For those of you who haven't heard it a billion times from me by now, I'm a legally blind gamer. Being legally blind doesn't mean I'm without sight - I still have some in my left eye, while my right eye is kind of a mess. I suffered a detached retina over a decade ago and it never quite healed right, despite the wonderful work done by my surgeon. On top of my already severe myopia, I wasn't able to continue driving or enjoy some of the things I love the most.
For a while, this didn't really affect my gaming when it came to systems like the PS2 and Xbox. Most games back then had reasonably large fonts, especially considering I mostly played JRPGs and games like Morrowind. I had some issues, particularly with racing games and mini-maps throughout all sorts of genres. Competitive multiplayer games were also hit and miss. I was okay when it came to things like free-for-all deathmatch scenarios in cartoonish games like Timesplitters, but often found I was at a severe disadvantage when playing team-based stuff like Battlefield 1942.
Fast forward to the HD generation of consoles and the advent of the annoyingly tiny fonts. Suddenly, I was cussing out games left and right for having unintelligible UIs or fonts designed seemingly by people who had the eyes of damn eagles implanted into their thick skulls. Of course, this wasn't really anyone's fault, but it sure got annoying. Games I wanted to really enjoy, like GTA IV or Dragon's Dogma became unplayable because of UI issues.
I always hate being one of those people who bitches constantly about problems but never actually tries to do anything about it, so on numerous occasions, I've reached out to various gaming developers and tried to get some changes happening. Usually, my emails or comments were ignored. A few times, if the developer was small enough or had a large enough Q&A team, I got a generic form response. Only a couple of times did I ever actually get a message through to a real person, and always ended up with a variation of "it's a problem we'd like to fix, but it only affects a vast minority of people, so..."
You might think that response might gall me, but I actually applaud it. I've known many people from the National Federation of the Blind and have gone to a couple of their big meetings. Their ability to help make meaningful, genuinely helpful changes for the lives of the blind is admirable and incredibly crucial, but at times, they can come across as militant and abrasive in their demands for small, petty things for the blind, like the need for bus drivers to call out every stop on their route as opposed to the ones the blind ask them to shout out.
By and large, if the minority's whimsical base wants are forcing an inconvenience upon the larger majority, then the minority should have the dignity to separate what they want and what they need. it's something we've lost sight of in this "I gotta get mine" world, but it's always been hugely important to me to be able to pull my own weight and not be a burden on other people. And when you've got a disability as life altering as being legally blind, you spend almost every day in some small way or another inconveniencing someone. It's not shameful, exactly, but with that comes a great deal of guilt, and well deserved too. Instead of going about their lives, my loved ones have to spend obscene amounts of time helping me with pretty basic stuff.
As time goes on, companies have become better and better at making life easier (and more fun) for the blind. Amazon's Prime service, for example, has been a huge godsend for me, allowing me to do a large amount of my shopping through its Pantry and regular services. The iPad has made it easier for me to watch television when I want to lay down, bringing a screen just inches away from my face as opposed to the eye-stressing usual TV distance.
Perhaps the biggest example of them all, the grand mack daddy of awesome tools for the low vision, is the e-reader. Whereas before I had to seriously cut down on reading time lest I strain my eyes and wind up with another detached retina from trying to negotiate with poor lighting (I usually can't read a page if a heavy shadow lies across it), now I can read whole libraries of books at whatever size font I need with great contrast. I'm fond of audio books for their presentation (there are some amazingly well read audio books out there and if you're looking for something to listen to while gaming other than podcasts about durgers and big ass ramps, you ought to check out what your library has available). But the problem with audio books is that for a reader like me, they're agonizingly slow. By the time they've finished a sentence or two, I could've finished a page. So having that alternative way of reading, with adjustable fonts and colors that are easy to see in any lighting situation, that works amazingly well for me. I love my Kindle (this is starting to sound like Amazon shilling, but they're just my preferred site of choice for this stuff - the Barnes and Noble Nook is cool too), and I think the e-reader is one of today's modern marvels.
But finding good accessibility options in gaming has always been a bit of a drag. With a lot of effort and modding, I could have played World of Warcraft, but the customization I needed wasn't available at the outset of my installation and the inconvenience and work it would have taken to get me to enjoy that game's sprawling lore wasn't for me. Call of Duty has been inching slowly but surely towards more accessible multiplayer gaming, but until they include the options for larger in game fonts as well as truly customizable colors for the in-game text, they simply can't keep me playing. Even games like Forza, which made racing games wildly more accessible by offering up tons of assists and the oh-so-game-changing rewind feature, still feature mostly unmanageable menus with tiny fonts and badly contrasting color schemes.
Only one game in recent memory - and please, feel free to correct me here if I missed a similar feature in other games of its era - had the right idea when it came to menu accessibility, and that was Gran Turismo 6. The idea was simple but revolutionary for me - by holding in a trigger, I could zoom in on fonts in the menus. It was the sort of thing that should have been a slam-dunk no-brainer for just about every developer out there with an extensive menu system or text-heavy UI particularly when there's no action or the game is paused. But nope. It was a flash in the pan, a brief hope of something better that no one else implemented.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, it was Sony itself that revived the idea for their recent 2.5 update. Along with the suspend-resume feature (which I still need to tinker with), they included a few handy backend accessibility tools. Most of these only work at the system level, not in games, but the options to increase font sizes and have bold fonts are hugely appreciated nonetheless. And perhaps there's some way they could tie in those options and make them available to use in games in the future if developers are willing to take the time to work with them on it. Who knows?
What I do know is that along with all the other little (and not-so-little, depending on your needs) features came the zoom. I figured it was just another system level tool, one I'd use when I was browsing PSn or looking at messages. It's fairly simple. You enable the zoom in the accessibility options of the system. After that, you just press the Playstation button and square at the same time, and a basic zoom tool takes over the screen. You can't do anything but look around the screen while it's active, so you have to push the zoom every time you change a page or move to a different section, but it's still super handy.
I was excited to find that the feature also works in game as well - in any game. As I mentioned, you can't use it in an action-intensive game because it won't allow you to control what's happening in game while you're using it. But for games with interfaces that can be read while the game is paused, like the menus in Borderlands or Dying Light, it works well. Gone are the days when I zoom in on the screen with a digital camera or my iPad and take a picture so I can read it. Now I can read what's happening on screen in-game without much of any issue at all.
This isn't going to mean much to most of you, but it's big for me. It hasn't received a lot of coverage besides a few obligatory "here's what's new in update X" news articles, so I hope this helps illuminate a hugely beneficial feature for a vast minority of gamers. Developers of games and systems, please take note of what Sony's done and try to build on it. It's awesome to see games reaching out to more and more people.