You may find this hard to believe, but I, an average twenty-something blind guy from the United Kingdom, have been playing video games for almost 2 decades! I know. Unbelievable, right? It only seems like just yesterday, I was playing Turok on my dad’s first generation, Red Ring of Death prone Xbox 360, and having a blast in WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010, showing how truly badass John Cena can really be. Joooooohn Cena!
But how have I managed to cope in the video game sphere for nearly 20 years despite being without any eyesight? In this post, I shall answer this very question, detailing the ups, the downs, the ins, the outs, the whys and the why nots of my video game journey. This is… 20 years in gaming: a history!
The early years. Introduction to computers and DIY simulation
Our story begins in the third year of the third millennium. Two zero zero three. Zweitausenddrei. The year 2003!
Ah, 2003. What a time to be alive. Facebook hadn’t been invented yet, the Nokia N-Gage was all the rage, and Junior Senior’s Move Your Feet was flying up the UK charts like a newly launched NASA space rocket. Also in 2003, little 2 and a half / 3 year old me was about to get his first glimpse of the breathtaking feat of electromechanics that is the personal computer system, otherwise known as the PC.
I’ve covered my first ever computer before in a previous post, so I won’t talk about it too much here. In a nutshell, it was a custom built PC from a friend of my dad’s. It had both a floppy disk drive and a CD-ROM drive, and when I first received it in 2003, it ran Windows 95. It was my loyal servant for 8 years, and I loved it to death. Pity I can’t remember its exact hardware specs, though. 🙁
My introduction to the PC would also turn out to be my introduction to the ever amazing world of video games. There were 2 games I’d mainly play on my 2003 custom build.
Tonka Workshop was released in 1998 by Hasbro Interactive. Targeted at young children, Tonka Workshop is set in the… uh… Tonka Town Workshop, Where players can build various structures and complete many DIY related tasks around Tonka Town. Town tasks include mending farm fences, repairing loose bicycle bells and fixing a dangerous hole in a park bridge so that children can play in the park again, with the cheery sounding Tonka Joe guiding you every step of the way.
You can either play using the hardware workbench and tool set that comes with the game, or you can just use the mouse like an ordinary PC gamer. Of course, being blind, I mainly used the hardware tool set.
You can find out more about Tonka Workshop by checking out this Wiki Fandom article (ignore the release date, it’s 1998, not 2000). You can also find a game play video by the CD-ROM Longplays YouTube channel below.
Hey, look! Another Hasbro game! Playskool Store, released in the year 2000, sees you playing as a store cashier, serving your various animated customers. For each transaction you successfully complete, a gold star is added to your score. Once you have 15 gold stars, you can print out your virtual paycheck. Of course, a printer is required for this feature to work! 🙂
Like Tonka Workshop, Playskool Store also comes with a hardware playset. Of course, it’s a cash register this time. To price up items your customers want to buy, you simply enter the associated number using the number pad on your hardware cash register. Each number on the keypad corresponds to a price in pounds. Number 1 = 1 pound, number 2 = 2 pounds, number 5 = 5 pounds, etc. I’m not sure if there were country specific versions of the game. If there was a US or Canadian version, for instance, I’d assume pounds would be replaced with dollars. What’s cool with this is that when you enter a price, a human voice speaks the price(s) you’re entering, as well as the total price of all the items. This was extremely helpful to me as a blind player. However, some tasks require a lot of scanning and on-screen symbol counting to price up items, which my dad was always happy to provide sighted assistance with.
I’ve been scouring the internet for many years, and sadly, I have been unable to find a single piece of game play footage for this game. At least, not to the same standard as Tonka Workshop. If anyone knows who is still selling the game, or where to find some decent, no-commentary game play footage of this awesome game, please, please, please let me know! Take me back to the 2000s where I belong!
Of course, as well as those games, I’d also play the timeless Windows classics like Solitaire and Mine Sweeper with sighted assistance from my dad, despite being utterly terrible at them!
2007. Wired for sound
2007 saw me enter the very fascinating world of audio games. Best defined, an audio game is a computer game that uses sound as a primary means of experiencing and interacting with the game and elements within the game. Because an audio game’s primary focus is sound, most audio games don’t come with any on-screen visual effects like a typical video game, leaving the player completely reliant on their ears.
Ironically, the very first time I played an audio game was when I was at school, using a Windows XP laptop owned by the school.
The following are the first 5 audio games I ever played.
A simple but annoying game set on a 21×21 grid in which you have to avoid a beeping enemy for as long as possible. The longer you survive, the faster the enemy follows you around the board, making him increasingly harder to dodge. If he catches you, you die instantly and it’s game over!
