My love for gaming first started back in 2005 when someone introduced me to The Sims 2. At that time I was also introduced to Counter Strike and Unreal Tournament and I’ve played many other games in between like Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot and Sonic the Hedgehog, etc.
Even though I really wanted to get into both games, I wasn’t great at Counter Strike or Unreal Tournament because I felt the pressure to be an expert in order to get into what I mistakenly thought was a boys’ only club (Side note: I’ve recently discussed this gaming-level self-consciousness issue in an interview with geek girl and tech junkie Sam Wright).
After a while, my budding love of gaming eventually took a backseat and I continued focusing on my studies, getting a job and trying my hand at other things that were still multimedia related.
And then in 2007 I was diagnosed with Keratoconus.
To give you a bit of context, I initially went to the optometrist for a routine check up, only to discover that what I thought was merely a case of short-sightedness was something else entirely.
Keratoconus is essentially a condition where the corneas of your eyes change shape due to the weakening and thinning of the corneal structure.
People who’ve been diagnosed with this have corneas that have often been described as rugby-ball or cone-shaped. Those with normal vision have corneas that are more rounded.
Because of the misshapen corneas, my vision is completely distorted, making things appear completely blurry and streaky.
I also sometimes see images in a “halo” or “double vision” effect and my eyes get tired quickly. They also tear up and often become very red when I sit in front of a computer for too long.
Despite 7 years of treatment, I can no longer wear glasses and had to switch to hard contact lenses.
Since my corneas have continued to deteriorate, I’ve had to undergo a cross-linking procedure to stop the condition from becoming worse.
At present there are no known cures and I've avoided a total corneal transplant because my doctor said that it would be risky and should only be considered as a last option.
Because my job requires me to be in front of a computer for most of the day, I do worry that I’m undoing the effects of the procedure. I am in the process of finally getting my condition listed as a disability, because I really don’t want to cause any further damage to my eyes, especially considering my re-emerging love of gaming.
Which brings me to the point of why I’m writing this. Gaming.
Over the last year I’ve been rediscovering my long-lost passion. I’ve specifically taken to the role playing genre and have become obsessed with the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchise. Um, yes, I’m late to the party, but at least I’m here.
The one thing I’ve realised is that because of my eye condition, I’ll never be able to be a competitive gamer. I’ve often downplayed my role as a gamer because I know that there are pro gamers that would dismiss me because I can’t put in the same amount of game time that they can.
Thankfully, I have lovely gaming friends who have been nothing but supportive of me being a “slow” gamer.
I’ve seen a lot of toxic behaviour from online gamers in particular – Heaven help you if you call for more diversity in gaming. People can be vicious towards you if you don’t fit into the mould of what a gamer is supposed to be or look like and I’m scared that many will judge me for not playing the hottest/latest games.
What many people don’t realise is that there are some games – both old and new - that I can’t play. An example of this is Fable.
I’m not sure if anyone has ever experienced this, but the camera movements in the game have made me dizzy and caused migraines. I often develop headaches if I sit in front of a computer for too long, so anything with shaky movements can be unbearable.
I’d really love to try my hand at it again (most of my friends adore the game), but that nauseating dizziness is not something I’m keen to experience.
WATCH: Dragon Age: Inquisition trailer
Dragon Age: Inquisition is tons of fun for me. I don’t have any issues with combat scenes or tactical camera movements at all. I’ve also found that I don’t have trouble with the text in the game (e.g. the quest markers in the war room), for the most part - – but I do need to rest if I spend too long playing.
There’s a great review for DAI that discusses the accessibility features here.
I’ve found Mass Effect to be pretty accessible too. Not so much ME1 but ME2 is an absolute joy in terms of text size, in-game video demos and clear subtitles, along with excellent voiceovers for when you do get tired of reading the text.
I haven’t played ME3 or Andromeda yet – I’m building my way up, so I’m not sure how disability-friendly those games are yet. I’m also slowly making my way back into the world of Skyrim again – it’s been years since I’ve played it, so I can’t remember what trouble I’ve experienced with it. Here’s hoping!
I am well aware that there are people who have eye conditions that are a lot worse than mine – like Brandon Cole, a gamer who is completely blind and Steve Saylor a blind gamer who streams his game play on YouTube (so amazing).
I do take comfort in the fact that there are gaming studios who are really working hard to be more inclusive – not just in terms of character development and play, but also in terms of catering to the disabled community.
I mean, Bioware won the Mainstream Accessibility Award for Dragon Age: Origins – and that game is a good couple of years old now. So if they can do it, then any gaming studio worth their salt can make that effort.
WATCH: Destiny 2 Official Launch Trailer
In the meantime, I think I really want to give Destiny 2 a try – according to Ablegamers, there are some great options including different colour blind modes, subtitle options and mouse sensitivity and controller settings (the latter for those with motor impairments).
Do you have any recommendations for great RPG games – new or old - that you think are user friendly? I’d love to hear from you (PC platform as that’s most affordable for me right now).
Also, are you a gamer with a disability? What’s helped you with your gaming? I’d love to hear from you.