If you’re reading my blog, it’s no surprise to you that almost every game has graphics in some form – images that comprise the game world (if this is a surprise, the rest of the post won’t make much sense). Graphics are every bit as essential to games as vision is to the real world, which conversely means that it’s very possible to live without it.
The most obvious example would be text-based games, such as Zork. In these games, players are presented with text that describe their surroundings, like in a book. Then they type a command – such as ‘Eat beans’ or ‘Look east’ – to perform that action.
However, some may still consider these to be games with graphics. Pretty crappy graphics, sure, but graphics all the same. I think it’s arguable, but in my opinion, they still fall under games without graphics. These games have potentially limitless scale, as they’re only bound by text, which can be written much more quickly than an environment can be modeled.
They also allow many options. Typically, if a game had a can of beans, you’d only have maybe two options max (eat or drop). In a text based game the player is much more free to experiment – want to try and fuse your soul to these beans? Try it! Depending on the game, it may work (dibs on the beansoul idea if it hasn’t been done, though).
Another example of games without graphics are physical games, such as any and all card games, or something like the unfortunately named ‘Atari Touch Me’.
The Touch Me was a physical game, where blocks would light up and play a sound. Players then hit these blocks in the same order that they lit up previously – it was like any number of those crappy memory games you’ve seen throughout a thousand games before. Technically, though, it had no graphics, and was actually blind-accessible; which is great!
Not many games are accessible to the vision impaired, and luckily for them accessible games other than the ‘Touch Me’ exist – mostly in the form of “audio only” games.
As the name suggests, these are games that are comprised entirely of audio, often with no visuals whatsoever, though some may include basic unimportant visuals, such as a screensaver desktop. While I’m not a huge fan of audio-only games because I’ve played literally zero of them, I’ve done some initial research and found something I consider a little unfortunate.
Most of the characters in these games are blind – and that’s okay, right? There should be some justification for the player not being able to see, and there’s nothing wrong with blind characters, so it’s a win-win. What’s less great is that they’re almost all horror games, and the protagonists blindness is often the reason they’re scary.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m sure blindness can be scary as hell, especially if it’s a recent occurrence. But it seems to me that plenty of blind people lead completely fulfilling lives, and boiling them down to “scared only because they can’t see” in every game (and the only games) targeted specifically towards people with vision impairments doesn’t seem like it’s spreading a super positive message. Not all audio-only games are like this – such as Three Monkeys – but the vast majority seem to be.
Graphics are an important part of gaming. Part of me doesn’t like to say that, since I often go back through Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy IX or much older games, such as Super Mario Bros or even Space Invaders, but all of these examples were trying their best at graphics when they were released (to varying degrees of success).
Graphics can tell their own stories, through environments or props. Graphics can give form to concepts that are either impossible or much harder to achieve through text – especially in the case of exploring environments or solving puzzles. Graphics are also a serious money-maker when it comes to trailers and screenshots. However, graphics aren’t necessary, and I’d love to see more games designed to be accessible to the blind, both because I think everyone should enjoy an unhealthy amount of games and because it’s an interesting design challenge.