The Barbarian Bard

Tales and Musings by Michael A. Espinoza

Archive for the tag “gaming”

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 – Incubation and Indigestion (MKX, Audio Transcript)

As many of you know, I’ve taken up the process of making Let’s Play videos, in support of accessibility in gaming. In that spirit, here is a full audio-to-text transcript of my latest video, located here, for anyone who needs or wants to read the printed text in lieu of the audio dialog.

* * *

Me: Hello everybody. Welcome to another episode of Blind Man Gaming.

[The menu makes a sharp clicking sound as the winning faction screen pops up.]

Announcer: Brotherhood of Shadow wins.

Me (mildly surprised): Oooh, I guess we won a uh, uh, what do they call those? A faction war?

[Various clicks as I pass through screens and into the main menu.]

Me (rambling): That’s cool. I totally didn’t contribute to that at all. Um… but I will take credit for it. (focused again) Anyway, uh… so yeah, havin’ a good day so far. Hope everyone else is, too. Except I burned the roof of my mouth on a hotdog.

[I click on Mileena. She growls and her sai make a sharp blade sound.]

Announcer: Mileena.

Me: So now I’m kind of pissed off and I wanna take it out on somebody.

[The selector clicks rapidly as it scrolls to a random fighter.]

Me: And that somebody is…

Announcer: D’Vorah.

Me: D’Vorah! Oh how perfect, because of, you know, the whole Mileena, D’Vorah thing. Spoilers. Anyway, uh yeah, so I burned my mouth on a hotdog, and I’m all grumpy now, so I’m going to hurt D’Vorah, because it will make me feel better.

[As the fight begins, D’Vorah speaks up. Her voice sounds oddly distorted, as if speaking through a fan.]

D’Vorah: You know not when to quit.

Mileena: I will never give up my fight! [brandishes sai]

D’Vorah: Your lack of judgment led you here.

Announcer: Round one… Fight.

Me (calm): Oh it’s on, D’Vorah. Nobody criticizes my lack of judgment.

[Mileena’s sai sound with painful, fleshy stabs as she rapidly strikes the insectoid D’Vorah. The two fighters trade blows with audible striking sounds as attacks connect or are blocked.]

Me (pleased after landing an aerial combo): Ooh, that was cool! [after the round ends] Well, that was a relatively easy fight.

Mileena (lustful or very hungry): Delicious!

Announcer: Round two… Fight!

Me: I would agree to disagree with that, Mileena. I don’t think anything about this was delicious.

[D’Vorah makes more pronounced, high-pitched grunts of exertion as she dominates the fight.]

Me (as Mileena is beaten savagely): Oh! D’Vorah’s pissed now.

[D’Vorah’s projectile attacks sound slimy and foul, like retching phlegm. She blocks most of Mileena’s attacks, thus muffling the sound of Mileena’s strikes. Mileena screams.]

Me: Ouch.

[Mileena lands a basic combo and laughs quietly. D’Vorah retaliates with a barrage of attacks that have squishy or stinging insectoid sound effects.]

Me: Jeez. [after the round ends] God damn it! Okay, that came back out of nowhere. That was like…

D’Vorah (smug): I will end you.

Announcer (impatient or unamused): Final round, fight.

Me: That… talk about a comeback.

[The two trade blows, screaming and grunting with effort and pain. A shimmering sound is heard as Mileena is thrown away by D’Vorah burning two levels of her meter to disrupt a combo.]

Me: How rude, D’Vorah. [lands a few hits against her] There we go. [gets hit] Jeez.

[D’Vorah lands multiple hits.]

D’Vorah (assertive): You will incubate my young.

Me (shocked, horrified): Jesus Christ, did she just say, “You will incubate my young?”

Announcer: Finish her.

[Mileena deals an ordinary attack as a killing blow.]

Me: Okay, that distracted me. I couldn’t even do a Fatality, because that was-

Announcer: Mileena wins. [a new screen appears] Assassin battle.

Me (excited): Oh shit! An assassin battle! Let’s hope I do better in that. But seriously, did D’Vorah just say, “You will incubate my young”? What the fuck?! [more horrified] Seriously, what the fuck?! That’s so unpleasant!

[The next fight begins, facing off against Ferra/Torr. Ferra speaks up, in a perpetually mocking, childish voice.]

