What It’s like Gaming While Blind

12 years ago, I started an Imperial Guard collection, *cool story bro,* except I was, and am, legally blind.

How bad is your vision really?

Well, I can’t tell what a model is by looking at it.  I have to feel it up…

If you ask me which one of my guardsman has a flamer, the answer is for me to start poking each one of them until I find the flamer.

I also have a guide dog.

How do you keep track of a 2,000 point 40k game?

I have learned to keep a mental map.  Over time I’ve developed the ability to move all the different parts simultaneously, and essentially play out the match in my head before it happens based off what I think my opponent should and might do.

Playing me is a bit like playing someone who has seen 2 turns into the future.  My current limit is about 2 turns in the future.

For most of you, this sounds like a monumentally difficult thing to accomplish.  For me, someone who is a visual learner and legally blind, it is relatively routine because I navigate my house like this.

It’s a lot like walking through a dream, you can see things in your mind, and you decide whether or not that would be a good decision, and run through every squad on the table like that.

Challenges Gaming

Biggest issue for me is figuring out where things start off on the battlefield and figuring out how to hide out of line of sight.

In the coming weeks, I’ll start posting battle reports, and you’ll get a chance to see how I operate.

I realize that I am writing about my reality, which is a bit like you trying to describe color to a completely blind person.  Please, feel free to ask questions about my vision and related aspects.  This is part of my broader goal of enlightened the sighted to the abilities and limitations of the blind community.

Something to think about, I wrote this article, went through it, and made sure it was readable and spellchecked.  In interviews, I’ve been asked if I can use a computer… I have 10-years of e-commerce experience right on my resume, like themagnetbaron.com for instance.  I take all the pictures, made the website, ship all the orders, entirely myself.

If you have a burning question, ask me, I don’t bite, hard.

  • I think my big question, though I could ask many, is are you playing against people you know, or are you doing pickup games, or both I suppose? I imagine there has to be, ideally, a level of trust between you and your opponent. I’m sure you’re not hovering over his/her dice rolls, and in turn accepting the outcomes they give you? Plus, if you’re getting a lay of the land at the start of the game, your opponent must help you a bit there as well?
    So, I figured it might make your average pickup game a bit tricky.

    Not letting a disability – or whatever is considered PC these days, stop you from doing something you enjoy is awesome to see. My wife is a big fan of Grace Potter, who is a musician. Grace is also legally blind, and having seen her in person perform, you would never know it at all. That woman owns the stage, her instruments, and her voice.

    • Blind Penguin

      I’m playing friends, random people, tournaments, everything.
      I have to trust my opponent significantly more than anyone else would because of the positioning questions. I’ve also been playing long enough to have a sense of when I need to ask for a 3rd party. I’ve called someone on a line of sight dispute many a time and been more right than wrong. The line of sight trust thing I like to verify with my mental map, I was quite good at geometry back in the day, which makes this much easier.

      I walk around with a guide dog and everyone is convinced I’m training her for someone else, it’s hilarious to me. Since I leave her under the table when I’m playing at a tournament, I’ve had to tell an opponent on the 2nd/3rd turn that I’m blind and there’s a guide dog under the table. 9th Age is easier to get away with it since terrain is not LOS, just there or not there.

      • People get confused when handicapped/disabled/impaired people don’t act to some stereotype they have.

  • Wow. This will be an interesting set of articles for sure. Looking forward to hearing about your armies choices and how you make that mental map.

    • Blind Penguin

      Harlequins and Vostroyans are my main armies, possibly because they fit me well, possibly because they’re so brightly colored I can see them lol
      When 8th edition hits, I’m going to play my stuff into the ground!

      • So you have some sight? Obviously not a lot but wow, fair play to you.

        • Jesse Sinclair

          Legally blind means 20/200 vision (or worse), and has a huge amount of causes. Very few people are blind in the stereotypical sense where they have literally zero vision.

          Some blind people have no issues with the actual light and colour sensing rods and cones in their eyes, but their eyes can’t focus the light entering. So you can still “see” but it’s just a blurry mish-mash of colours, with no sensible shapes. So you can tell if you are in light or dark, or possibly even outside (“hey, there sure is a lot of blue up in the mostly top-area, that’s probably the sky”).

          Some people are blind because their nerves and optic cells are deteriorating (for a wide number of reasons) and their visual field gets limited, essentially the area you see starts shrinking and losing quality.

          Some people get cataracts (mostly associated with age, but can also be caused by genetic defects, diseases, and injury) which is a greying and increase in opaqueness to the lens of the eye. Your rods and cones and nerves might be fine, but not enough light is reaching them to resolve an image well.

          Some people have a mixture of these issues, and others that I haven’t brought up here, resulting in a wide spectrum of “I can see some light and or colours but not enough to actually be useful.” I have a friend, for example, who can pick a banana off the counter easily, or an apple, or a can of pop, because the colour is so different that it stands out. But she can’t read a book (the text, no matter how large, is just a blurry smear), or drive, or anything like that.

          My Tyranids are bright green on a mostly brown and grey table. She could point out where the Monstrous Creatures are but she couldn’t tell you which ones are which, and she might get a clump of Termagants that are tightly bunched up mistaken for an MC.

