[games_access] Radio 4 - In Touch Radio Feature: "Computer Gaming"

Barrie Ellis barrie.ellis at oneswitch.org.uk
Fri Mar 13 14:47:36 EDT 2009


Transcript below taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/intouch_20090310.shtml - thanks to Graham Race at MERU:

Barrie
www.OneSwitch.org.uk



Well as we speak BAFTA is handing out awards to the video games industry but what's the video games industry offering us? Mani has been to find out.

Chesworth
I first realised that I could play computer games at the age of about eight, which would have been 16 years ago when my dad brought home a Saga Megadrive and I just randomly decided to have a go on it.

Djazmi
Scott Chesworth's a totally blind gamer who plays computer games which are made for and by visually impaired people and those which are mainstream. He says that merely describing games as being accessible or inaccessible is too simplistic.

Chesworth
A lot of games are playable to some extent by a visually impaired person. Accessible to me is a different kettle of fish, that means that every feature of a game is usable, is accessible to us, which to be honest in mainstream games you're never going to get - in my experience you're never going to get a hundred percent accessibility. Something like even in a fighting game say that's got cues for pretty much every single sound that you'd want you're still going to have to learn the menus, you're still not going to be able to see scores of points that you let you unlock other characters and little things like that.

Djazmi
But is Scott right to be so pessimistic about the possibility of complete accessibility? And why, when word processing, the internet and e-mails have become totally accessible to blind people, hasn't more been done in the field of gaming?

Houlihan
My name's John Houlihan, my official job title is Games Website Manager, I look after about 10 or 12 different gaming sites but I've been a gaming journalist and broadcaster for around 20 years. Historically video games - the clue is possibly in the title, they've always been seen as a very visual medium. As I mentioned I've been working in the industry for quite some time and before I got your very interesting call I'd never really considered it myself, I think it's just one of those natural assumptions that people make. But there's new methods of interaction offered like consoles like the Nintendo Wii, which is based largely on gesture and touch and also the Nintendo DS, which is also based on touch. So there's perhaps new input methods that are going to make games more accessible. I think also the development of more sophisticated sound could certainly offer a lot of possibilities for blind and visually impaired gamers.

Djazmi
Games like this one from the so-called beat 'em up genre - Mortal Combat.

Actuality from game

Chesworth
For me this is really cool because every single character in this game has got a completely different voice, so you get a really, really clear indication of how this fight is going. You can also play this game in surround sound and in surround sound although you've got like a 3D fighting environment - you can side step and jump and you can move in pretty much any direction - the representation of where you are on screen is really, really accurate. Jumping over [indistinct word] and flip kicks and all that kind of stuff I've tended to avoid them because it's quite hard to judge and in surround sound I'm already finding myself bringing them into pretty much every fight I'm having.

Djazmi
So you know how the fight's going but how can you make sure that you don't lose every time, how do you make sure that you're competitive?

Chesworth
That is where we're on a level with sighted players and that purely comes down to developing skill on the game you know, learning your characters special attacks, learning their combos, learning button sequences for every single character and that's where we can in this game particularly develop skills that are purely based on being competitive, going on the internet, reading up and just geeking out over your favourite character and the more you learn the more control of them you've got.

Actuality from game

Djazmi
But the surround sound of Mortal Combat and the tactility of the Wii only increase accessibility for blind and partially sighted gamers by default. We asked each of the big three games producers - Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft - for their views, we had these replies:

Wilson
I'm David Wilson at Sony. Whilst we have had experience of visually impaired gamers, to the best of my knowledge we have never had any approach from people who are fully blind. Because video gaming is such a visual art form we're not sure how we could recreate the experience of non-linear interactive entertainment for a blind gamer. Of course we would never seek to exclude anyone from the joys of video game entertainment and we have worked with people with disabilities to enable them to participate. For example, redesigning a controller for a person with cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. But unless any of your listeners have some valid suggestions we are currently not sure how to adapt such a visual interactive medium without fundamentally redesigning the whole game to the point where it ceases to be the same product or experience.

Nintendo
This from Nintendo. We are continually looking at ways we can bring our games to as broad and diverse range of people as possible. Creating video games that work effectively for blind or partially sighted customers is however a major challenge. While it is relatively simple to add a sound layer for DVD menus, for example adding audio assistance or tutorials, will not work with most existing games which depend on fast moving visuals, such as Mario Cart. Achieving a game such as this that works equally well for sighted and visually impaired users is unfortunately not practically possible. It is possible to create games based purely on sound and Nintendo published one such game in Japan for Game Boy Advance in 2007 called Sound Voyager which involved players using sounds from the left and right speakers to guide a target. These games are currently very rare but with the video game market and technologies evolving all the time this may change.

White
And we're still awaiting a reply from Microsoft.

When visually impaired people get together there are certain topics that are almost bound to come up, apart that is from what's the daftest thing that's been said to you this week. People without sight problems might be surprised to know that one of them concerns whether there are circumstances where it's tougher to have some sight than none at all. It's certainly something which has been exercising the mind of Andrew Lamont. Andrew is a trustee of Blind Art, which is a body which encourages blind and partially sighted people to take an interest in the visual arts. And he's also worked as a gallery curator for many years. This is his take on that long running debate.

Lamont
I will begin by misquoting Shakespeare: To see or not to see, that is the question. I have been partially sighted all of my life, by which I mean I have two thirds of working eyesight. Whether it would have been easier if I had a total loss of sight and been educated in a special blind school I cannot know. I grew up thinking being partially sighted was more fortunate and easier to cope with than if I had been blind. It was only later that I realised it was very hard being a second class citizen in a sighted world.

The challenge I have faced is the fact that people assume I can see because I look normal. It is not until I need to read text, see someone's facial expressions or travel that I am disadvantaged. I feel I have to make excuses for not even being able to perform everyday tasks such as driving or watching football.

Once I was old enough to have girlfriends I started to realise it may be easier to attract a partner if I had a white stick. This thinking culminated in a heated discussion with someone who grew up blind and a referee who finally accepted that the struggle of covering up for not seeing was greater than waiting for the support of white stick elicits. My adversary, Lord Low, is chairman of the RNIB. I have been a Conservative councillor for the last three years. I now have magnifying equipment to assist reading but even with these visual aids I am not able to read back a speech, consequently any presentations are unscripted. If I had been taught to use Braille, as David Blunkett proved, I could rely on touch to aid my communication and thus my sight would not be a barrier to getting my point across.

I believe the end of a famous quote from the Shakespearean play Hamlet is: To sleep perchance to dream. Although my dream may be to see without the use of visual aids it would be good if more people can empathise with the challenges faced by those who have a partial disability. Because it is hidden it does not make it any less difficult to live with a partial impairment. I remember a consultant at Moorfields Eye Hospital once saying that the only disability I had was not being able to drive. I do not feel I am any less as a result of my visual loss but it's impact is far greater than that.

White
Andrew Lamont who chose to read that for us despite the difficulty that it gave him.

And we'd very much like to hear your views on that and indeed ideas that you'd like to offer to us. You can contact us through our action line on 0800 044 044 or e-mail In Touch via the BBC website, that's bbc.co.uk and follow the links. There will, as always, be a podcast of today's programme as from tomorrow.


>From me, Peter White, my producer, Cheryl Gabriel and the rest of the team, goodbye.

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