I perked right up when I got the message on Twitter. “Hey, wanna play some MKX?” Of course I did. MKX just HAPPENS to be one of my favorite games, and if one of my friends actually WANTS to get completely and utterly destroyed, I would be happy to oblige. So I picked up the controller, put on the totally rockin PS4 Platinum Wireless Headset, and turned the console on. Before long, I heard the soothing voice of the PS4’s text to speech synthesizer welcoming me back to Playstation. I smiled and pressed X to sign into my profile. I would be fighting head to head in mere minutes.
Just in case the text to speech thing wasn’t quite enough to clue you in, allow me to introduce myself. Hello, I am Brandon Cole, and I am a totally blind gamer. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the friend that challenged me in that scenario I gave you is also totally blind. Yeah, we’re out there, and I’m going to tell you a little bit about how we do this video gaming thing. Better yet, I’m going to use that same scenario to illustrate it.
The PS4’s on, and I’m pumped. I move across the home screen interface of the PS4, and locate Mortal Kombat X. I am helpfully told this by the text to speech again, but I could also have gone into its dynamic menu by pressing the down arrow to hear some of the music from the game. One more press of the X button, and the game launches. We’re almost there.
Now, the game has launched. I know its main menu like the back of my hand. First there’s one player, then two player, then online and so on. These menus don’t talk of course, so I had no choice but to memorize them. Oh, the hardships of being a blind gamer! Actually I don’t really mean that. Menu memorization is something we blind gamers are more than willing to do if it means we get to play a game. In this particular scenario, though, I would select nothing from this menu. Instead, I would wait.
A few moments later, I heard the PS4’s notification sound. As of this writing, the text to speech feature does not read these, but in this case I knew what it was for, and even if I didn’t, the iPhone app sends me a helpful message to let me know what the notification contains. The accessibility of the iPhone, well, that’s another story entirely. Anyway, this time it was a party invitation. I pressed the PS button on the controller, used text to speech to find “parties” in the function screen, and joined the party my friend had invited me to. Keep in mind his end of the deal, creating the party and inviting me to it, was also all done using text to speech.
Before long, we were bantering about this and that, trash talking each other as we got set to fight, that sort of thing. You know, just like gamers everywhere. Because he had already begun the process, again using menu memorization, he set up the match between us, and invited me to that as well. Once I heard that notification sound, I immediately pressed the PS button again, then X. This is because if you do so fast enough, you are placed immediately into the notification you just received. I knew this was his challenge, so I jumped right in. Interestingly enough, text to speech does not read these either.
As we wait to connect, guess what we do? That’s right, more trash talk! Then at last, we’re connected in the game and on the character select screen. I zip right to my main man Liu Kang, as I already know where he is, but once again I’m covered even if I didn’t know. First, if I had just waited a second after highlighting him, he would appear to perform a little animation, which also has its own associated audio. And second of course, once I press X on him, the announcer helpfully yells out “Liu Kang!” Cause ya know, if I didn’t know before, I know now.
And so, the fight begins. This is where, you might think, things get complicated. Really, though, that’s not actually the case, because guess what? We learn the moves and combos and special moves and pokes and jump-ins and range just like anyone else does. We can’t see them, but games like Mortal Kombat X do stereo panning very, very well, and using this we can figure out bunches of things, such as how far away our opponent is from us, or… OH GOD! HE’S JUMPING RIGHT AT ME! We can even do really cool –looking stuff like jump over an oncoming fireball, plenty of which my opponent will be doing in this set of matches.
Now, at some point during this match, I decide to have a bit of fun. It’s time for a triple threat of incoming attacks that my opponent probably will not have an answer for. Probably. So, I send a low fireball streaking toward him, then grab a conveniently-placed old woman and throw her at him, then streak toward him myself with a leaping flying kick. And just in case you’re not an MKX player yourself, yes, the conveniently-placed old woman is a real in-game element, and her name is Blanche.
But how, I now hear your tiny voice asking, did I know Blanche was ever-so-patiently waiting there for me to throw her at my opponent? Well, I knew that because Netherrealm, the studio who created MKX, is an awesome bunch of folks, and they actually added a feature specifically for the visually impaired. Don’t be alarmed if you’ve never noticed this, as it has to be activated separately, and is sort of subtle even if it is activated. Anyway, there is an option to turn on environmental interaction audio queues. This means that, if there is a conveniently-placed lion you can leap off of during the fight, or an object you can throw such as the previously-mentioned Blanche, and you’re standing near such an object, a tone will play on the side where you’re standing to let you know that option is available to you. It’s a small, but extremely helpful edition, trust me.
I would tell you next about how I utterly destroyed my opponent, and ended the match by kicking him into 2 very distinct pieces, but I think you get the idea. This would go on for hours, because fighting is fun! I mean, fighting amongst friends is… Er, I mean, fighting in a game, in a competitive but friendly fashion is fun. There. I think that one works.
The thing is, all of this only scratches the surface. There are other genres of games we play, such as music rhythm games, and there are other games that turn out to be accessible to the totally blind by accident, such as Resident Evil 6. And now, with accessibility becoming a much bigger issue in the mainstream, maybe we’ll see even more games we can enjoy right alongside our sighted neighbors. For now, though, know that we blind gamers aren’t a myth. We’re gonna keep on playing the games we can, and trying the ones we’re not sure of because hey, you never know. Welcome to our world! Come on in!