This game is kind of a beat matching game, but not quite. Think of PaRappa the Rapper, but you’re matching single sounds instead of rhythms. You basically have to press the correct arrow key, be it Left Arrow, Right Arrow, Up Arrow or Down Arrow, that corresponds with a specific sound. If you press the wrong arrow key, however, you will hear a long, loud, low-pitched buzzing sound and immediately lose the game.
I still haven’t mastered this game, and it’s been out for as long as I’ve been playing computer games! Think of the hardest boxing game you’ve ever seen or played, and times it by 10. The number of keystrokes you need to remember to play this game, as well as the order in which said keystrokes should be used, is migraine inducing!
Have you ever wanted to fire paint balls at Santa’s slay and tase the living hell out of the fat sucker? Well, with Bobby’s Revenge by BSC Games, now you can!
This game needs no description. You’ve seen a darts game before, right?
These games, and more besides, can still be downloaded and played today via the Audio Games Archive.
Late 2007 to 2010. Family gaming, punching out, and leaving the PC Master Race
As well as being the year that got me into audio games, 2007 was also the year I started to move away from PC gaming and towards the video game console. My 2 primary consoles at the time were the Playstation 2 and the Xbox 360. I still proudly own a physical Xbox 360 to this day, however I unfortunately can’t experience the thrill of the Playstation 2 anymore, since I no longer have a physical PS2 and no computer I have right now is powerful enough to run the PCSX2 emulator. Oh, how I’d love to play the Simpsons Hit and Run and Road Rage again.
I was also introduced to handheld consoles around this period. My sister had a 2001 Nintendo Gameboy Advance and a 2004 Nintendo DS, and my dad gave me his 2005 Sony PSP 1000. We would sometimes have family/friends round the house and find ourselves in these little handheld game tournaments.
For Christmas in 2007, I got a Nintendo Wii. This was when the family gaming period really kicked off. We had many a Wii Sports tournament throughout 2008 because who didn’t? Wii Sports is, like, the best game ever! Wii Sports was ultimately what got me into the boxing and wrestling scenes, and the John Cena inside me would finally be unleashed in 2008 on both the Nintendo Wee and the Xbox 360 in the form of WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw. Of course, Cena wasn’t my only choice of WWE fighter, I was also an avid six-one-niner back then as well.
In 2009, I would get my hands on 2 new boxing games for the Nintendo Wii.
- Punch Out! A 2009 Wii incarnation of the 1980s arcade/Nintendo Entertainment System classic of the same name.
- Face Breaker. A much lesser-known title that was also released on the PS3 in 2008.
I loved both of them, but Punch Out was undoubtedly my favourite and the one I played most often.
We jumped into the Wii Fit craze in 2010 with a board of our very own. Only problem was that it could never seem to get our measurements right! Mine were often fine, while everyone else’s seemed to be slightly off in some way or another. My poor dad, who, by the way, had been exercising and had a perfect diet his whole life since serving in the military, was always the morbidly obese one. Never the less, we all took it as good fun, and we all had a good time playing on it for the very short period in which we had it.
2011 to 2016. Going live, trash talk and the end of my gaming life
2011 was a very big year for me as a gamer. On April 21st, my dad signed me up for Xbox Live. I’d been hearing about Xbox Live for about 2 years at this point. Seeing it pop up on TV from time to time and having spent much of 2009 and 2010 playing Kung Fu Panda on the Xbox 360 at my dad’s house, I’d always wanted to give Xbox Live a try. The idea of being able to play games with other people over the internet in real time had always deeply fascinated me as a kid. Can you guess which game I played on Xbox Live the most? If you said WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010, you’re correct! I’d mostly be playing against random strangers, though. It wouldn’t be until months later that I’d start to build a list of actual Xbox Live friends who I knew in real life.
I soon found out that having an internet connected Xbox had unlocked a heap of new possibilities besides playing games. Watching movies and TV, engaging in instant messaging conversations, accessing social media sites like Facebook and Twitter… the opportunities were virtually endless! I remember my dad and I just sitting there for hours on end, browsing through the seemingly limitless selection of movies that could be purchased from the Xbox Live Marketplace, watching trailer after trailer after trailer.
