Visual disabilities can be categorized into three major types: blindness, low vision, and color blindness. Worldwide, there are well over 50 definitions of blindness. The World Health Organisation's definition of blindness is: less than 3/60 in the better seeing eye. This means that the better seeing eye cannot read the top letter on the Snellen visual acuity chart at three metres. People with vision worse than 20/200 or a field of vision of less than 20 degrees in the better eye are considered 'legally blind'. Low vision is related to blindness and is often described as visual loss, which cannot be corrected by standard lenses, medical treatment and/or surgery, and which interferes with daily life activities. It is estimated that about one in every 20 Americans has low vision. Color blindness is an inability to detect certain colors. It ranges from total color blindness, where the person perceives the world as shades of gray, to more common types where a one cannot distinguish between red and green or yellow and blue. Research has shown that one in every 12 person has some degree of color blindness.
It is estimated that about 3.5% of the population of an average Western country has a visual disability (this includes seniors). Of course, not all of them are playing computer games. Actually, there are no statistics on how many people with a visual disability (try to) play computer games. An estimated guess is that about 2.6% of the population of an average Western country has a visual disability and uses a computer. So, the potential target group for the game industry is about 2.6%. In Holland, with a population of about 16 million, this means that there are about 416,000 potential gamers with a visual disability.
Drive is an audio racing game completely based on sound developed in collaboration with the Bartiméus Accessibility foundation. The goal was to create a non-visual computer game prototype that is as fun and exciting as a video game. Click the image-link above to visit Drive in the Project Gallery.
Terraformers, by PinInteractive, is an example of a video game that is accessible for gamers with a visual disability through original design. It uses an advanced auditory interface, enabling gamers to navigate through and interact in a visual 3D environment. Click the image-link above to visit Terraformers in the Project Gallery.
Video: Joe Longworth
This site features a small interview with Joe Longworth of Flying Lab Software about game accessibility. Follow the image link above to view the video (with captions).
Video: audio game
This video shows a gamer playing an audio game - a game without visuals. Follow the image link above to view the video.
Demor is a location-based 3D audio shooting game which is equally enjoyable for both blind as sighted players. The main aim of the game is to entertain, but it is also an attempt to improve the emancipation of the blind and visually impaired and their integration in the 'sighted' world. In Demor, a virtual 3D auditory environment is unfolded around the player, who's standing in a real, empty outdoor space wearing special equipment. The player moves through the audio world by walking around - the soundscape will adjust itself in real time to the position of the player using GPS and the direction in which he or she moves his or her head using a headtracker. The player must shoot enemies by turning his or her head towards them and then pulling the trigger on a special joystick. Click the image-link above to visit Demor in the Project Gallery.
In the early days of video gaming visually disabled gamers hardly encountered any accessibility problems. Games consisted primarily of text and therefore very accessible for assistive technologies. When the graphical capabilities in games grew, the use of text was reduced and 'computer games' transformed into 'video games', eventually making the majority of mainstream computer games completely inaccessible.
The games played nowadays by gamers with a visual disability can be categorized by 1) games not specifically designed to be accessible (text-based games and video games) and 2) games specifically designed to be accessible (audio games, video games that are accessible by original design and video games made accessible by modification).
Text-based games have been in development for at least the past 20 years. These include textadventures (sometimes also referred to as "interactive fiction"), classic tabletop games such as Yathzee and Battleship, and online (HTML-based) Multi-User Dungeons (MUD's). There are hundreds of these text-based games with many developed in the 1980's by regular game developers and many more recently with the rise of the Internet by web designers. Unfortunately, text-based games are often very simple, do not offer a lot of variety and lack the 'computergame'-experience that mainstream games provide.
Some mainstream video games are playable by gamers with a visual disablity due to extensive use of auditory feedback. A fine example is blind gamer Brice Mellen from Lincoln, Nebraska, who beat Ed Boon (developer of Mortal Kombat) in a game of Mortal Kombat. Interestingly, many examples include Fighting Games, such as Tekken, Mortal Kombat and Soul Calibur. The Grand Theft Auto-video games are known to be quite fun to play around with by many visually disabled gamers due to an advanced sound engine as well as the open structure of the game. Unfortunately, there are only a handfull of mainstream video games that provide such advanced auditory feedback. And although this type of game is playable by the blind, these games are not fully accessible. For instance, these games still use visual menu's without auditory feedback.
Audio games are games that consists of sound and have only auditory (so no visual) output. Audio games are not specifically "games for the blind". But since one does not need vision to be able to play audio games, most audio games are developed by and for the blind community. There are well over 100 audio games. Examples include Drive, Kaze No Regret, Demor, Chillingham, TopSpeed, KM2000, Shades of Doom, Alien Outback, Troopanum, Super Liam, Dynaman and GMA Tank Commander. Audio games are developed by small dedicated companies (1 to 3 developers/designers/programmers), hobby game designers, academics in research projects and gamers themselves. Most audio games are very simple games (compared to mainstream games) and lack much of the properties of mainstream games such as diversity, multiplayer functionality and good replayability.
There are several examples of videogames in which accessibility for the blind has been included throughout the design of the game. Examples include Terraformers, Sudo-San, The Blind Eye, Banjobusters, KM2000, Skyballs, and Tag. Unfortunately, not many examples of this type of game exist and many lack properties of mainstream video games such as good replayability and fun gameplay. Most of these games are developed by small dedicated companies and academics in research projects.
