Gaming Without Sight: Levelling Up

Sightless Kombat10 minute read

Introduction

For those who don’t know me, I’m SightlessKombat (sometimes shortened to Sightless, Kombat, or SK), an accessibility consultant and gamer without sight (GWS) based in the UK. This article serves as a sequel of sorts to a previous article I put together in 2020, where I discussed how I work around the various challenges and issues I face whilst trying to simply enjoy the same gaming experiences as sighted gamers.

So Why The Need For A Sequel?

There’s no doubt it’s been a tough time for everyone. But one constant, for me at least, has been not only gaming but streaming, content creation, and (through the advances in accessibility of various applications, remote work as well).

Being able to have a routine throughout current world events has meant that I’ve been able to hold onto some kind of sense of “normality” in myself, but also that I’ve been able to continue enjoying one of my passions: gaming. But as much as that could’ve been said to be true at any point before the first article in this series was written, there’s been a fair amount of change and upheaval.

So, What’s Changed?

Gears Tactics soldiers walking through mist

Mixer’s Shutdown

During my first article, I referred not only to Mixer (Microsoft’s answer to Twitch’s domination of the streaming market), but also to Share Controller, a feature that allowed me to have a second player (irrespective of location) assisting me in completing games I otherwise would not be able to.

Unfortunately, last year, on July 23, 2020, Mixer shut its doors for good and migrated streamers, or those who chose to go, over to Facebook Gaming. Suffice it to say that, given Mixer had been my “home” for a good while by that point, I was rather frustrated.

The reasoning behind this was twofold, as not only did Facebook Gaming not have Share Controller or any bot support (that I knew of) to make the experience more pleasant both as a streamer and a viewer, but the key reason: it wasn’t very accessible at all with a screen reader. From a complicated interface for even being sure you were setting up the right sort of account (which was at the time done through an entire separate page to the actual Facebook site), to having to change who you were commenting as in order to use the name that people were familiar with, it all made for a rather unpleasant and unwelcoming experience.

So, What Happened Next?

Twitch logo on purple background

Short answer: I moved to Twitch, where I now stream regularly, as did so many others. Even though initially the bot I use, specifically Firebot from Team Crowbar, did not have Twitch integration and was originally designed to work solely with Mixer, I was able to find workarounds until such a time as the team had a new version ready for testing which, it turned out, didn’t take long.

Adjusting to the new platform had its stressful moments, but overall, I was set up and ready to go in relatively short order and have enjoyed collaborations with various other individuals, which I’ll come onto shortly.

Cooperative Collaboration

With the demise of Mixer also came the death of Share Controller, the aforementioned feature that opened up so many avenues for possible games to stream and enjoy with others. This presented me with a massive problem in that I could only either play games with callouts (such as a person saying “left a little, right a little” while they watched a Discord feed of my capture card, similar to this example from God Of War featuring Jennissary, one of my collaborators) which is a far from the ideal scenario or, instead, have someone in the same room to assist with single-player only titles.

I’m not including games that are primarily played with teams from my perspective (things like Sea Of Thieves or Gears 5), solely focusing on my inability to play the majority of single-player titles due to lacking accessibility features.

Admittedly, having to constantly arrange scheduling and not play the games I wanted to play with the same ease as I had done with Share Controller did burn me out to an extent at one point. However, after a while, I looked into a piece of software that I’d heard mentioned in passing but hadn’t given much thought at the time.

Enter Parsec

Far Cry 6 accessibility Anton and Diego

The piece of software in question, as you might be able to tell from the above heading, is Parsec. Though this software can be used for PC-to-PC gaming, hosting online tournaments, or even remote work implementations, my key interest was whether you could hook up the Titan 2 from Console Tuner (that I mentioned in my previous article) to this software solution, to create an equivalent to CoPilot.

It turned out that fortunately, someone on the Console Tuner forums had already had the same or similar thoughts. Though the scenario posed in the forum thread is different from what I wanted, I was able to adapt it into the following workflow:

  1. My controller is connected to input B of the Titan 2, with the Titan 2 connected to my console of choice (usually PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X)
  2. Parsec is set up to receive controller data only from friends who I allow to connect
  3. The Parsec data is transferred from the player at the other end, through the Titan 2’s programming port and GTuner software that is capturing gamepad/joystick input. This data then goes out to the console through the Titan 2’s console USB connection.
  4. Parsec also allows for a screen share and audio feed of OBS to be sent back to my collaborator so they can see the game, but only while GTuner is open in my case

The end result is, essentially, CoPilot over the internet, with the Titan 2 acting as the “brain” of the setup. This configuration has allowed me to beat games including God Of War (Platinum), Hellblade (100% of achievements on Xbox), Horizon: Zero Dawn (Platinum), Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, and most recently the first Dead Space, to name just a few.

