Gaming blind

I came across this video at the top of CNN last night and thought it was a pretty sweet story. A group of gamers carefully cataloged every sound and every move needed to beat a game – which seems to be Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – and gave the info to a blind player they’d met on an online discussion forum so that he could beat the game. Check it out:

Blindness and video games is actually an issue that gets talked about fairly often, whether in the context of a master’s thesis about how to make more accessible video games or blind players discussing the ways that they navigate World of Warcraft.

One interesting element of the Zelda case above is how rich the audio is in Zelda, with very specific cues for specific attacks and in-game events, like opening a treasure chest –

link opens treasure chest sound bite

Cues like these are undoubtedly important for people with vision impairments, and I know that I rely on them to keep me on track and entertained in my own gameplay. These sounds, then, seem like an important element of universal design in games, as they may provide helpful information for large numbers of players. Yet, overreliance on audio information can also be a problem, as deaf players may find themselves excluded from Warcraft raids in which players are all using headsets and voice chat instead of text chat.

The mismatches in audio and visual needs only highlight the continued need for improvement in text-to-speech and speech-to-text technology. These technologies are getting a lot of attention this week, with Roger Ebert debuting his text-to-speech voice (compiled from old video clips of Ebert’s actual voice) on Oprah and YouTube announcing the full roll-out of its autocaptioning service, which I blogged about during its initial stages last fall.

But, I think the human, community element of this particular story is also fascinating – I don’t know if perfect code-driven accessibility will ever be possible without some degree of human interpretation of language and meaning, and I like seeing instances in which people can pool their resources to make a more accessible world (at least for this one Ocarina player). Plus, the fact that this occurred in a gamer community around Zelda is a fun connection to my partner, whose dissertation was partially about the activities on Zelda forums, and who sent me the video in the first place!

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