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Moving on Versus Making it Better

When you work on marketing or PR campaigns, typically you don’t get to go back and continually refine what you do. Everything moves forward: pre-launch, to launch, to post launch, to the next game on the slate. You learn to do the best you can, then move on. Hopefully, take some small learnings from title to title, launch to launch, activity to activity, acknowledging that audiences and the market are always shifting.

This week, I’d finally decided that the basic mechanics of the blind accessible gamebook engine I’ve been coding were done. They weren’t pretty, but they worked and, as someone who has only been learning JavaScript for a month and a half (self-taught), I was pretty happy with the result. I was ready to move on to something else–an Escape the Room engine–which I’d already decided was a better idea and could use a significant chunk of the code and ideas.

I’d already spent some time sketching and dreaming up mechanics and ideas, when, and don’t ask me entirely why I did, I reached out to a blind person I (sort of) knew on Twitter–Michael Feir–and asked him politely about the type of screen reader he used. Michael was very helpful, and before I knew it, I’d sent him a link to the prototype.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work for him.

None of the passthrough keys seemed to work, rendering the entire choice system (and therefore the whole gamebook) unusable. I knew from my own testing that the systems worked. But they wouldn’t for Michael. And he was blind. And if they didn’t work for him, then it didn’t matter how much they worked for me, or any other sighted person I’d asked.

Michael suggested I added radio buttons.

Initially, I’d ruled out radio buttons for choices. Screen readers such as NVDA announce them, stating that the user is at an “unchecked radio button” and the extra voice work was something I’d wanted to remove, so that, as much as possible, all the player heard was pure narrative.

I knew I was at a crossroad: I could move on, or I could make this better.

Michael’s encouragement clinched it for me:

More than 80% of blind people are unemployed, he explained. As I’ve learned, for those with significant visual impairment, entertainment is crucial to being connected to social circles, to quality of life, to feelings of self-worth, and more. Especially when that entertainment is free.

“The story idea sounds good,” Michael messaged me, “and there’s quite a big appetite for rpg gamebook-style stuff.”

The latest version of the prototype now has an improved heading navigation system and two mechanics for selecting player choices–one of which uses radio buttons. Better yet, the choices now work for Michael.

Instead of moving on to the next prototype, I’m now looking at what I can improve.

 

You can check out the latest version of the prototype here: http://drewmtaylor.com/toll/prototype20may.html.

I recommend you using NVDA as a screen reader (http://www.nvaccess.org/), if you’d like to try playing it as a blind person would. (Fun fact: NVDA was developed here in Australia, and is regarded as one of the best resources for blind desktop users!)

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