With video games being such a visual form of entertainment, playing can be difficult as a visually impaired person. I was born with a partially detached retina and developed glaucoma when I was a newborn in the ICU, back then doctors didn’t know they had to cover a premature baby’s eyes to prevent vision damage. I grew up with nearsightedness, blurry vision, and suffered from terrible migraines whenever I read or focused on a screen for too long. At age five my mom got me my first gaming console, a PlayStation One, and visual impairments be damned, I was hooked! I now own the five main PlayStation consoles, a Nintendo Switch, and a gaming laptop. My favorite games being Spyro, The Sims, Whiplash, God of War, Werewolf The Apocalypse: Earthblood, Kirby, Pokemon Sword, Skyrim, and Ghost of Tsushima.
I am a gamer, but it hasn’t always been easy. Oftentimes I have to get way too close to my 42 inch TV screen to be able to see, especially when it comes to reading text, or if I don’t want to get up I’d pull out my iPhone and zoom in with my camera. In situations like that, there often isn’t any way in-game to make things bigger or to make them stand out, so I have to rely on outside help. Recently Sony has implemented great accessibility features for visually impaired and blind players, such as being able to zoom in, invert colors, high contrast mode, bigger and bolder text, a screen reader, closed captions, and chat transcriptions, however these are very limited in their use, they do not apply to all games, and are mainly used for the PS5’s Home Screen, the PlayStation Store, and PlayStation Plus. Sony’s design choice of making button prompts in PS5 games colorless and instead being black shapes on white backgrounds is a detriment to a visually impaired player’s experience, I can tell that when I see pink on a gray button that it wants me to press square and I can tell that when I see red on a gray button that it want me to press circle, but differentiating between shapes is much harder than colors.
I will speak about two games in regards to how accessible they are to the visually impaired, one that is lacking slightly in accessibility and one that should be used as a role model for accessibility in all future games. The first is Ghost of Tsushima. This samurai, action-adventure, stealth game made me feel like a badass as I was leaping off of rooftops to drive my sword into the spines of my enemies, throwing sharp blades to slice their throats from the grasses, and making them turn against their allies with a little poison. Those badass moments were thanks in part to the difficulty settings and the accessibility settings for people who might need assistance while aiming, who want to see where attacks are coming from, and who want a less intense combat experience. The more visible guiding wind was also a benefit, as more white streaks would appear on the screen. The Focused Hearing power which allowed me to see enemies highlighted in a dim red color and slowed down time was also invaluable as I can scan my surroundings and plan my sneak attacks, and that wasn’t even an accessibility feature.
Now, let’s talk about one of the not so great aspects of GoT when it comes to accessibility for the visually impaired, the map. When you start playing the map is shrouded in a fog of war, in this case it is all white, meaning that if you want to see it clearly you have to free settlements or travel. When the map becomes clear specific parts will change to a dark gray color, while bodies of water will remain white. Before the fog is lifted, town and village names and points of interest marked by question marks will be on a white on white background. Even a person with 20/20 vision will have trouble seeing those areas. An option to change the colors of map markers would have prevented me from having to strain my eyes, pulling out my phone to zoom in, or looking up GoT maps online. The cursor being all white also contributes to the struggle of navigating a fresh map.
Other frustrating parts of GoT were the parts where I had to follow tracks, whether human or animal. The tracks are often obscured by grass, are difficult to spot in the dirt or mud, and a mission or two requires you to track at night. There were no options to highlight the tracks, the way other popular games such as The Witcher does, to be able to see them more clearly. And in the very first tracking mission where you tracked a wounded bear in a flashback the sun was in my face, making it even more difficult to see much of anything.
Of course there were some funny blind moments for me in GoT, like running my horse off several cliffs (Hey, it’s a no risk method for getting off high places, and my horse was invincible, Until he wasn’t… Stupid plot…), confusing other white horses and even a white bull for my horse (This isn’t a cowboy game and I wasn’t at a rodeo), and trying to talk to an armored mannequin (One of my visually impaired friends got into an argument with a real mannequin once, it was being rude and not answering his questions). All in all, GoT is a wonderful game and I forget the last time I strived to complete a game fully, while I am looking forward to a sequel I hope Sucker Punch takes strides in implementing more accessibility features to make player’s experiences more enjoyable.
The second game I want to address is God of War Ragnarök. The game’s accessibility features, for disabilities of all types, made the game so much easier to complete. There are accessibility presets for vision, hearing, motion, and motor. Vision presets offers larger text, high contrast mode, color coding enemies, collectables, NPC’s, ravens, and enemies, lock-ons, traversal assist, audio cues, and puzzle assist. Hearing presets offer larger subtitles and captions, speaker names and direction indicators, and even help in combat to avoid surprise attacks from off-screen. Motion reduction presets helps players with motion sensitivity and reduces camera shakes and quick movements both in-game and in cutscenes, it also puts a dot in the center of the screen to keep the eyes focused. Motor presets offer travel assist, auto sprint and grab, tapping a button instead of holding, and lock-on options to assist in combat.
Every preset option can also be customized to the player’s needs. For example, I needed extra time and aim assist on puzzles, single button presses in some cases, larger text, highlight a target in a brighter color, make the traversal markings a brighter yellow, and changing more things about the subtitles. Making the targets that I throw my ax at or shoot with my bow brighter colors made puzzles a little less frustrating, I still had to figure out how to solve the puzzle (Or give up and look at a YouTube tutorial) but I didn’t waste my time throwing my ax at a spot that wouldn’t help. I didn’t need all the accessibility features, but I was so glad that they were there, and I hope every game uses God of War, Spider-Man Miles Morales, and the award winning Last Of Us Part II as role models when making their games, because gaming is for everyone.