Ready, Set, Game!

From nostalgic memories to amazing gaming sessions with friends, video games have a special place in the hearts of many. My first gaming experience was when I was 5 years old. My parents had bought my brother the PlayStation 2, and I wanted to try my hand at playing with him. I quickly learned that I had a knack for one-on-one fighting games, and I also found an interest in sports and action-adventure games. I remember spending many evenings competing against my brother in the various kinds of games we liked, and I admittedly got a little upset after the times he would beat me. In the moment, however, I just enjoyed the entertainment video games provided us.

As a few years passed, my vision, along with my interest in gaming, started to decline. I wasn’t able to play many of the games that I loved anymore and each time I tried getting back into playing them, I would become more and more frustrated. I would spend time confusedly pressing buttons, and when it didn’t lead to any progression in the game, I would just deem the game to be inaccessible for me. I know it may sound silly to be upset over not being able to play video games for a while, but to me it felt as if my vision loss was now dictating what I could or couldn’t do anymore.

It wasn’t until I was 13 that my perception of gaming changed. My brother told me that he had gotten an action-adventure game named Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, which was based on a popular TV show we both liked, and he invited me to just watch alongside while he played. I thought “why not”? It won’t be the same as playing it myself but maybe I would enjoy it anyways. To this day, I consider that game to be my favourite game of all time because that was the game that brought back my interest in gaming again.

It started off slow, with me just watching my brother play through the game. As time passed, however, I would help him make decisions that would impact the way the game would play out. After memorizing things such as different maps within the world, corresponding buttons for action sequences, and items in various menus within the game, I began to play the game on my own. I was no longer frustrated when I couldn’t do a particular task as easily as others could. Instead, I saw it as a challenge and was having fun playing the game. I slowly got into playing all the games that I used to enjoy in the past and began trying out many different genres as well.

This reawakening of interest in video games led me to develop a simple video game that was designed for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. It was a simple maze that was littered with traps, with the objective being to reach the end without getting caught in any one of them. Sound effects indicated whether there was any danger nearby and players had to navigate through the game by listening alone. It was a really fun experience, and since I was in the 8th grade at the time, I was able to present it to interested students in my class.

People tend to be surprised when I tell them that I enjoy playing video games as a visually impaired individual. They attribute the experience of gaming to be an incredibly visual one, and they don’t understand how I would successfully play the same games that they do. The fact of the matter is that we enjoy all of the same aspects of a game as anyone who is sighted. Captivating storytelling, clean and easy to follow action sequences, and an interactive and immersing game world are just a few of the aspects we enjoy. Memorizing particular rhythms of patterns that correspond to the gameplay, taking the time to memorize menus and items, and personally finding aid with a console controller with vibrations that indicate actions against your player are some strategies that make video games possible for me to play.

I also find comfort in the fact that more and more game developers are including accessible features within their games. From video games being designed specifically for individuals who are blind or visually impaired, such as A Blind Legend and Lost and Hound, to the inclusion of accessibility settings and features such as menu narration and descriptive sound effects as present in Mortal Kombat 11, Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Zombies Mode, and the Last of Us Part II. The culture of video games has not only provided me with great memories and endless entertainment, but has also taught me some valuable lessons about patience and resiliency.

by Ishita Bhatia