Take your medicine

The blind gamer

Seventeen-year-old Brice Mellen is a typical teenage boy: Totally into video games, and wickedly good at them. The only thing is, he’s blind. Wired News has a story about him today, in which the reporter watched as Mellen ploughed his way through opponents in the sword-fighting game Soul Caliber 2:

“I’m getting bored,” Mellen said in jest as he won game after game.

Blind since birth when his optic nerve didn’t connect because of Leber’s disease, Mellen honed his video-game skills over the years through patient and not-so-patient playing, memorizing key joystick operations and moves in certain games, asking lots of questions and paying particular attention to audio cues. He worked his way up from games such as Space Invaders and Asteroid, on to the modern combat games.

“I guess I don’t know how I do it, really,” Mellen said, as he continued playing while facing away from the screen. “It’s beyond me.”

I love it: Playing a game while not looking at the screen! It reminds me of a game concept a few friends and I had a couple of years ago. We wanted to create a game that was purely audio-based: You’d load it into your GameBoy, put on earphones, and the game would consist purely of sounds that you would try to respond to, using the D-pad to move closer or further away from things, and firing in their direction. Since audio resolution has gotten pretty good lately, the game would, in effect, be 3D — it’s just that it would be 3D audio. Part of the fun of this game is that it could, of course, be played by blind people. But even sighted individuals could enjoy it: You could play it while on the subway or walking along the street, situations in which it can be hazardous to be staring down at a screen.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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