Written by Adriane Kuzminski
Hi James, please introduce yourself:
My name is James Kyle. I’m an aspiring game artist and a volunteer with RNIB. I’m also the organiser of Audiogame Jam, a game jam event held to raise money for RNIB and promote awareness of accessibility issues encountered by visually-impaired gamers.
Where did the idea for Audiogame Jam originate?
I began thinking about organising an audio game jam at the end of 2015. Last September I took part in a pre-employment course with RNIB, and while I’ve had sight loss from macular dystrophy for almost 20 years, I wasn’t aware of most of the tools available to visually-impaired people to allow them to engage with technology. The course was led by someone with no sight at all, and it was obvious that people with sight loss could access computers and smart-phones with little difficulty, providing the right accessibility tools and training were available.
It was obvious that people with sight loss could access computers and smart-phones with little difficulty, providing the right accessibility tools and training were available
Since video games are a hobby of mine and I’d studied games development at the University of Abertay in Dundee a few years before, I was interested in how I could use that to help RNIB. I’ve received a lot of help from them over the years and I was keen to give some of that back. I looked into instances of charities running game jam events and found a few interesting examples, such as Accessibility Jam and HELP!, which gave me confidence that such an event for RNIB could work.
To participate in the game jam, please visit their Game Jolt page. To donate to the event and support the RNIB, head over to their JustGiving page.
Why did you decide to focus on blind-accessible games?
There are several reasons for this, the most obvious one being that I’d like people with sight loss to be able to play the finished games. It also seemed like an original challenge to developers who may not have ever needed to create a game so reliant on audio. I also have concerns over the separation of audio games and video games, and I’d love to see developers inspired by this event to create games that appeal to and are playable by gamers with any level of vision.
How will the games be used to benefit the RNIB?
I hope people that play the Audiogame Jam games will learn more about the work RNIB does and consider supporting them. I didn’t want Audiogame Jam to just be an awareness-raising event, so I’m encouraging everyone to make donations via Audiogame Jam’s JustGiving page. The raised money will provide necessary help and services to visually impaired people across the UK.
How did you become interested in blind-accessible games?
My interest in blind-accessible games only started once I’d been exposed to the access blind people have to technology. Before then I’d been playing exclusively video games. My level of sight loss still allows me to play most video games, provided there isn’t a great deal of reading or I can enlarge the user interface to something I can manage.
There was no mention of audio games and precious little concern for accessibility issues other than colour-blindness
Even studying games development at the University of Abertay, one of the best places in Europe to study games development, there was no mention of audio games and precious little concern for accessibility issues other than colour-blindness. Once I’d started volunteering with RNIB, I became interested in what games were accessible, who was campaigning to make games more accessible, and what the alternatives were when video games are no longer accessible. It was clear that there was a large section of people who weren’t well-served by the existing video games industry, and seeing how visually-impaired gamers and developers have created their own community has been fascinating.
What are some of your favorite blind-accessible games?
I’ve quite enjoyed the Blindfold series of games and I’m currently playing A Blind Legend and Rhythm Rage.
What do you see as the future of blind-accessible games?
I’d like to see more developers include blind-accessibility in their games where possible, and for more audio game developers to create games with strong visual elements. Pure audio games are great, but the separation of video and audio-based games is, in many cases, unnecessary and restricts the audience it appeals to, especially on smartphones where features like VoiceOver (iOS) or TalkBack (Android) come as standard on every device. Using these features and ensuring a strong visual style you have access to both markets, and perhaps more importantly, everyone is included in playing, discussing and enjoying the game together.
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Now that the Audiogame Jam is beginning, how has the reception been?
I’ve had a huge amount of positive feedback and messages confirming participation in the jam. It looks like it will be a truly international event! I assumed that it would be mainly audio game developers who would participate, but the vast majority of people taking part are, from what I can gather at least, video game devs. Overall it’s going far better than I dared hope. We’ve even received our first donation!
If people want to join a team or participate in the jam as solo developers, where should they go?
If you are interested in participating in Audiogame Jam, please visit our website at jams.gamejolt.io/AGJam. There you’ll find information about the event, links to useful resources, and how to donate to RNIB. If you want to participate, you can do so as a solo developer or in a team. Those looking for a team should check the Audiogame Jam message board, though I would also recommend asking developers on Twitter with the hashtag #gamedev, #indiedev or #gameaudio. Submitting your finished game is easy and only requires that it be uploaded to the Game Jolt website with the Audiogame hashtag #AGJam somewhere in its description.
What resources do you recommend for those who are interested in blind-accessible video game development but are learning about it for the first time?
For those interested in playing or learning more about audio games a good starting point is www.audiogames.net. There you’ll find an active community of friendly gamers and developers, notifications on new releases, and a huge library of games to try. I also recommend the Monkey Gaming podcast, an audio game discussion and review programme recorded by the Fife Society for the Blind’s Monkey Gaming group.
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