A whole world of blind and visually impaired gamers exists, contrary to what you may have thought. Accessible games and games actually designed for the blind and visually impaired do exist, but they are few and far between. There are so many great gamers in the a11y, gaming, and development communities who are working hard to increase awareness for gamers with a visual impairment and other disabilities. I’ll have some of these community members linked at the end of this article so that we can all learn a bit more about this community.
I also covered this topic in a YouTube video about gaming.
The Visual Impairment and Blindness Spectrum
This article is absolutely not a one-size-fits all guideline, because one voice could never speak for everyone in the blind and visually impaired communities. Blindness is a huge spectrum including so many different causes, conditions, and experiences. I will, however, share with you my conditions, barriers, and experiences and those of others that I’m familiar with. More awareness, more voices, and more experiences will help us to improve the experience of gaming for everyone.
Barriers to Gaming with a Visual Impairment
Barriers for each person even among the visually impaired community will vary quite a bit, but below are the barriers I and others I’ve spoken with face as gamers.
The Gaming Space
The space a gamer has to play in can be a barrier in itself. Most of us need to get quite close to our TV or monitor to game at our best. This often requires a table or a desk where we can push ourselves right up to the TV and have the space to move around if we need to see objects on other parts of the screen. More on that specific barrier later.
Next is the lighting of a gamer’s space. Glare is a huge issue for anyone with light sensitivity. Sunlight or bright light behind a TV makes anything on the screen a challenge to see. Light reflecting on the screen can cause the same issue. I prefer to game in a dimly let room, so adjustable lighting is a must for my gaming space.
If you’d like to learn more about light sensitivity, check out my thorough article on photophobia with helpful tips and tricks.
The Location of HUD Items on Screen
As mentioned in the previous section, most of us have to sit right next to our TVs. Often our focus or visual field is limited as well, so it can be difficult to see multiple HUD items on the screen at once. These items include mini maps, health and stamina bars, quest logs, text chat, item pickups, and more. These aspects of the game can be vital to successful gameplay and often have very little auditory feedback. They are often very small as well. Obvious audio cues, adjustable fonts, larger beacons and guide-lines, and other small tweaks would make these aspects of the game more accessible to those of us with a visual impairment.
Balancing Brightness and Contrast
My light sensitivity and poor acuity mean that I am often struggling to balance contrast and brightness in certain games. I often set my brightness a bit higher than my normally-sighted partner would so that I have contrast in darker areas of a game. In those areas, I often find it hard to pick out items, collectibles, ledges, and more. In contrast, I also struggle with bright games or games that feature a lot of well-lit action, gun play, strobing effects, and other visual aspects with large variances in lighting. My eyes are often slow to adjust to changes in lighting. Settings that allow us to adjust contrast, reduce strobing effects, and balance lighting would help with this barrier.
This one is the barrier I most laugh about. As games have gotten more and more realistic over the years, I’ve gotten worse at them. Detailed FPS games like Battlefield and Call of Duty are especially hard, because they certainly seem to require a decent set of eyes. I also stay away from games like this with a multiplayer aspect, because they can be very frustrating. No one likes to lose over and over. It does take the fun out of gaming. Gamers with working eyes will have quite a leg up against someone like me who faces multiple barriers in a game like that. Features like the high contrast settings found in The Last of Us 2 and Spiderman: Miles Morales are very helpful with this barrier.
Busy realistic and unrealistic environments are a challenge, because I struggle to focus on more than one thing at a time, and I need contrast. I need my enemies to pop out from the background visually. I do appreciate a beautifully fleshed out environment, especially one where I can get right up next to things and explore, but they can also present a challenge.
Another example of this includes games like Super Smash Brothers and Fall Guys. Super Smash Brothers includes some very busy stages that can make finding and following my character extremely difficult, especially in a multiplayer game. Fall Guys, on the other hand, is a very bright game with exciting colors and many players on the screen at a time. The combination of these two features makes it visually challenging. Now, are these reasons to avoid those particular games? No, but they can make it more inherently challenging than is necessary.
The above list is in no way a conclusive list for all visually impaired gamers. I’m not even sure it’s a conclusive list for me personally, but it is an excellent starting place. Some of these barriers have been addressed in recent game releases, but many misconceptions and barriers still remain in so much of the gaming world.
I’m planning more content on this topic as well as some game streaming in the future. I hope you’ll join me on Twitch sometime. I’ll add a link when I begin streaming, so remember to check back in the future or follow my social media. You can find my details on the About page.
Thanks for reading. Stay Curious.
Blind & Visually Impaired Gamers
These are some streamers, gamers, accessibility advocates, and awesome human beings. If you’d like to be included in this list, or know someone who should be, please visit my About page and contact me via social media or email.