Zack is an awesome guy I met through twitter, and we have a common interest in disability and gaming. In this second recording of The Geeky Gimp Presents, I interview Zack on what it’s like to be a blind gamer in an otherwise able-centric industry. He talks about his favorite console and tabletop games, a sense (or lack of) community, and what he thinks needs to be done to make gaming more accessible.
The games he mentioned in the podcast:
This is my first actual podcast, so please bear that in mind as you listen to my awkwardness! I promise to get better as I go on. 🙂
The video is above, and is closed captioned. Visually, there is an opening title screen that names the episode, followed by a black screen with The Geeky Gimp’s contact info. There are a few annotations, and they just tell the listener/viewer to look below at the show notes for the games mentioned in the podcast.
You can also download the mp3 (above the YouTube video) for listening on the go!
The transcript is below.
Transcribed by E.L – thank you!
Video description: A podcast of The Geeky Gimp, Podcast #2. Text over colored, triangular, striped background (orange and pink): The Geeky Gimp presents… a podcast with Zack…on being a gamer who’s blind, accessibility, and community.
ERIN: Welcome to a podcast with The Geeky Gimp. And today we have a guest. Can you say hello, and tell us about yourself?
ZACK: Hi, I’m Zack Kline, I’m a senior at Oregon State University, in the Pacific Northwest, and I am totally blind and have been since birth.
ERIN: Okay. So what are some of your hobbies and what do you like to do? What are you studying?
ZACK: I’m studying human development and family science.
ERIN: Oh nice.
ZACK: Which is basically social work with a different name.
ZACK: Hobbies, I love, obviously games, and books and I have a soft spot for ballroom dancing, when I get a chance, which is not often, but so it goes. I’m just in general a bit more of a geek than your average, but that’s, uh…
ERIN: Yeah, well [LAUGH] How did you get, how did you get involved in gaming?
ZACK: I’ve been interested in gaming in all forms since I was a kid, My brother first introduced me to, I believe it was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition back in the mid to late 90s. And we only played one or two sessions, maybe. Then he moved on, but I was entranced, and at that time we also got ourselves a Nintendo 64 console. And there were a few games I could play on that, and so it’s been kind of a continual passion of mine ever since.
ERIN: Nice. When you play a video game, how do you access the games?
ZACK: It really depends. I mean, video game is kind of like a broad term. If you’re talking about games specifically on, like, a console system?
ZACK: Then typically by sound. If a game has a good enough audio palate then I can do something with it. A lot of fighting games typically have that.
ZACK: Mortal Kombat, you know, Super Smash Brothers, whatever.
ZACK: If you’re talking about a computer game, that’s different. Typically I don’t have a lot of experience playing mainstream computer games. Just because I don’t think that it’s super easy in the same way as a console game is.
ZACK: There are these so-called audio games which are custom made for the blind and I think you’ve reviewed at least one of them, I believe it was Grail to the Thief.
ERIN: Yeah, that one, yeah.
ZACK: In my experience they’re interesting, but they’re not compelling, really, for me? I’m unfortunately or fortunately more of a hardcore gamer, I like to think, and so I find the audio offerings a little bit frustrating.
ERIN: So they’re like too easy?
ZACK: Too easy, too simplistic. I mean, for a long time we were stuck on Space Invaders clones. And that was a thing for a while, and we’ve only now, recently, started to diversify a bit, and even so, it’s still kind of, we’re lagging behind the mainstream in a big way. And I understand why, but it’s frustrating.
ERIN: Yeah, I understand that. So do you play, like, are you able to play multiplayer? Multiplayer games?
ZACK: Somewhat. There are MUDs, Multi-User Dungeons, which are basically text-based multiplayer games.
ERIN: Oh, okay.
ZACK: They are fun and interesting but they also tend to have, at least in the majority of cases, a lot more hack and slash than I tend to like.
ERIN: Oh, yeah.
ZACK: So the game is not really compelling over the long haul.
ERIN: Oh, okay.
ZACK: I can play them every so often, but it’s hard to find good ones.
ERIN: Right, so.
ZACK: And even the most successful of those doesn’t have nearly the player count of, say, WOW.
ERIN: Right. So there’s not always someone to play with?
