A bit on introduction. Elsa told me that I’m the first guy that has ever written content for this website. That’s a huge honor. For the majority of my life, I’ve identified as a white, straight, cis-male. I’ve come to understand that’s not completely the case. I’m something much closer to pansexual, and I’m decidedly genderfluid. I’m a tabletop game designer and novelist. I run Sand & Steam Productions. Also, and most importantly for the purposes of this post, I love video games.
Specifically, I love Borderlands 2. I’m sure that there are other games I’ve put more time into. However, since Steam so graciously tells you how much time has been spent in-game, I know that I’m well over 450 hours played for BL2.
I don’t remember when I started following Elsa on Twitter, but I do know that her #Blinderlands2 tweets caught my eye. I know the BL2 experience very well. I knew exactly what parts of the game she was talking about. And I wondered what it would be like to game with her. I asked, and we’ve now played three multiplayer sessions of BL2. This post is my take on the experience.
- Looking Through Someone Else’s Eye(s).
I figured that if Elsa could play video games at all, she must have some measure of vision. The question that I needed to consider was how much? We didn’t have headsets in the beginning, so we typed messages to each other, and I tried to feel things out. I went into the play sessions with some very specific guidelines for my behavior:
1. Assume capability – Makes no sense to drop in and assume that I need to take charge; this is Elsa’s game.
2. Think about what she’s seeing – Any visual cues (of which they are many in BL2) might be problematic.
3. Be available for questions – I she has questions, be helpful and try to assist.
4. Have fun!
With all of that together, we began the game.
Sound is important. One of the first things that I realized is that the sound of a PC’s gun is usually different than the guns of the enemies. As well, a gunshot during a time when there are no enemies might be a useful callout. So when there was something I wanted to draw Elsa’s attention to, I shot at it.
I also let her take the lead as much as she wanted. Like I said, her game. One of the main draws of BL2 is how badass you can feel. Having someone swoop in (lowest level character I had was nine levels above hers) and take the kills and literally “white knight” the game would suck. So I helped revive her when I needed to and I tried to give her room to find her way.
I wanted to make sure that, above all, Elsa was having a good time. When she asked me to lead, I did. I let her gather and complete the quests. I tried very hard to not take away any of her agency.
In our most recent play session, we both had headsets. This made a world of difference. However, we didn’t talk about the game as much as I thought we would. There were periods of comfortable silence as we played. We did respec her character to better effect, and I got to hear Elsa’s delightful evil cackle as she blew enemies away.
Being able to talk also helped me fine-tune my approach. We talked about the particulars of specific quests. We talked about what we loved about the plot and characters of the game. Overall, adding the voice component gave the game new dimension for both of us, I think.
One of the ways in which voice-to-voice was really helpful was in getting around the map. One of the headings above says “Eye(s)” on purposes. Elsa told me that she has what amounts to no depth perception and that makes it hard to tell when things are on different levels. As we encountered stuff like that, I stopped using the terms “up and down” and rather, described the features where a jump or fall would be needed.
And that’s another note: descriptions. Specific shapes? Tough for Elsa to see. I shifted my descriptions to include size and shape as my default descriptors, not color. And if we were in a more monochromatic area (like The Dust), I took more of a lead because she let me know that differentiating in spaces like that was tough. If I saw Elsa move forward without me, though, I backed off and let her lead. Her game, remember?
In the short time that I’ve played with Elsa, she has become my favorite person with whom to play BL2. I play games, especially games that I love, at a slow pace. I linger over details and I delight in finding new things. There are details and small touches all over the place in BL2. And to make sure that Elsa’s getting everything out of the game, a slower pace is needed.
I play games the same way she does. The reasons are very different, but the result’s the same and I love it. Elsa and I also have similar senses of humor and enjoy similar parts of the story and characterization. That makes her damn near the perfect person for me to game with.
- This Isn’t Just for the Blind, Y’know
Those “agenda items” up top that explained how I approached the game aren’t just for sessions with Elsa. If I’m stepping into someone else’s game, I try to make sure that I’m helping them have a better time. They set the pace, they choose the direction, and I support it.
These are the kinds of things that people should do for each other in and out of games. Support each other and don’t take away anyone else’s agency. Playing games with friends is just that, regardless of what their apparent ability is. Elsa wants to play BL2? If I’m gaming with her, or even talking about it with her online, I’m going to do my best to make the experience as great as it can be. Now, it helps that I know BL2 really well. It also helps that BL2 does a lot of things to make it more blind-accessible. But when it comes down to it, this is stuff we should all try to do for/with each other anyway.____
Gues post by Tracy Barnett who can be found at Sand & Steam Productions & on twitter as @TheOtherTracy!