Originally published on the RNIB Scotland Facebook Blog.
Videogame consoles are, for most people, the easiest and most straightforward way to play videogames. Each is a device purpose-built to play games – the most well known brands being Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo – and each has its own set of exclusive games unavailable to owners of competing consoles. For most these exclusive games are the main factor in choosing which console to buy, but for blind and visually impaired players there is another concern – accessibility.
All of the currently available consoles have their own set of accessibility features that blind and visually impaired users may find useful. Each has a magnifier and their own selection of options to make the screen easier to read, including inverted colours, high contrast modes, and larger text sizes. In addition to this, Xbox consoles have a built-in screen reader. While this may sound very helpful, in practice this is limited to the core system interface and a small number of apps and games. Thankfully a growing number of game developers are adding their own narration and text to speech solutions.
Of course, accessibility options on consoles are only useful if there are games they can help you play. Most mainstream games are not designed to be playable without sight, though this does not mean that it cannot be done. What games then are accessible to a blind videogame console owner?
One way to find games to play would be to try them yourself. Each of the consoles has it’s own dedicated online store where demo versions of many games can be downloaded to experiment with. In addition, Xbox has recently introduced a Netflix-style subscription service allowing access to a large library of games for a monthly fee, eliminating the risk of buying a full price game only to find it isn’t playable by blind people.
Another option is to seek out people or organisations that can offer guidance on the most accessible games. Local organisations such as Triple Tap Tech can advise on the best gaming hardware and games to play, and connect people to groups of fellow visually impaired gamers. Blind and visually impaired gaming personalities on video-streaming websites like YouTube and Twitch are another great source of information. Blind gamers like Steve Saylor, James Rath and Brandon Cole give video demonstrations of their gameplay on consoles, narrating the action while discussing the accessibility barriers they may face and how they overcome them. As these videogame streamers normally gravitate towards the most popular recent releases it’s a great way to learn about the accessibility features of any new hit game.
Though the current crop of consoles are more accessible to blind players than any that came before, there is still a long way to go. Thankfully the manufacturers of these consoles are making accessibility and inclusion for all players a key selling point of their upcoming systems. Both Xbox and PlayStation are planning to release new console models within the next year, and as these will almost certainly be more accessible to blind people than previous models.
The games are more likely to be playable by blind people too. Game development tools are including features like text to speech as a standard part of their software, allowing more games to have this option. Accessibility options in general are becoming a standard feature in games, with many game studios hiring accessibility specialists and consulting with people with a wide range of disabilities to ensure their game is playable by as wide an audience as possible.
Videogame consoles are not the easiest or most accessible way for people with visual impairments to play videogames. Smartphones, tablets and home computers have a wider array of accessible games and more advanced accessibility features than any of the videogame consoles. Consoles are, however, often cheaper and where the vast majority of popular, mainstream games can be played. Depending on your level of vision you may be surprised by how many games are playable, and with so many blind gamers with a wise range of eye conditions sharing their experiences online it’s not difficult to find out what these are. If you can get access to one to try they are definitely worth checking out.