ERIN: Right, yeah. That’s, ehh.
ZACK: So it goes.
ERIN: Yeah. So what games do you like to play–what are you into now?
ZACK: Well, one of the hottest and most interesting gaming opportunities that came up fairly recently, was Apple iOS, the iPhone and iPod and like that have a great built in screenreader program, and that enables, among other things, access to many different games. A couple favorites of mine… one is a mainstream title called King of Dragon Pass, which is accessible on iOS.
ZACK: a very hardcore, not complicated necessarily but definitely deep strategy game. And I’ve been playing that and testing that and generally in love with it for several years. And another game I’ve been playing recently is a text based adventure game called Hadean lands, all about problems on a starship which runs on alchemy.
ERIN: Oh. Huh.
ZACK: Very strange.
ERIN: That sounds like fun.
ZACK: King of Dragon Pass is designed by David Dunham at A Sharp Software (and I can give you the contact info for that later if you…) and [Hadean Lands] is written by a guy named Andrew Plotkin, who’s written tons of other text based interactive fiction over the years.
ERIN: Awesome. So when you play the games online are they made specifically for blind people or is it like general?
ZACK: I try not to play specifically for blind people, I feel like that limits us. Puts us into a niche. That being said, I feel like we are not super, as far as a community, we as a disabled community are not on everyone’s radar for making games useable. Computer or otherwise. So, I play them when I can.
ERIN: So how do you think game designers can make games more accessible.
ZACK: If they pay attention to us, and consult us, and use sound intelligently, thats a big step, I think. If they take the time to think about it. I think thought and knowledge is really important because frankly I think a lot of them don’t do it because they don’t know about us.
ERIN: Right, yeah. Or they’re just don’t think about it because they’re not blind themselves.
ZACK: They’re not blind. Yeah. It’s fair. I understand why they don’t, but yeah.
ERIN: So you’re into tabletop games too. So what do you play and how do you access them?
ZACK: It varies. I mean, mostly, I am an RPG person. I’ve recently been getting into board and card games but I’ve found the accessibility issues in those games a little harder to deal with than they should be or could be. RPGS are easy. I can just write up a character sheet in, oh, Word, or whatever, and roll dice virtually and so on. Card games are harder just because I need to braille information on the cards sometimes.
ERIN: Right. So do you do that yourself?
ZACK: With sighted help.
ZACK: I’ve managed to do it for one or two games.
ZACK: Mostly just because of time. And I mean I know of some people who pay help to braille games that they’re passionate about.
ZACK: But I haven’t gotten to that point yet.
ZACK: I feel like it’s an extra tax on the wallet that we shouldn’t be–shouldn’t be required to…
ERIN: Yeah, I agree, yeah.
ERIN: So, you know, 64 Oz. Games, they’re making a whole, cause of that whole [Kickstarter].
ZACK: That was about, what was it, a few months ago? I backed them and I’m looking forward to that.
ERIN: Yeah, me too.
ZACK: I think the thing about them is that is potentially very promising. Because frankly, the only games we have access to without some kind of modifications are traditional family games. You know, we have braille Monopoly and braille, you know, Uno, and braille decks of playing cards and stuff like that, but frankly not much else. And that’s limiting in the extreme.
ERIN: Yeah, it is. So do you find the board game community is welcoming? Are they open to these accessibility issues?
ZACK: In general, yes. It depends on where you go, of course, and sometimes you’ll find people who aren’t but I’ve had more positive experiences than not.
ZACK: I think the issues facing board game companies are similar to the ones facing video game developers, in as much as they don’t think about us and there’s no reason for them to make their games accessible if they don’t.
ERIN: Like when I go to a boardgame meetup or something, I always feel really weird, like, just because I don’t know how to… Like when they see me, I can tell the look, that look on their face like they don’t know what to do.
ZACK: How am I gonna deal with this person? Yeah.
ERIN: You know, yeah. So do you have that experience too?
ZACK: Sometimes, yeah. Once or twice. I mean, I can’t see it, maybe that helps, maybe it’s a blessing, in that I can’t tell how weirded people out–how weirded out people are by my appearance there, but, I mean, it’s just something I have to accept as par for the course in many things, although I think my end goal is for people to think of me as a gamer first and blind second or third.
