial to your survival. This also makes Alien: Isolation scary for each playthrough. The Xenomorph emits various sounds, it hisses, roars and screams, and its footsteps are also distinctive and loud. Listening to these sounds carefully allows the player to move forward without the risk of confrontation. Just wait until the creature jumps into the ventilation duct and you can keep (carefully) going. Of course you can use the location device but I do not have to mention that much more fun and comfortable than staring into a dot on the radar is to use your own pair of ears. Also, the sound of the device may alert the Alien if it is nearby.
Another great use of audio design is Dead Space. Like in Alien: Isolation, the enemies use the vent ducts to move. The sounds they make while crawling in there are not only scary but allow me to determine where the creatures are and that I have to expect a nearby attack. They make a lot of noise while fighting as well, so that makes me predict how many of them are still left. But one of the scariest scenes happens when you enter a corridor and the lights go down. You suddenly hear crawling right above you and when you look up, the creature is really there.
Unfortunately the studios do not get involved much in accessibility matters.
Such a good implementation of sound effects is well executed in Dying Light. As you have to be in constant motion while fighting and escaping hordes of zombies, the fact that it is easy to determine their location by the sounds they make is really helpful. You can hear clearly which side the zombie is running at you and hearing it almost sitting on your back while chasing you is an unforgettable experience. I can determine if there is a group of them nearby and how fast they move.
I also would like to mention two older games that have a sound design I find helpful in locating the enemies. Even such an old game as Quake has something like a warning system. The game emits characteristic audio cues if danger is nearby. Not much, but it helps. Another example is F.E.A.R. and its enemy communication system. The soldiers still report and give each other orders, and if they call for backup it means almost entire squad has been eliminated.
I left something really special for the end. It is the soundtrack for Get Even. So far I focused on the sound design but in this case it is the score (mixed skillfully with the audio design) that makes this game a truly interactive experience, and helps me during the gameplay. The changes in music while the enemy approaches and the tension being built while proceeding forward are good indicators that something is going to happen, and it really helps me with the sense of direction in the game. It is not simply battle music and exploration music, like in many today’s productions.
What I mentioned above is useful for me while playing games, but such features were designed by the developers regarding an average player, not a player with special needs. Unfortunately the studios do not get involved much in accessibility matters. However, there are some praiseworthy exceptions, like the ability to enlarge the subtitles in Layers of Fear 2 and Blair Witch (both games by Bloober Team). The developers of the latest installment of Doom added a video option which allows to adjust the graphics for people with various forms of colour blindness. The Chinese Room studio adapted their highly acclaimed Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture game to the needs of people with visual, hearing and manual disabilities. The latest Supermassive Games production, Man of Medan, also has a menu section regarding accessibility. Such examples make me believe that the problems of gamers with special needs will be considered more and more important for the devs in the future.
There is still much to do in gaming industry for us, so it is important to make the developers aware of our special needs.
I described what I find helpful during gameplay, so now I will explain what makes the gameplay hard for me.
In this article I described my own experiences as a video gamer with visual disabilities. It is written from my perspective but I can assume many visually impaired players may agree with my observations, and if they do not or have something more to add, I will gladly know their opinions. The gamers with other kinds of disabilities are also welcome. There is still much to do in gaming industry for us, so it is important to make the developers aware of our special needs. Video games are part of entertainment and art, and as there are movies with audiodescription or audiobooks, they also should be accessible for everyone.