Parsec’s Potential

Not only does the above setup allow for games that would’ve been playable via Share Controller (i.e. those on Xbox consoles) to be playable with sighted assistance regardless of streaming platform, but also games where the consoles or platforms do not have native CoPilot-like functionality. Most of the time, personally, it’s been useful for titles that run on PlayStation 4 or 5 (though the Titan 2 as of the time of writing doesn’t fully support all the new features of the DualSense), but that simply depends on what consoles the titles I want to play exist on in the first place. If you have the equipment and cash to put towards any additional components you need for a setup like this, I’d recommend it with one main caveat if you’re a screen reader user.

The main flaw? Currently, Parsec is not accessible without sighted assistance, at least in terms of navigating the UI with a screen reader. This means that, until I learned the application had keyboard shortcuts for a rather limited list of actions, I had needed sighted assistance to allow anyone to connect or even close the program. The latter is resolved via the same method you use to shut down Steam with a screen reader (right-clicking the system tray icon, pressing up once, and then enter) but having a fully accessible context menu here would certainly be of use too.

I have attempted to inform the team of these accessibility issues and others but have so far had no positive results. Given their partnership with Ubisoft however and the latter’s increasing work in the accessibility space, there is definitely a possibility of improvements at some point, though when is currently not certain.

Playing More Accessible Games

The Last of Us 2 Ellie's mouth and neck

As much as CoPilot, screen sharing and the Titan 2 amongst other solutions can be useful ways to work around accessibility issues, the fact still remains that the ideal solution is to have games that are accessible in the first place. Consequently, playing games like Gears 5 in which I can assist sighted players and The Last Of Us Part II, which I was able to platinum with minimal sighted assistance (prior to a patch including accessibility tweaks), has been an even more fulfilling experience, as I can participate without sighted assistance in at least some if not all of what the game has to offer.

Even being able to show prospective players demonstration videos like this combat demo I recorded of The Last Of Us Part II is enjoyable, as they suddenly realize how much potential there is in accessibility (whether they can see or not). Sometimes this experience even motivates people to try and play through the entire experience blindfolded, as Jennissary, voice of the God Of War #TranscribingGames videos did with The last Of Us 2.

There are also titles that have either partial accessibility or features that, though not intended to increase access for those with disabilities (including gamers without sight), do so to varying degrees. Whilst games that offer unintentional accessibility might not be fully playable without assistance, like Dead Space with its objective navigation that also orients your camera, they are also useful resources for developers to see how they can improve their own current and future projects.

Of course, there are titles like Sea Of Thieves, where navigation is achieved via a combination of callouts from your crew and accessibility features like Nautical Narration, Gears 5 (where with some practice you can do well at lower difficulty levels in both Horde and Escape mode, also thanks to specific accessibility features) and the recently released Forza Horizon 5, the most accessible racing game yet as a gamer without sight (with a few relatively major caveats). However, there are very few games that can be said to be fully playable without requiring any sighted assistance, hence the need for the solution(s) presented above.

Closing Thoughts

Sea of Thieves Fate of the Damned art with a green lit skeleton

As more developers learn about accessibility, its importance and positive impact as well as the fact that it’s better to work on it from the very beginning right the way through development, I have hope that I’ll be able to find more and more games that won’t need collaboration or sighted assistance and that I can enjoy on my own, whether I’m streaming or not.

But until the day comes that every game is accessible as a gamer without sight, which some might see as an optimistic pipedream, I hope that the above information is useful to those who need it or are looking to branch out and continue to raise awareness of accessibility.

As I said at the end of the previous article, if you’re working in or around games and would like to talk to me about my experiences and accessibility as a gamer without sight, I’m always up to discuss and consult on current and future projects to help make gaming a place for everyone. I’m also happy to lend my perspective to podcasts, interviews, articles and videos as well.

If you’d like to get in contact with me to start a discussion, feel free to message me on Twitter, use my website’s contact form or say hi during a Twitch stream to get a dialogue going.

Regardless, I hope this article gives you a greater understanding of accessibility issues that are still faced by gamers without sight, even in an age where Microsoft and Sony’s consoles now have user interfaces that are (mostly) navigable completely without the need for sighted assistance. Whilst everything may not be perfect or even where we want it yet, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

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Sightless
Kombat

Sightless Kombat is an accessibility consultant, gamer without sight and content creator.

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