The Barbarian Bard

Tales and Musings by Michael A. Espinoza

Archive for the tag “blind”

Independence for a Blind Man: Crowd-Funding Accessibility

Hail readers!
I am writing this post from my iPhone. Why, you might ask? Well, as some of you may know, I am blind in both eyes, due to a condition called LCA. I have been blind since birth, and rely on a device called a BrailleNote to read, write, interact with the internet, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, the company that makes BrailleNotes (HumanWare) has a powerful hold on their niche market, and can thus make a device that is equal parts expensive and prone to breaking down. This is how I now find myself relying on my phone’s screenreader, which is useable, but not a long-term solution when it comes to my career as an English tutor. To that end, a dear friend of mine has started a crowd-funding campaign, which we are sharing along with the hashtag #Braille4ME. (My initials are ME, and I find this hashtag delightfully catchy. Kudos to my friend Kelsey for creating it!) We are over halfway to our goal, and now need less than 2,000 to help me get a new braille computer and retain my job, my blog, and my independence. If you can’t donate, it would still be a huge help if you’d share the link to the campaign page. Every share and every donation helps! Thank you all.

http://www.YouCaring.com/Braille4ME

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Testing My Might Against the Gate of Disability

A lot of you may be wondering why, of all things, I love Mortal Kombat so much. An equally large number of you probably wish there was a Chrome extension that blocked every post by me containing the terms Mortal Kombat, Carly Rae Jepsen, or heavy metal. No luck for y’all, but I’m happy to address the former question.

Why, you might ask, would an aspiring writer and a fan of complex, compelling plotlines in books, films, and games, be drawn to the maelstrom of gore that is Mortal Kombat? That question has many answers. First is that I must admit, my eyesight is getting worse. Not abruptly so, but I realize it the more I game, and the less I’m able to do so. RPGs and other games with complex menus, maps, and the like, become less and less feasible for me as years go by. I return to games I adored in my childhood, and find myself failing at things that my younger self would have never missed. I can’t describe how unexpectedly painful it is for me to miss a basic jump sequence in Spyro the Dragon, when I used to move over every world in that game with total precision. I know it’s just a game, but the loss of ability it portends is something I struggle with.

Enter, Mortal Kombat. It is not a simple game, and it is far from an easy game, but it is a sonically rich game. The sounds of feet scuffing ground, of deflected punches, and of blades on flesh, all in stereo, all trackable by my keen sense of hearing. In MK, I have found a place where my lack of sight does not too horribly disadvantage me. I’d likely do better against my sighted friends if I could see, but the fact that I can still handle a fight and come away with dignity in tact is heartening in a way I can’t describe. It makes me feel like gaming isn’t closed off to me. This isn’t Skyrim, where my extensive knowledge of lore and gameplay mechanics all amounts to aimless wandering because I can’t see a quest marker. Nor is it Tomb Raider, where my love of the plot simply cannot keep Lara from plummeting to her bloody demise. This is a game where, if I concentrate with all my might, I can keep up with my sighted peers. I may not always come out on top, but I never come away disgraced.

People talk about GamerGate, the frustratingly named-stop adding “gate” to every controversy and then coming up with an explanation later-conspiracy whereby male gamers actively strive to lock women out of the world of gaming. I do not doubt this malevolent conspiracy, nor am I targeted by it, being a male gamer myself. But there is a gate that effects me all the same. Not one maliciously erected, nor one held in place by the entirety of a single gender, but one inadvertently constructed by an industry that is, by design, for the sighted. Because visuals are an undeniable component to video gaming, I cannot expect this gate to be broken or surmounted en masse. Audio games exist, but they are ill-funded, and even more hit or miss than indie video games. I may not suffer from a gatekeeping conspiracy, but there is a wall between me and a subculture I love; a wall that grows higher as years go by. So, when I find a game like Mortal Kombat, that lets me struggle against that gate, that allows me to jam my foot in the door and refuse to be shut out, I cannot help but be overwhelmed and enraptured by the chance it offers me to throw all my might against the barrier that would otherwise cut me off from a world that I’ve embraced since childhood.