3 new Xbox 360 titles would enter my collection in 2011.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops, 2010
- Crackdown 2, 2010
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, 2011
Throughout the next few months, I began to explore the vast universe of Xbox Live on my own. By the end of 2011, with help from my dad, I had virtually memorized the Xbox 360’s entire user interface, including the dashboard, guide menu and most of the settings menus. But then, that big user experience update dropped, introducing Xbox Live Beacons, adding the dreaded Bing search engine to the Xbox and changing the whole dashboard UI, which meant I basically had to relearn everything! Oh, and I also got an Xbox Kinect for Christmas in 2011. You know, that overhyped motion sensor, camera and crappy downsampled microphone combo that was popular for about 5 minutes?
Throughout 2012 and most of the 2010s, I would see myself getting into first person shooter (FPS) games more and more, thanks in large part to Call of Duty. Getting the very latest COD game every year almost became a Christmas tradition. Oh, and who can talk about Xbox games in 2012 and not mention Minecraft for Xbox? Having never played it on PC when it released 3 years prior, I was all over that crap when it arrived on Xbox Live Marketplace!
When I wasn’t playing games, I was either watching YouTube videos or receiving game related news and tips via what was known at the time as Inside Xbox. On Inside Xbox, there were 2 primary shows I’d watch.
SentUAMessage, which started in 2009, was a show in which Xbox Live users would write in and ask various questions about xbox games, the Xbox 360 console and/or Xbox Live itself and have them answered in some of the most comedic ways I’ve ever seen. The show was hosted by Dan Maher (A.K.A. Mr Pointy Head) and Andy Farrant, who’s nick name I can’t spell.
You can find a YouTube playlist of virtually all SentUAMessage episodes here. I say virtually because some episodes seem to be either missing or in the wrong order.
School of Xbox
School of Xbox was a series of videos voiced by Mr Pointy Head in which you learned about the wide range of exciting features that Xbox Live has to offer and how to go about using them. Think Video Professor, but non-fraudulent and dealing with Xboxes rather than personal computers. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any of the School of Xbox videos anywhere online.
In 2013, I was one of the first people to get the brand new Xbox One, having received it as a Christmas present that year. However, this was when things started to go downhill. Over the next 3 or 4 years, I would start to lose interest in the Xbox platform due to many of the things I loved back when I first joined Xbox Live dying out, and being a blind gamer online would show its horrible downsides. Because I couldn’t see what was happening on screen, I didn’t really know what to do in the game, so I’d just be left standing there in the middle of the field. On the very rare occasion that someone would help me, the instructions they’d give were basically useless. I’d have people accusing me of
not actually playing the game
, and many nasty comments about me having no eyesight would be fired at me by everyone in the game.
The final blow came in mid 2016 when I permanently lost access to my Xbox Live account. At this point, I finally decided that I wasn’t gonna take this dog crap anymore and quit online gaming, and the general video game scene, completely.
2018 – present day. A gamer reborn, in retro form!
Throughout the latter part of 2017, a good friend of mine named Gary slowly began to introduce me to vintage video games. My nostalgia senses were already sky high at this point, having found out about such things as the Escargot Chat project, so I was more than excited to learn of such a prospect. I’d heard briefly about retro games and emulation before, but had never thought to give it a try.
In the early part of 2018, I received some DVDs from my friend containing a variety of arcade and retro console ROMs, and my journey back in time officially began.
I’d been shown how to use the Multi-arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) beforehand, so that was really my first experience of video game emulation. Then, I did some online research into different emulators and came across such projects as PCSX2, the best Playstation 2 emulator around, Duckstation for PS1 emulation, Dolphin for Nintendo GameCube and Wii emulation, and of course, the mother of console emulators… RetroArch!
Since RetroArch was made fully accessible to the blind in April 2019, I’ve been fully immersed in the retro game/emulation scene. The fiery passion and excitement I once had for video games is back and more powerful than ever before! I now mainly enjoy the fighting game/beat ’em up genre. This includes games such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken, King of Fighters, Virtua Fighter etc. I also want to defeat this inferiority complex I’ve had since 2016 and get back into online games at some point. I just need a community of people who will actually help me out and accept me for who I am. Sure, I can be a bit slow and picking things up, but everyone is different. It wouldn’t be much of a community if everyone was the same, had the same skills etc, would it?
I’ve encountered some really awesome people throughout my near 2 decade gaming journey, especially in the Xbox Live years. Here are just some of them.
- The Twitter account of SentUAMessage and School of Xbox star Mr Pointy Head/Dan Maher
- The Twitter account of SentUAMessage and Outside Xbox star Andy Farrant
- Heres to my good friend Gary for providing me with those ROM DVDs (I said ROM DVDs, not DVD-ROMs) and getting me into the retro game scene, which ultimately revived my passion for computer games.