Legally Blind #13 – Driving Again (Sorta)

Ever since I went legally blind, I have to be choosy about the games I play. With modern HD televisions and gaming graphics came an unfortunate byproduct – fonts so tiny that they’re completely unreadable by me. While developers are slowly learning how to implement things like “color blind modes,” there’s still no great solution to the font size problem, even nearly a decade after it first started to crop its ugly head. Even then, the “color blind” name is a misnomer, since there are wildly different variations on each individual’s color blindness.

This leaves me having to pick apart videos of games I’d like to play to see if it’s feasible for my eyesight. User interfaces aren’t likely to see marked low-vision improvements until a big advocate gets a foot in the door with game developers – it’s not feasible for the business to stop and adjust their games in development for the sake of low-vision gamers. Sony’s done something fascinating with the PS4 in that they’ve implemented a zoom feature, enabled in the system’s disability settings, but it’s not a perfect solution – you can’t act while the zoom is locked in, and in action-heavy games that require quick reading of text, that’s not ideal. Still, it’s a huge step in the right direction, one I hope is being improved upon by system programmers.

One of the unfortunate casualties of my post-legal blindness was racing games. With the sheer speed of the games and the often sudden corners, I was left unable to play an entire genre. Disappointing, but in the late aughts, this changed.

A Microsoft-owned developer by the name of Turn 10 cranks out a series of racing games called Forza just about every year now. I liked the look of the games from a distance, but figured they weren’t really for me. But one of the big flags they waved for the third Forza was accessibility.

“Sure,” I thought. “And by accessibility, you don’t mean for the legally blind.”

In fact, that wasn’t the case. What they meant by accessibility was ease of use for people new to the racing genre. This included a lot of neat-sounding stuff, like racing lines that showed you where to brake, make your turns, or put the hammer down. Most importantly, though, it had a neat little rewind feature – screw up badly in a race, and you can just reverse time in small chunks to correct your mistake.

A lot of gamers boo-hooed this as a cheat for gaming babies. But I was curious. If I could correct my mistakes driving in a racing game, theoretically I could actually play the game, regardless of how terrible I was. I bought Forza 3, popped it in, and I’m not kidding when I say I had one of the great emotional experiences of my adult life within the first few hours.

I was driving again.

Sure, it wasn’t the real thing. There was no feel of the tires gripping the road. Most of the cars sounded exactly alike and more than a few drove fairly similarly too. And everything around the fringes was definitely not low-vision friendly (especially in Forza 4, which had some of the most awful contrasting color schemes in its main menus that you could imagine – hint, black on white is never a good choice). But in-game, I was behind the wheel again, and not just in a few cars, but hundreds of them.

I knew the differences. Forza wasn’t going to cure all the mild depression that comes with being legally blind in a small town. The game wasn’t going to whisk me off to a bookstore, or let me drive aimlessly for no good reason other than to see some random site on my bucket list. But what it did do was offer me a taste of what I was missing – feeling the wheel between my hands has never been so close to me as Forza 3 or 4.

Fast forward to 2017. I managed to make enough writing this year to afford a decent computer capable of running many new games on mid-to-high settings, leaving me excited about the prospect of what I could play. It’s been a neat year – with my magnifier turned on and certain games in windowed mode, I can play a lot of PC games that were, before now, inaccessible to me. It’s not a cure-all – loads of games don’t want to work with magnifiers, but you’d be surprised at how well I’ve adapted. And with the ridiculous PC game sales that happen on Steam and elsewhere, I’m not lacking for things to play when I have a few extra bucks.

And best of all? Microsoft’s started putting its Forza games on PC – and Forza 7 is just over the horizon (it’s a clever joke if you’re familiar with the series. Oh, piss off, it is!). I look forward to running off the road, smashing into other cars, whacking walls, and being an absolutely terrible driver – then getting to do it all over again.

Thanks for reading.



Author: therealcamlowe

Writer, occasional victim of pug crop-dusting.

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