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2019-04-30 09:08:42

Click the start button and watch as your phone’s screen fades to black. You are now the visually impaired protagonist in a new first-person game from Tencent.

In an article published Friday on its official WeChat account, China’s largest game developer announced two new titles — Seeing and Blind Flight — aimed at raising awareness of visual disabilities.

In Seeing, sighted gamers can step into the shoes of a person with low vision, using a cane to identify and bypass the myriad obstacles people with visual impairments encounter while navigating public spaces. Blind Flight, meanwhile, is a high-adrenaline combat mission designed for visually impaired gamers in which the protagonist is an air force pilot whose sight was taken by shrapnel in an explosion. By heeding audio cues from their right and left earphones, players are able to dodge enemy missiles — and even fight back. Both games are developed by Timi Studio Group, the Tencent team behind the wildly popular multiplayer online battle game “Arena of Valor.”

Tencent’s first-person game Seeing simulates the experience of a visually impaired person by having players navigate a cityscape with only a cane to guide them.

Tencent’s first-person game Seeing simulates the experience of a visually impaired person by having players navigate a cityscape with only a cane to guide them.

Census data shows that there are around 13 million people with visual impairments living in China — a country which, with approximately 620 million gamers according to market research, is also the world’s largest gaming market. But for people with disabilities, the mobile gaming options are limited.

“Currently, in the China market, only a few games have gone through accessibility adaptation during postproduction. No gaming company had ever customized (a Chinese game) for the visually impaired at the development phase,” Tencent said in its article, alluding to Blind Flight being designed with visually impaired gamers in mind.

The developers of Seeing, meanwhile, hope to raise awareness in particular of traffic safety, a serious concern for visually impaired people whose communities lack accessibility infrastructure. In the game, the tactile sidewalks that are supposed to help guide blind pedestrians are often blocked by construction or poorly parked bikes and scooters.

Following its release last week, Seeing has an average score of 4.7 out of 5 on Apple’s Chinese app store. Though some of the 400-plus reviews have pointed out bugs in the game, most have lavished praise. “I can understand that the unique perspective of the visually impaired may be hard (for sighted players) to get used to,” one reviewer wrote, “but I’d like to say that this game is for everyone to reflect on.”

Blind Flight has a lower but still-commendable 4.3 rating on Apple’s app store. While some of the 45 reviewers have called for better gameplay, others who say they are visually impaired have expressed gratitude to the developers and hope for more accessible games and apps aiming to serve their community.

Huang Yuehong, deputy head of an association for visually impaired people in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, assisted the Blind Flight development team by testing the game before its release. She told Sixth Tone by phone that this was the first time she had learned of a company as big as Tencent trying to make a game for the visually impaired.

While Blind Flight helps visually impaired players by “training their hearing and enhancing their reactions,” Huang said, its true value — beyond the exciting gameplay — lies in providing an oft-overlooked group with a novel way to consume entertainment.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A promotional image for the mobile game Seeing)