Blind and partially sighted people want to enjoy same videogames as their peers
Blind and partially sighted people in Scotland and Northern Ireland have come together to explore how they can enjoy the same videogames as their sighted peers, and press developers to make gaming software more accessible.
Set up by sight loss charity RNIB, members of the group are taking part in a weekly online call, sharing their own experiences of gaming and which games they've found most accessible.
"They're an incredibly motivated and positive bunch, and I'm very excited to see where they take things," said James Kyle, RNIB Scotland's community connection coordinator.
"Already the group are discussing ways to play games together outside of the weekly meetings, making YouTube content for their own channels, and possibly fundraising as a group for RNIB as well."
However, the majority of video games at present aren't accessible to players with sight loss, says James, although this does vary.
There are more accessible games on iPhone and iPad than on PlayStation and Xbox game consoles, for instance, he explains. "But thankfully, the situation is improving. In the past few years, a number of big games have added narrated menu systems, more flexible 'difficulty options', and more audio cues to convey extra information to the visually impaired player.
"The current leader is 'The Last of Us, Part 2', an action game released this year for the PlayStation 4 game console. It incorporates audio cues, high-contrast modes, and gameplay adaptations to offer blind players a similar experience to that of a fully sighted player.
"The developer, Naughty Dog, invited the disabled gaming community, including blind and partially sighted gamers, to test and provide feedback on the new features they were developing. As a result, the suite of accessibility features and options were far more useful to disabled players."
New technology should by its very nature be adaptable to different people's needs, says James. Text can be enlarged, colour contrast-enhanced, and audio description and cues added. "People with sight loss can already enjoy accessible books, films and television thanks to new technology - so why not video games?
"We already have a broad mix of people joining our group, from those with a lot of useful vision to people with none at all. Your level of sight, of course, can significantly affect which games are accessible. We want our group to be inclusive to not only experienced gamers but people who have never played before as well and are looking for a place to start."
Iain Strachan from Glasgow is registered partially sighted and is a long-cane user. "I have lost about 50 per cent of my sight since this happened four years ago," says Ian (56). "I have been a gamer for 30 years, playing personal computer and console games and I've recently started a YouTube channel called 'Part sighted gamer', playing sighted and part-sighted gamers.
"I look forward to our weekly Visually Impaired Gamers meeting where we can all share out thoughts on games that we are all playing and have a chat. It's good to talk to fellow gamers about the hurdles of visual impairment and trying to find accessible games. I hope we can build our group and keep it going in the future."
Emma McLean (30) from Kilmarnock has no sight. "I feel comfortable around the Visually Impaired Gaming Group as I can share things. We all listen to and understand each other, even if we all have different degrees of sight loss. I really do feel a part of the group.
"When I had my sight, I loved video games. It was Final Fantasy 8 that got me into role-playing games. I really like fantasy games because I feel I am a part of that world and can throw myself into the characters and be anything I want to be. I also like it when you can create your character and make what you want them to appear to be. But that’s the designing part of me, as I like to give the character a new outfit or look.
"I guess that’s why I would love to make my own video game. I have created the story but need help to take it forward."