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.

  1. Inability to change the colour and style of the crosshair. This option was available in older games and was very useful for me. Accuracy is very important in FPS games, so it is really frustrating not being able to see the crosshair clearly.
  2. Enemy tagging icons. Usually enemies in games are marked red which is quite understandable. However in dark locations it fails for me as I am totally colour blind. In a great game such as A Plague Tale: Innocence aiming precisely for the opponent’s head in dark areas is really difficult. It would be very helpful if an option to change the colour of such icons into some bright colours existed.
  3. Minimaps. Some action games that have large open worlds (S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Dying Light) have a small map in the corner of the screen, where you can see the direction and lots of little icons regarding your mission and other statuses. Looking at that map is really painful for short-sighted people. Of course I can always open the regular large map but it does not help with the gameplay. How convenient it would be if the player was able to change the size of this tiny map.
  4. Quick Time Events. The choice sequences in which a game makes you press certain buttons in short amount of time are really unnerving for gamers with disabilities. The player has to quickly realise what button has to be pressed and immediately take action, so it is based on the player’s reflexes. Games like Detroit: Become Human or Man of Medan have action sequences that consist mainly of QTEs, and there is no way to disable them. However the aforementioned Man of Medan has an option in which the sequences stay on screen until you press a button.
  5. Very small subtitles or subtitles displayed on non contrast backgrounds. I do not have to tell you how difficult it is to read them.
  6. Too many visual stimulants. When too much is happening on the screen, it is very stressful for the eyes, not to mention the brain. A good example would be the Observer game, although having some very good ideas and an interesting story. The game delivers long sequences which attack you with so many visual effects, transitions etc. that it makes you feel like being thrown into the dream of a madman. I know it was the devs’ artistic vision but this is a really painful experience.
Accessibility options in Man of Medan

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.

Executive Editor

Izabela Besztocha

Independent games enthusiast, mainly horror games, paying close attention to sound design. Dreaming of becoming a sound designer. Dissonance, distortion and other unpleasant sounds is what she enjoys to listen to most.