I've never really felt compelled to comment on any of the articles here though I've been reading The Escapist since its inception but that has just changed. I'm a visually impaired gamer. I've got 20/800 in my left eye and 20/1000 in my right. Though, most visually impaired people will tell you that acuity statistics are all BS, which they are. Everyone's got a unique set of circumstances and everyone perceives differently. Since there seems to be a great deal if ignorance and downright mystification as to how someone lacking any degree of vision can play a videogame, I figure I should dispel some of those assumptions straight away. I'm not trying to be harsh, caustic, or critical, for the record. But this is one sector of the gamer populous that is so utterly small and so completely under-represented that I figure it's time someone said something.
I've been gaming since I was five years old. My sister received and NES for Christmas and didn't care for it too much. I took up the mantle, and have been gaming ever since. My games of choice have typically been RPGs, but I've been known to throw down the gauntlet on some Soulcalibur (what's with that ridiculous compounding of the word anyway?) or Tekken. I regularly play Rock Band/Guitar Hero on expert without incident. So here's the thing when it comes to visually impaired gamers. Abstraction is good. When Mario was pixelated, the colors simple, the detail low, and everything painted out in broad, chunky strokes, it was easy to play. There simply weren't enough details to muddle the eye. The components were threefold; foreground, background, and moveable elements on the foreground (i.e. the PC and his enemies). Most retro games were like this. When we made the jump to 16 bit, those elements only got more detailed, but it was still an abstraction. When 3D and 32 bit rolled around textures were so uniformly bad, so dithered, dull, and simplistic that abstraction still reigned supreme. But the more realistic games become, the more like reality they appear to be. The nice thing about an impression of reality, or an interpretation broadly painted and simply executed is that visually impaired players could excel here. Unlike reality, it's uncluttered, uncomplicated, and made of simple building blocks not too much unlike lego. What I'm driving at is that gaming has become a lot like (in the mainstream anyway) the reality from which the visually impaired gamer is trying to escape. But simplistic games (simplistic in terms of presentation, not ruleset) will always reign supreme in our eyes because the eye can digest it without cumbersome shadows, realistic lighting, a billion particle effects, bump mapping, normal mapping, high poly counts, etc. etc. This is why Rock Band and Guitar Hero are so fantastic. We're back to that magic word abstraction again. Five buttons, whose colors are moot points because their order on the guitar neck/drum pads coincides with their order onscreen make it a billion times easier to interface with the game.
I'm not suggesting that developers need to dumb down their visuals to cater to the visually impaired crowd. What I am suggesting is that some kind of visual queue exist to guide the visually impaired player in such a way that the realistic nature of the world does not interfere with his enjoyment of the game. Fable 2 has already done this. The golden trail was a complete boon to me. It made a game which could have been marginally more difficult for me less so. I wonder if Lionhead even realized that their little trick would benefit others than thecasual market at whom they were so adamantly aimed.
This has already run far too long as is, so I'm just going to let the dog go back to sleep, unless someone wants to take up the torch from here and inquire. I think it's important that people know about the existence of VI and blind gamers. I do feel marginalized in games sometimes, but I've never abandoned the industry that gave me so many great memories. I don't intend to, accessibility be damned. Just know that we're out there, and we might draw back and strike with a page's worth of forum ramble at a moment's notice.