Ferra: Big teeth! Nasty!

[Torr roars.]

Mileena (low, menacing): I will sharpen them on your bones.

Me (annoyed at Ferra): Oh God, I hate this-

Ferra: She wants play, Torr.

Announcer: Round one… Fight!

Me: I hate this creature, so much.

[Torr grunts and Ferra snarls as the combatants engage each other. Torr’s movements are deep, slow, and rumbling. Ferra lands an attack and shrieks victoriously.]

Me: Damn it! I keep screwing up that… [trails off] I think my hands are just naturally slower for some reason. [the mic audio cuts in and out a bit] Because I’m having serious issues pulling off combos. Like, combos I’m normally pretty comfortable with.

Mileena (victorious): I will drink your fetid blood.

Announcer: Round two… Fight!

[The combatants trade a flurry of attacks; Mileena’s are sharp and stabby, Ferra/Torr’s are heavy and rumbling. Mileena lands the final blow.]

Announcer: Finish him!

Me: Okay, now let’s get a Fatality.

[A short, five note minor-key ascension plays on strings to signal the beginning of the Fatality. Mileena attacks Torr, who grunts as Mileena let’s out a victory snarl.]

Me (happy): There we go!

[Torr screams horribly, which fades to a pitiful groan as Mileena tears into him. Fleshy ripping, gnashing, and slurping sounds fill the air as she feeds on Torr.]

Me: I feel bad for the uh-

Announcer: Mileena wins. Fatality.

Me: -the larger portion of Ferra/Torr. I guess that’s Torr? Because he’s just kind of following Ferra’s…

Announcer: Assassin defeated!

Me (distracted): Alright, assassin defeated. (refocuses) Anyway, he’s just kind of following Ferra’s commands, you know? It’s not like he actually wanted to start, you know, some shit. He was just doing what he was told. That’s kind of messed up. And yet he’s the only one who gets, you know, Fatalitied. Why don’t we eat Torr? Errrr, Ferra. She was the one who started it. She was the one who insulted Mileena’s teeth. And then, you know…

[I select Mileena from the character screen.]

Announcer: Mileena.

Me (continues): Got Torr to fight on her behalf, so I mean…

[The random selector clicks about quickly before settling.]

Announcer: Sonya Blade!

Me: Oh, this is a good fight! Okay, cool. I still have a bit of rage about burning my mouth on a hotdog, so let’s uh, let’s do another fight. [pauses to gather thoughts] But yeah, that’s just, it’s not fair that Ferra/Torr, you know, Torr is the only one who really gets hurt significantly.

[The fight begins.]

Mileena (disdainful): Earthrealm witch!

Sonya (bored, dry): I wish. I’d make you vanish.

Mileena: Exactly what I will do to you.

Announcer: Round one… Fight.

[The combatants close. Sonya blocks at first, but and is able to counter Mileena’s onslaught.]

Me: Ouch.

[Mileena attacks more aggressively, making heavy use of her sai.]

Me: Huh. That was brutal.

[The two trade hand-to-hand blows. Mileena misses a combo.]

Me (slightly annoyed): Oh.

[The round ends in Mileena’s favor.]

Me: Well, this is at least going better than that D’Vorah fight. That was embarrassing, that second round.

Announcer: Round two… Fight.

[Mileena lands several successive hits.]

Me: Alright!

[The two battle fiercely, but Mileena dominates the round.]

Announcer: Finish her!

Me (angry that I struck a killing blow prematurely): Oh God damn it! I totally-

Announcer: Mileena wins.

Me: -screwed that up. I could’ve totally gotten in uh, gotten in a Fatality there. Let’s try one more fight. I think that’ll take off my uh, my fury. My burnt mouth fury.

[I select Mileena again.]

Announcer: Mileena.

Me: Let’s see, who does the machine want us to fight next?

[The random selector clicks rapidly, slows, and settles.]

Announcer: Alien.

Me (dismayed): Oh God, oh man, I hate fighting Alien. [mic audio flickers in and out] My best friend always plays as Alien, kicks my ass, and it’s demoralizing as shit, and maybe I can beat the computer. Let’s find out.

[There is silence before the fight begins. Alien growls low in its throat.]

Mileena: Face the might of Outworld.

Announcer: Round one… Fight.