          However she NEVER loses her phone, because she is so used to mentally mapping everything she can always backtrack to where she put it down, even if she closes her eyes because her awareness of how she moves in a space is so much more advanced than mine. I fucking run into chairs I can SEE.

          • Blind Penguin

            My vision is a combination of a genetic mutation that caused the death of many of my cones and rods leaving me with huge blind spots and cataracts.
            I can see the center of each eye and the outside, but their is a circle in between that is a complete blind spot. It is almost tunnel vision.
            Your friend sounds a lot like me actually. Contrast is a huge deal. I have a tiny spot in my left eye that is nearly perfect somehow, smaller than a grain of rice though. I know it’s there because occasionally I’ll see a spec of dirt on the ground, it’s the oddest thing to see me grab a 3/16″ ball bearing out of thick carpet using it too :P
            I am “legally blind,” not completely blind. My vision in my right teye is 20/320, meaning that you see the same detail if you look at something 320 feet away as I do 20 feet away. My left eye is 20/640. That number doesn’t include my blind spots though, just ability to see detail.

            Stargardt’s is the name of the cause of my vision.
            In short, there is a chemical waste product made from light hitting your retinal cells. That then needs to be broken down into a form that your body can dispose. The thing that breaks it down is broken in my genes. Eventually, that waste builds up and kills retinal cells. Here is the wikipedia on it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stargardt_disease

            • Jesse Sinclair

              That must be a very disorienting combination of effects, and I’m very impressed by your ability to play at all, let alone play well. I’m really looking forward to your battle-reports!

              Do you use a screen-reader for reading the rules? I can’t imagine they would do a great job of handling the more visual-graphic information sections like model profiles.

              • Blind Penguin

                I do use a screen reader. I convert the pdf’s to text and have them read. The new pdf’s for Shadow War are great since my iPhone can read them easily, so no conversion needed.
                I’m excited for the 12 page new rulebook, 100’s f pages in a quality computer voice still hurt me

          • Thanks for sharing that. You are bringing a great understanding to our hobby.

            • Jesse Sinclair

              Just glad I could help. Hollywood/television does a very bad job of showing how blindness

              works in the real world. I’ve seen people accuse my friend of “lying” about her blindness simply because she can find a chair to sit in without help and doesn’t walk into walls.

  • Sim

    I’m a partially-sighted wargamer. I see really well about 10-15cm from my face (so painting is no problem.
    I need to play short games, as my ability to see declines fairly quickly.
    I rely heavily on my opponent helping me play, especially on their side of the table. “Can you check that I’ve moved them so the heavy is at the back?” “How many of the dice hit?”
    I constantly knock over terrain, and models from both armies. 😖
    But I’ve found that 90% of my opponents, whether they know me or not, are pretty chill about it. – but I only play casually… wouldn’t want to test the patience of the tournament crowd.

    I am most curious about your dice.
    Mine are high-contrast, but still a pain in the arse… do you use adaptive dice, an App, or other people’s eyes to work out what you are rolling?

  • Great article, looking forward to the rest of the series.

  • Rational Nutcase

    I’ve actually never seen anyone visually impaired playing a wargame before and, honestly, I’ve never really considered it.
    I don’t tend to comment on blogs etc. but I wanted you to know that I’m really looking forward to reading your future articles- things like how the rest of the community have treated you, how you anticipate your opponent’s moves etc.
    Hopefully I can learn to improve my game as well!
    Thanks for starting this blog, can’t wait for your next update:)

    • Blind Penguin

      Thank you, I’m flattered that I got you to comment :)

  • I think it is great you have not let your disability stop you from enjoying the hobby and going out to tournaments etc . Thanks for sharing, and I really look forward to reading your future posts about your gaming and hobby thoughts/experiences :)

  • Always cool to hear about a different perspective. There was a blind guy on the Tyranid Hive at one point, but I never saw anything from him about his experience actually playing the Game.

    Visual impairment, in particular, is a perspective I’m interested to read about, since I may be in the same boat some day. My eyesight has slipped beyond the point where it can be fully corrected, and is still gradually worsening. It’s nice to know that won’t keep me from losing my main hobby, tho I would probably want to change up my painting style from my current preference for drab, subdued colours.

    • Blind Penguin

      You probably will continue having enough vision to paint with a magnifier on an arm too.
      I haven’t ever been able to paint, so you’ll be fine.
      Let me know if you ever need help adapting, it’s not that hard ;)

      • Thanks! It’s really more of a long-term (i.e. on a scale of years to decades) concern, but it is something that’s been worrying me since I hit the point where my vision was no longer fully correctable.

  • pokemastercube .

    good on you man, be very intrested to read ur stuff. imyself have mobility imparirment (useing wheelchair to get around and crutches but cant go really anywhere on them) which can made working around a table hard but what you work past is something you should be respected for working though

    • Blind Penguin

      It’s always interesting to me, I’m afraid of having most other disabilities while other people are afraid of blindness more than anything. Humans are resilient and when given the option to sink or swim, you and I both chose to swim, as do many other people. I’m always curious what will happen when I play say, a deaf person, or even another blind person. That would be just a funny match, “line of sight?” “Uhh….”