ERIN: Right. Yeah, I know but its like… I dunno, it’s just weird. It’s hard to find a group that’s really open, you know, helping me, and you know, it’s hard sometimes. That’s all.
ZACK: Yeah, I understand that. I’ve been there. I mean, I had a recent experience at my local gaming club here where I couldn’t get anyone interested in playing the games I *had* brought and so I was sitting in the corner for an hour or more waiting for them to finish up so I might be able to join in. It was deeply frustrating. I was, you know. I had. I like to think I am a pretty patient person up to a point, but eventually it got to me and it was like, ‘This is too much.’ I left. It was incredibly awkward, and I have not been back since, but, you know, it happens.
ERIN: Yeah, it does. I’ve found that the board game community is more welcoming than the video game community. And I don’t–
ZACK: Can I take a moment to put in a, pardon me, “fuck gamergate.” [unintelligible] Seriously.
ERIN: Yeah. Totally. I think that’s a big part of the issue. Cause if it’s not–it’s not–
ZACK: I think, I mean I don’t consider myself a member necessarily of any kind of organized video game community.
ERIN: No, me either.
ZACK: I am a person who likes to play games, and if I find people who are interested in doing that with me, more the better.
ERIN: Like I’m a gamer, but I’m afraid to say…I’m a gamer. I don’t like that association, with that.
ZACK: Yeah. I’m a gamer, I’m a gamer definitely, but I don’t find any–I find it diffficult because I don’t know what other term to use. I like games.
ERIN: I like games.
ZACK: Yeah. I like games, I play games. It’s absurd.
ERIN: It is. And I don’t know why, the board game community is just more open, I think, but I don’t know why. How is it more–it’s just easier there. The video game–I think the video game community…they tend to be…younger?
ZACK: Younger, and less aware, and culturally ignorant sometimes, yeah I think that might have a lot to do with it.
ERIN: Yeah. So. So what games do–what RPGs do you play?
ZACK: Funnily enough, for someone who got his start in Dungeons and Dragons and stuff I’ve sort of drifted away from that. I find if it’s run badly, D&D evolves into, or devolves into, hack and slash combat without end and that bores me to tears.
ZACK: On the other hand, I have a real soft spot for Call of Cthulhu and similar games of horror and I like the–I mean I like pretty much anything as long as it’s an evocative game setting or the system is cool, in some respect. Of course I’m in this position of having read a lot more than I’ve played but that’s not unusual for roleplayers.
ERIN: So I’ve never actually played Dungeons and Dragons or any other RPG. Like I’ve just never…I dunno, I want to, but it’s hard to find people to play with, so.
ZACK: I have had a great deal of success gaming online, especially in a Skype setting, so.
ERIN: Right. I should try that, see how it goes. So, is there anything else you wanted to talk about, or, mention your Twitter, oh your Twitter account, yeah.
ZACK: Absolutely. I’m at zkline, Z-K-L-I-N-E, on Twitter, and I tweet lots of gaming stuff.
ERIN: Your Twitter is like, one of the Twitters I actually stop and read, you know?
ZACK: I appreciate that. And I apologize for the recent spate of Hadean Lands alchemy tweets.
ERIN: I was like, what are you talking about? Like I had no idea. I was just like, okay.
ZACK: It’s just the kind of–I mean the author is running a little contest to see who makes it farthest. That’s part of why I’m doing it, but it’s also just kind of fun. I mean I hoppe that–I think what I really want to stress is that I am open to talking about this kind of stuff with anyone who is willing to listen.
ERIN: Yeah, I think it’s really important for people with disabilities to speak out and make sure people hear us, make sure people know that we play games, and…so I think it’s important that we, you know, we make ourselves heard. So.
ZACK: Absolutely, if there’s anything else, feel free to hit me up whenever.
ERIN: Yeah, okay, I will. Thank you for talking to me and sharing your–sharing your insight.
ZACK: Happy to provide it.
ERIN: All right, well, take care.
ZACK: You too.
[OUTRO FUTURISTIC MUSIC]
ERIN: Thank you for listening to The Geeky Gimp Presents. I hope you enjoyed the podcast. If you have any questions, or comments, you can email me or find me on Twitter @geekygimp. Thank you, bye!