Games are sometimes modified by gamers themselves to give it more or different functionality. So by modding a game it is possible to add accessibility-functionality, enabling blind gamers to play a regular game as well. Only one example of this type of game is known and that is Accessible Quake - an accessible modification (or "MOD") for Quake 1, developed by Matthew Atkinson & Sabahattin Gucukoglu of AGRIP.
Here's a summary of resources that will help you find accessible games for visually impaired gamers. AudioGames.net is an online archives of audio games and blind-accessible games and includes developer links, download links, game descriptions and reviews, articles, cheats and walkthroughs, mods, audio reviews and a very popular and active forum to support the community. The site also hosts a few exclusive games, an extensive links list as well as back-issues of Audyssey Magazine. Audyssey Magazine is the oldest online magazine on blind accessible games (the first issue was published 10 years ago!) and it is still published every three months. Darren Duff's list of Audyssey Magazine Issues also offers backissues of Audyssey Magazine. PCS Games' list of developers is a frequently updated list of developers of blind-accessible games, maintained by Phil Vlasak. ABC's Main Menu Radio Show is ABC Radio's regular look at technology from a blindness perspective. A lot of streamable audio reviews of audio games and blind-accessible games can be found here. BlindCoolTech.com offers podcasts and audio-reviews of various blind-accessible games. BlindSpiele.at is a German-language website that offers a big list of links to blind-accessible games. David Renström's Accessible Game Database is a database of blind-accessible games and also available in the Swedish langauge. Dee's List of Accessible Games is another list with blind-accessible games. Interactive Fiction Archive includes thousands of text adventures, text adventure development tools, articles, essays, hint files, walkthroughs, jokes, and sly references to Greek politics, which are all contributed by the interactive fiction community, past and present. Infocom Adventures Online Website offers a service to play many old Infocom adventures such as Zork and The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy online for free. Sebo's Link Headquarters is a German-language website has a big list of links to blind-accessible games, as well as a list of downloadable games (some of which are quite unknown). TAFN's Accessible Games List is part of The Accessible Friends Network, a voluntary group set up to improve the quality of life by and for blind & partially sighted people, via the internet & voice conferencing. Whitestick is a visually impaired information website which features two large lists of links (a list of online games and a list of offline games) to games for the blind. ZoneBBS is a website that offers a variety of online (text-based) games such as Anagrama Mania. Playing games costs points (you recieve an initial 500 points) but by playing the online games you can also recieve points.There's also an accessible games message board and a file area where you can download older (audio)games and DOS-games such as Othello.
There are various resources for the development of games for and by the visually impaired. AGDev.org is the official web site of the Accessible Games Developers' community. AGDev has been set up with the main goal of providing a way to truly advance the state of accessible gaming. The community has given rise to some amazing new opportunities for it's gamers, but there's still a lot more that could be done. AGDev has been set up to help developers work together, to help and support each other. The Audio Adventure Engine is an engine that is being developed by Robison Bryan. With it you will be able to create Audio Enhanced Text Adventures, with the option to include still picture illustrations (like comic books), as well as the option to create Real-Time 3Dl Action scenes. Still-pictures will have text descriptions for the Visually Impaired and Audio Captioning will be provided for the hearing impaired as well. The complete gaming system is made of a Language, an Engine, a Wizard and an Explorer/Editor. The BSC Programming Resource Center is an outreach of BSC Games to the blind and visually impaired community to help college/university students majoring in any type of computer programming degree learn how to program games using Microsoft DirectX technologies. This web site includes several audio programming tutorials. Ambrosine.com offers a huge list of Game Creation Resources, such as video game development tools, engines and more. Various can be used to create accessible games. The Interactive Fiction Programming Archive contains a lot of used and unused Interactive Fiction (textadventure) authoring toolkits. The RPG Game Engine and Map Maker is an accessible RPG Game Engine which enables visually impaired gamers to make their own Role Playing Games. It includes a Map Maker as well! TiM (co-developed by SITREC) stands for Tactile Interactive Multimedia. TiM is a Research Project funded by the European Commission within the "Information Society Technology" (IST) Program. The overall aim of the TiM project is to provide young visually impaired children, with or without additional disabilities, with multimedia computer games they can access independently, that is without the assistance of a sighted person. TiM is, among other things, a toolkit that can be used to build blind-accessible games. TDL Software concentrates on delivering software that can be used by blind and visually impaired people alike. The first line of products (two libraries for your game development needs) is especially aimed at audio game developers.
There are various community places on the internet such as newsgroups and forums. The AudioGames.net RSS News Feed is an RSS email service where you recieve an email for each post on the AudioGames.net forum. The AudioGames.net Forum can be accessed through this link. The Blind Games newsgroup is a Dutch-language group that discusses audio games and games for visually impaired players. The Blind Gamers list originated from the Audyssey Magazine web site where visually impaired people discuss new and existing computer games. Blind Puzzlers is an email list for those interested in swapping information about accessible word and logic puzzles. To join send a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Gameport is a German-language group that discusses everything related to blind-accessible gaming, from hardware to software.
And here are links to several games:
Top 10 Recommended games for new gamers:
Other blind-accessible games: