Igor Garmash is a sightless gamer. Not only does he play video games himself, but he also helps other visually challenged people venture into the game universe. At the Garage museum he taught a special course, Introduction into Gaming for Beginners, intended for sightless persons.
Special View’s correspondent interviews Igor about computer games and their accessibility.
When did you first get interested in computer games?
I’ve been curious even as a child. My sighted sisters used to play computer games. Of course, those games were much more primitive compared to those we have today. Naturally, I longed to play, too. I tried to, but there were no screen readers at the time, so it couldn’t work. However, the desire to play never left me. I think that’s the thing. I’m watching my friends and students and see them quit as soon as they face the first obstacle and fail to overcome it. Whereas other people go on trying and in the end they succeed.
I was studying the computer in accordance with my needs, steadily but stubbornly. I had this funny story at school. Many of my classmates had only game consoles, while I had a real computer. Anyway, they were talking about their games and victories with such excitement that I begged my parents to sell the laptop and buy me a game console instead.
To what extent are computer games accessible for the sightless? Can you name some of the more accessible ones?
There are special games designed for the sightless. They are fully based on audio perception. I’m not a specialist in this kind if games. For me, it’s much more fun to pay the games everyone else is playing. However, these are not 100% accessible. One has to use so-called crutches, meaning to find ways to make the game accessible. This is truly interesting and it develops one’s mind. Speaking about out of the box accessibility, I can name The Last of Us, Part II. In this game, you can customize the built-in screen reader and navigation.
What kind of hardware and software a person would need to play computer games?
A computer, not too old one, and definitely Windows 10 OS. Its NVDA (non-visual desktop access) has optical image recognition, one that helps to perceive graphic elements. You would need a special video adapter and a computer mouse, same thing goes for a sightless gamer, too. What is more, I prefer the Discord platform. At first, it was a gamers-only web resource, but now they are developing new functions and becoming a platform for communication between people with similar interests. They even have this slogan: Discord: Your Place to Talk and Hang Out. It is a lot like Skype, but much more advanced. To control the game using this platform, it is advisable to get a gamepad.
Audio description: a colored photo. A dimly lit computer club. Two young women in heavy headphones are sitting face to face at a game table in the center. They are watching the computer screen with interest, fully absorbed in the game. A young man in a pastel colored sweatshirt is standing behind one of them and watching the game, too.
What skills can one develop and perfect thanks to computer games?
Games stimulate cognitive interest and activity in general. What’s more, one won’t be able to play without willpower, perseverance and determination. The games also develop attention, memory, spacial perception and brainwork. Tactic thinking levels up, too. Games help to perfect such things as seeing through sound (alertness to the sounds one perceives and enhancement of their identification) and the speed of reaction to certain sounds, as well as speed of reaction in general. One builds up motor skills, especially fine movements. Playing games may motivate people to learn a foreign language, because this field mostly uses English. There are different games. In some of them, the main goal is to tap the keys in a certain rhythm. That gives you motor skills development and rhythm recognition.
There is a strong opinion that virtual reality sucks one in. What do you think about it?
Speaking socially, one’s family and school are much more important than any game. If family relations are warm, if one fulfills one’s potential and is respected at school or at work, then the virtual world will never become more important than all of this.
How do computer games influence a sightless person’s social life?
Games encourage them to be more active socially, to communicate with a large number of people with no visual challenges. This is cool, it helps visually challenged persons leave their isolated world, the so-called blind web. Some are afraid of contacting people outside of it; they feel uncomfortable even about writing to other players inside the in-game chat room. But most often, other people react quite sensibly. Certainly, there are some exceptions. But my motto is, Be sensible, and you’ll sure find sensible people.
In the game, everyone speaks a common language, whether they can see or not. In some situations you’ll be given a hand, and in others, you’ll lend someone a hand in turn. The very fact of young people being familiar with modern technology brings them together. This is the basis which gives them other topics for conversation. Thus you can tell others about the way you live. This is a kind of inclusiveness promotion.
Audio description: a colored photo. The interior of a computer club. A young woman is sitting in front of a computer screen. She has black headphones on; her hands are lying on the keyboard. On screen, a computer game is in progress. A player character is standing amidst a hilled country, and a mission box is open.
You held a course to help sightless persons explore computer games at the Garage museum. Was this course a success? Do you believe this project to be highly important?
I think, no one will question its importance, taking into account all of the arguments I’ve just mentioned. To my mind, Introduction into Gaming for Beginners is quite well-timed. I taught it online, as I live in St. Pete. Sightless students came to my lectures to the World Gone By computer class at the Garage museum.
At our final lecture, we held a game stream on World of Warcraft universe, with both sighted and sightless participants. You can find the record of this stream at Garage museum Youtube channel. This became one more step in exchanging different experiences in the game world.
The museum’s computer class is fully adapted for sightless players, all of the required software is installed. I’m quite happy about it, and I’d like to thank the museum which made all of this possible. I hope this is just the beginning.
What else do you do in your chosen line of activity?
I started my own Youtube channel back in 2016. I give live streams. Both sightless and sighted people come to view them. I also do podcasts and videos where I share my experience with the followers.
What kinds of computer games do you prefer: single-player or multiplayer ones?
I play both on my own and in a team. The choice depends on my mood. You choose a game based on the emotions you wish to get. Sometimes you want to relax, and sometimes you want to brace up and taste the triumph.
Are you in contact with game developers? How do you reach them? Are they open for suggestions?
There is Tiflogames community, and AudioGames forum, but the latter uses only English as the language of communication. There one can sometimes find game developers. I offer them my assistance in game adaptation. The thing is to present yourself properly and find areas of common interest. It’s always easier to talk to individual developers than to large companies. Regretfully, there are no Russian game products at the moment, but our developers are always good at adapting games and designing various game modifications. As for sightless persons, they themselves should be more flexible. Who can make our life easier if not us? The Internet is a huge window into the world where we can socialize and fulfill our potential.