Blind Geek For Beginners

Folks who read my author bio will have realized I lead an interesting life or that I have a passion for Starbucks. No wait, that wasn’t it. Yes, you will have noticed that I’m something of a hardcore gamer and that I’m visually impaired. Granted, the latter does make my chosen love of all things geeky a little interesting. Understandably our Mighty Editor was curious about how my impairment affects my ability to be a geek.

I’m a gamer, I love to write fantasy/horror/sci fi and I have a passion for film and TV (as you’ve probably noticed from my previous blog posts). My visual impairment is something that’s as much a part of me as my Aspergers and, while I’ve been like this my whole life, it’s only been two years since I got my first guide dog. I get my geek on for the usual things: TV series, films, games and books and being blind has never ever stopped me.

While Uni (that’s my dog) and I love going to the movies – her for the dropped boxes of popcorn, me for the film – it’s often hard for us to find showings with Audio Description. Basically this means I get to wear an awesome pair of headphones which overlays a descriptive audio track describing what’s going on over the movie. The only problem is getting the damn things to work! Oh and finding showings of films I want to see. At the moment I live in a small market town with a cinema but it’s independently owned and so doesn’t offer AD. I have to plan trips ahead to one of the larger cinemas in Norwich, like Odeon or Vue. Audio Description is getting better, with more showings every month and I’m particularly looking forward to Star Trek Into Darkness. What can I say, I’m a Cumberbatch girl!

I haven’t watched TV in three years but I manage to keep abreast of loads of awesome shows. I love watching programs on demand through sites like iPlayer, 4oD, iTunes and The main perk of this is that many of the shows I love come with Audio Description as well as subtitles (the latter make it easier for me to follow conversations or at least figure out who is talking). Because I’m a journalist, I also have access to some special TV on demand sites just for members of the media which allows me to watch programs before they air and makes writing reviews a little bit easier.

Back in the day, I was known for being a games journalist. Yes, I had that fabled job where I got paid for playing Game of the Year candidate X then writing a review of it. It was fun and allowed me to exercise the impatient part of my geek side which says if X is out on Y, then I should be able to play it Z months early. It was fun and I still love gaming but it’s a heck of a lot more enjoyable as for every game X I’d also have to review Pile of Trash candidates A, B and C.

I have very little depth perception which means I tend to steer clear of first person shooters. Notable exceptions are the Bioshock series and Portal 2, because the story lines are so awesome, they keep me engaged long after I might have given up out of frustration. I also tend to stick on consoles which come with good accessibility and social interaction, hence my love for the Xbox 360.

My favourite kinds of games, though, are ones where I can loose myself in a sandbox. This means SkyrimAssassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (the most awesome in the series, in my humble opinion) and the upcoming Bioshock: Infinite. Games like Skyrim, with its beautiful scenery and amazing score, though, they allow me to get lost. It’s my way to chill out after a long day and I’m damn good with a bow, indeed I credit computer games with teaching my brain how to cope, at least in part, with no depth perception.

But as I watched the trailer for Infinite, my brain dropped almost as low as my jaw. It’s a busy game, with lots of shooting whilst on rails, racing around Colombia. I’m mildly concerned that I no longer have the visual acuity to follow all that which, good story or no, means I’m going to get grumpy very quickly.

Books are one other thing for which I lust. I can’t see the print in paperbacks so I bought an iPad and now buy all my books in e-book format. The iPad is a beautiful tool and perfect for folks like me; I can take a book and tweak everything from the font and size to the colour of the pages. Yet I find, even with these adjustments, reading books tires me and my Aspergic brain isn’t patient enough to let me read and digest all the words. That’s why, this year, I’ve switched to buying audiobooks.

I’ve been buying them for years, of course, but it’s only rather recently that companies like have started releasing books – such as the awesome October Daye series by Seanan McGuire or Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles – on day of release. I’m particularly excited about the new unabridged recording of World War Z by Max Brooks which should be released to tie in with the movie.

Audiobooks are brilliant; I listen to them on my computer while I’m writing or during the 45 minute commute to Norwich, this is the only way I find I can get all the story. Most of the time the narrators are professional, like Luke Daniels who does the Iron Druid narrations or Mary Robinette Kowel who voices Toby Daye’s exploits, and this really makes a different. There’s no better way to kill a book for a blind person than to have a bored narrator.

Being blind defines me but it certainly doesn’t stop me living and loving all the things which make my life fun. I watch Doctor Who with the rest of you, I’ll be reading the next Game of Thrones novel (whenever it might be coming out), it’ll just be using different methods best suited to getting around the fact I can’t see that well.

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  1. I am very impressed that you can play fighting games at all.

    I am low vision but my reflexes are not fast enough. I thought anyone who needed a guide dog would be much too slow for these type of games. Being limited to puzzle games is very limiting.

    I find myself a "video games voyeur", I love to watch them and read about them but I am not fast enough to play them.

    Instead of games I play with Photoshop, no speed issues here and I love "undo".

  2. This is both fascinating and inspiring. Honestly, and it shames me to say it, I didn't realize there were so many bits of technology that made things like video games, movies, and tv shows more accesible. That's pretty damn awesome. Oh, and I agree with you on Skyrim. That game is incredible, save for when I walk into a giant spider nest. Why does every damn dungeon have those?

  3. Being a blind/low-vision user, it is inspiring to see others who are using tech in the same way I do. I am no gamer (unless cannon fodder is considered an honorific?), but have been a computer user for over 30 years. My eye disease makes it more challenging every year (I can relate to your depth perception problems), so reading your story both inspired me, and made me feel like my daily struggles are shared by others.

    Long live the technology, field leveler for all.

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