[Alien screeches and shrieks as it battles Mileena. She lands several stabs.]

Mileena (confident and condescending): Run along now!

[The pair close again, and Alien deals a multi-hit attack.]

Me: Ow. That’s the move my friend loves to do on me, like constantly. He’s so good at constantly getting that particular move in.

[Alien screeches as it loses the round after a barrage of attacks.]

Mileena: You’re so much fun.

[Alien growls.]

Me: Mileena and Alien should get into a “who can bite things better” contest.

Announcer: Round two… Fight.

Me: I feel like that’d be an interesting fight. They both seem like they’d be really good at, you know, chewing on things.

[Mileena aggressively assails Alien with her sai.]

Me: Can’t you see them both just, you know, noming on things? Like to see who can chew stuff up more effectively? I feel like Alien would cheat and use his little second mouth.

Announcer: Finish him!

Me (arrogant): Oh what up, I win!! Okay, let’s see… [I fumble with buttons] Do do do do do…

[The Fatality sound plays as Mileena attacks.]

Me: Here we go, I remembered it.

[Alien lets out a dying screech and Mileena grunts with effort as she rips away its head. She crunches down on it like someone taking loud, echoing bites from an especially crispy apple.]

Me: Oooh, Mileena, I feel like that’s a really bad idea. Aliens have, you know, acid blood. Don’t do what you’re… Uh never mind, it’s too late.

Announcer: Mileena wins. Fatality!

Me: Yeah, she wins for now, but I mean the real winner in this fight is indigestion, ’cause… acid blood. You know that’s gonna hurt. Anyway, I’ll catch y’all later. Thanks for tuning in to Blind Man Gaming. Uh, Like, comment, subscribe, share, um, think happy thoughts, all that good stuff, and I will catch y’all later.

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
.

The Fall of Whiterun: A Skyrim Poem

Some background for this poem:
Inspired by the video game Skyrim, this poem chronicles the siege of the city of Whiterun by the Stormcloak army. During the era in which the game is set, the land of Skyrim is embroiled in many a turmoil, but one of the most gripping conflicts in the land is the civil war between the Imperials and those who support the governing of Skyrim by the empire based in Cyrodiil, and the Stormcloaks, Nords who want their land ruled by their own governing body. There is no clear “good guy” in this war. Some argue that Ulfric is right to fight the Empire that governs Skyrim with an iron fist, bans certain forms of worship, and is quick to declare sentences of death. Others hold that he is a racist egotist, wanting a land that would favor Nords above all other races. And some hold that he is an inadvertent puppet in the plan of a third faction who hopes to profit from strife between the Empire and the Stormcloaks. But debating that is not the point of this poem. This piece tells of one event the player’s character may encounter based upon their previous choice, that is, whether or not they chose to return the ancient Jagged Crown to Ulfric, an item he feels will validate his kingship of Skyrim. He then sends the player’s character to Whiterun, to offer the Jarl (lord/ruler), Balgruff, an axe, which serves as a symbolic question: If the Jarl accepts it, then he sides with Ulfric and will support him in fighting the Empire. Balgruff sends the axe back to the Stormcloak leader. His answer is clear…

—–

Nords for generations to come,
when ancient stories they sit and tell,
will ’round the hearth-fire recount the tale
of the day that Whiterun fell.
The great walled city stood untouched
by foe from far afield.
In Dragonsreach the Jarl did sit,
his city as his shield.
Then Ulfric, of the Stormcloak line,
sent a message to Whiterun’s hall.
In silent words the message spoke,
“Side with me or fall.”

Balgruff sought to guard his keep,
to save his city from harm,
and so he sent a message back,
and formed up his men-at-arms.
The Whiterun forces held the walls
and barricaded roads.
The Stormcloaks made ballistas ready
to fire devastating loads.
Down came the barricades
the city streets ran red.
Mailed boot steps trampled over
the dying and the dead.
The Stormcloaks took the hold and keep,
though struck not the Jarl down,
but offered his seat to one more loyal
to Ulfric and his Jagged Crown.

Now times have changed and years gone by,
the world not as it was.
But still all Nords remember clear
the Stormcloaks and their cause.
And above all else they do recall
and on this memory dwell:
the day that Nord fought Nord for land,
the day that Whiterun fell…

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