As for the lore of the Mortal Kombat world, it is true that you won’t find novels of expanded content, or prolific in-game text crawls that lay out a Tolkien-esque story of mind altering magnitude. However, that is not the type of game Mortal Kombat is, and such a lore system would feel tacked on, at best. That said, the series is possessed of a surprisingly rich narrative, brought to life by a diverse cast of characters with unique traits far beyond their move sets. And the openness of the lore is in fact one of the game’s greatest strengths. How will the fates of the various realms be decided? Will balance ever be attainable so long as they remain autonomous? On a more individual level: will Kung Jin’s sexuality be accepted by his teammates and his native culture? And what of the relationship between Takeda and Jacqui? There are numerous branches of interpersonal relationships and grand cosmic struggles to unravel, and I cannot fully express how joyous an occasion it is to find such a game, and to know I can actively participate in its community, and in the gameplay itself.

If you enjoyed this post, you might consider subscribing to my YouTube channel, where you will find videos of my experiences with video games and other such exciting things. You can also purchase my eBook Blades of Cairndale, for your reading pleasure.

Blind Man Gaming

Hail readers,
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved playing games; from childhood bouts of imaginative play to digital, immersive stories of enthralling characters and events. In fact, it was the video game series “Legacy of Kain,” that inspired me to first become a writer. One might wonder how a blind man goes about the visual processes of video games. That question, along with others, is something I hope to address in my new YouTube series: Blind Man Gaming. In this series, you will see me playing some of my favorite games, discussing my process for doing so, and engaging in what I hope to be amusing dialog with my pixelated protagonists. In this video, for instance, you can observe my use of stereo audio to play Mortal Kombat X. I’ll be compiling videos from the same games into playlists
like this
, for easy viewing purposes. So, if you want to see a blind man take on the visual world of gaming, please consider subscribing to my channel, and I promise I will make that decision as worthwhile, entertaining, and amusing as I possibly can.

—–

And as always, if you enjoyed this post, I encourage you to check out my novel, Bla
des of Cairndale
.

Silversword: Modern Interface, Classic Atmosphere

Recently, I acquired a new game for my iPad, a fantasy title called Silversword. Being almost totally blind, my selection of games on a touch-screen platform–more specifically, games compatible with Apple’s VoiceOver feature–is fairly limited. Having read (on AppleVis) that Silversword strives to be as accessible to blind gamers as possible, I was eager to drop the $3.99 needed to pick up this fantasy adventure.

From a gamer perspective, Silversword is old-school in a great way. “Classic” and “Modern” game modes let you set up character stats by either trusting to the luck of the dice or carefully distributing an allotment of points between their various stats. D&D fans will recognize both styles of character generation, and those of my mindset will appreciate the latter far more than the randomness of the former.

Obviously, I can’t say much about the graphics. A small window allows you to see what your party sees and move forward, backward, or rotate left/right. A text output points out anything noteworthy in the space you occupy, or describes any encounters with NPCs. On an accessibility note, movement is made easy by VoiceOver, which tells you whether your current direction is passable or blocked, and if blocked, it (usually) says by what. I can see how hearing “Move Forward (East), Passable) or “Move Forward (South), Blocked by Water” may get repetitive after the 100+ hours of gameplay the game purports to offer, but that’s the price to pay for VoiceOver compatibility. I’m happy to live with that.

If I had any complaint at all with this game, it would be with the relatively dull sound effects. So far, I’ve logged only a bit over an hour of play, but have heard very little music, and sonically, battle is little more than a few grunts and clanging sounds, plus the occasional (neat sounding) bard song or prayer. (Battle itself is a fun exercise in turn-based, round-based, strategic action selection for a party of up to seven heroes.) I’m hoping the sound-scape will be different as I play on, and that not every character will have the same ogre-ish grunts in battle. That could get pretty weird.

Fans of classic RPGs, both pen-and-paper and PC, will undoubtedly enjoy Silversword. It is a very retro game, and for us low vision gamers, it’s the best fantasy experience one can hope for with VoiceOver. I hope a game developer takes some serious notes from this app and implements its level of accessibility into a game with slightly more modern sounds, but Silversword is a delightful experience and I can’t wait to explore the world of Tarnak!

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