As one of the biggest games of the year, God Of War Ragnarok will undoubtedly have found its way onto many Christmas lists.
After critical acclaim and huge launch sales, her performance at Game rewards – where it won in more categories than any other title – came as no surprise.
But regardless of its storytelling and graphical prowess, Ragnarok – the latest in a 17-year-old franchise – was perhaps most notable for its success in the accessibility innovation category.
It was recognition of how it allowed a whole new community of gamers to experience it to the fullest for the first time, finding an audience used to having to compromise or missing out altogether.
“Having never had a sight, I started out not knowing how games or any related technology worked,” says Ben, who goes by the moniker SightlessKombat.
“When I say I’m a blind player, I use the term ‘legal blindness’, often simply shortened to ‘blind’.
“But that can and often does include usable and/or residual vision, which I never had.”
The disability means Ben relied on audio games, designed for the visually impaired or visually impaired, early in his hobby.
Once he transitioned to more traditional console experiences, he needed help from others to play, but often struggled with people translating color-coded button inputs and other commands into something meaningful.
“I had to play by guesswork – until now”
“I was always stuck mashing until the desired result appeared on the screen,” he explained.
“It was entirely via audio and educated guesswork, a strategy that still persists to this day in titles that lack enough accessibility.
“All of these things put together mean that I haven’t been able to play classics like the original Halo trilogy, the Call Of Duty franchise, or other gaming staples, not without massive help.”
How Ragnarok Changed the Game
God Of War is one of those industry stalwarts – it’s appeared on every generation of PlayStation since PlayStation 2, and is known for its brutal combat and enormous sense of scale.
Until Ragnarok, Ben could not enjoy these games “without constant sighted assistance”.
In the case of the 2018 release, he got away with it by streaming his reading online with the help of his US-based sighted collaborator. It was a big step up from previous entries, but unassisted play was still a dream.
Although the series has matured over the past few iterations, transforming protagonist Kratos from one of gaming’s most two-dimensional skulls into a touching depiction of fatherhood, it’s still a tough action game.
But after footage of Ben’s streams caught developer Sony Santa Monica’s attention, he was asked to show the team how he plays, giving advice on what features they could add to make him more accessible.
Options include engine accessibility settings, which automate tasks to reduce fatigue and complexity of button inputs; visual accessibility settings, which can change camera angles and increase contrast to make characters and prompts stand out; and the ability to completely remap the controller.
“A brilliantly liberating experience”
“All of this combined means that, aside from puzzles and some menu navigation that requires visual assistance or other workarounds, I can play large parts of the game without needing a secondary input” , says Ben. “It’s a brilliantly liberating experience.”
For a blockbuster like Ragnarok, waving the accessibility options flag feels like a watershed moment.
Other major releases such as Sea Of Thieves and The Last Of Us have also offered impressive features, but the vast majority of games don’t come close to what a gamer like Ben needs.
He hopes his role as Head of Accessible Games at the Royal National Institute of Blind People will help him raise awareness of how the industry can go further.
As he says, “There is still a lot to do.