The first major event of Scottish Games Week 2022 was called More Than Games, and it more than lived up to the promise of its title. The speakers and panellists of the day spanned a wide range, from disruptors working in the NFT and metaverse space, to serious games developers fighting to solve the nation’s health problems, to games workers with a background in gamification for theme parks. This diversity was incredibly encouraging to see, and nowhere was the word more applicable than in the case of Blind Burners, who delivered one of the standout presentations of the day.
Fires of Creation
Forged in the heat of the Nevada sun at renowned festival Burning Man, and bolstered in the digital renaissance spurred on by the recent pandemic, Blind Burners is a collective of blind or partially sighted artists and performers. Their mantra is “Burning bright with not much sight”, a tongue-in-cheek phrasing of a very serious idea; that of creating and sharing art that can be enjoyed by the visually impaired.
Beyond this, the group also seeks to improve the accessibility of existing art and services for the blind or partially sighted. One of their Co-Founders who presented at More Than Games, Adil Latif, is a senior accessibility consultant who has worked tirelessly to expose the cracks that exist in the pavement of our day-to-day lives; cracks that exist only to the visually impaired. A striking example of his work can be seen here, in a video examining the accessibility of different airline apps.
The difficulty in using these apps, even with the aid of a screen reader, is something that abled people generally wouldn’t consider, but it’s a serious problem for the visually impaired community. “I’m not disabled because I’m blind”, Adil says, “I’m disabled because my needs as a blind man aren’t met.” A powerful statement, and a condemnation of an accessibility gap that should long since have been closed.
This gap doesn’t just exist in the physical world, either; it extends into the virtual, into the games we play on a daily basis. Despite some commendable efforts in recent years to make games more accessible, from the Xbox adaptive controller to extensive difficulty options, playing some games is simply not an option for those with certain disabilities, with visual impairments being very rarely catered for in this regard.
Even in the evolving Metaverse, a digital world that should serve as a space accessible to all, these issues persist. Blind Burners wants to change that. As their Co-Founder, and other More Than Games presenter, Chris Hainsworth put it: “Whatever it is you want to do in the metaverse, whether it’s ordering food, looking for love, or figuring out a use for blockchain in the gaming industry, it is not okay and it is not wise to exclude hundreds of millions of people from participating fully in this, just because the building blocks of the metaverse are inaccessible.
In our experience, spending time with disabled artists and gamers will be the single biggest shot of creativity, cultural change, innovation and economic value that any gaming or other creative company will have all year”
To enable this change, Blind Burners are planning to make use of a combination of accessible art and accessible tools; games, particularly VR games, that can be enjoyed by the visually impaired thanks to tailored audio descriptions and other sensory feedback; and accessible creation tools, that allow anyone to create great games with no limitations.
A Call to Action
In order to do this, however, they need volunteers; people who can test software, help out at events, and carry out other crucial tasks that will allow them to make their vision of an accessible future a reality. If you want to help out, you can sign up on their website here. Blind Burners are also currently running a survey, the results of which will contribute to their overall mission. You can take the survey here.
Blind Burners’ presentation at More Than Games was a reminder; both of the good that games can do, and of the work that’s still to be done to make them playable by everyone. And, ultimately, it was a shining example of the kind of important content that events like Scottish Games Week exist to serve.