  • This could be a very nice set of posts about gaming, and I am not a player! I’m impressed about the mental maps you create and your “Tzeentchian” ability to know the future, you ought be a great chess player if you can manage a WH40K game in this way.

    • Blind Penguin

      I was good years ago when I was playing chess, I don’t have friends who play, I might see if I can fix that.
      I joke that I am the master of #justasplanned for Cegorach… though Tzeentch would be proud :)
      In some ways, WH40k is actually easier since general positioning is vs exact positioning is easier, chess can be finicky with mental maps since it matters EXACTLY where things are.

  • Ucheny .

    Yeah! Lots of questions!
    So before game you need to check all the table for a basic map (so to say) in your head?
    What type of play do you prefer? Kill team/500/750/1000/1250/1500/1750/Apocalypse?
    When you play this game in your head does it becomes more like a computer game or you do imagine it as a narrative story?
    Would it be easier for you to play with a tokens instead of miniatures?
    Do you play with a painted miniatures? (It’s just… paintjob is a hell of a problem in my community, I would gladly unsee some of the armies:) )
    Plastic Resin or Metal (team metal go!) miniature? Aaaand what if your favorite model in game?

    Thanx for your time! Really intrested in these articles, patiently waiting for next one.

    • Blind Penguin

      Yep, I go through and poke each piece of terrain, check everything that is
      either a solid wall, windows, doorways, slats, ruins that don’t block squat,
      objectives, etc.

      In current 7E, I prefer 1,000 points because it’s hard to do
      busted stuff, otherwise, I love me some 2,000 point games with hundreds of
      Vostroyans on the table dying in droves.
      Larger games are a bit easier since I can move the army around in my
      head more as a blob than individual pieces.
      For instance, push forward with my right flank knowing that their right
      flank will break by turn 2 while holding back with the center and left. Turn 3 comes around and then they are flanked
      and I can close in on them.

      Think of a radar map on a videogame, little dots, bigger dots, good guys and
      bad guys each have their own color. I
      move the dots and blobs around the map in a way I think I can win individual
      engagements and hold back on losing ones until I sense that I can win the engagement. I’m effectively probing my opponent’s line to
      find the weak spot.

      Tokens and miniatures would be no different, assign some darker color of red
      to heavy weapon squads, larger dark bases to shooting monsters, brighter reds
      to close combat monsters, softer pink for things like guardsman, etc. etc.

      I have been playing with unpainted armies for 12 years and I am finally
      fixing that. I have a friend that
      promised to paint my Vostroyans and I am commissioning someone to finish up my
      Harlequins and Corsairs. It bothers me
      to pay the $8 per infantry model, but I prefer they are painted because grey
      models are annoying to even me.

      I love metal, feels tougher ot me, feels more substantial and satisfies my
      feeling of the model being tougher than it is.
      Harlequins are weird for the new ones, so wispy, but so dodgy at the
      same time. The new models are the best,
      metal ones are a no go in this house ;)

      Hope those helped, let’s see how many more questions those answers raised :)

  • Kenneth Raymond

    Very interesting article and it shows just how diverse our hobby can be.

    I once played a game with a colourblind person (a pick up game) and due to the heavy amount of green on the table we were given, his blue ultramarines and the red of my blood angels, the poor guy had a hard time seeing units on the table. Seeing his predicament I helped him out and we had a fun, close game [Despite it being during the time of the deep striking land raider BA codex and me dropping a redeemer into his deployment zone with a ten man assault squad, a sanguinary priest and mephison hidden within. ]

  • Mauler

    Fascinating stuff. I’ve often wondered how severely visually impaired people manage to get certain tasks done, I’m beyond impressed that wargaming is still “on the table” so to speak :D

    Much respect, BP!

  • Wootster

    Always wondered how visually impaired people play games like this, I assume you have people who paint/pay to paint your models? Out of interest what schemes do you go for?

    There is a deaf guy at my FLGS…and the sad part is many don’t like playing him. He likes to use his disability as a way of circumventing rules, he can lip read and has a cochlear implant, and 90% of the time he communicates just fine. When rules disputes come up suddenly his ability to understand you goes away and you end up looking like a prick because you’re arguing with a deaf guy over exactly how certain rules are worded.

    • Blind Penguin

      Tools will be tools, with or without a disability…

      I love whipping out the blind card when someone forgets about it completely, funniest hing to see the look on their face when they ask the question, “didn’t you see that unit?” “Nope”

      I’ve spent a lot of time ensuring that I’ve either memorized the correct wording or will have my opponent look it up and read the exact wording. More than a few times I’ve had to call someone out for paraphrasing what they were reading, which obviously completely changed things. Funny for me that I knew the wording better than they did, and they were looking at it :P

      • Blind Penguin

        Forgot to reply to the painting thing.
        I have to hire out painting, hurts me to pay for nice painting lol

        I love me some bright colors, maybe that helped guide me towards Vostroyans and Harlequins, maybe I’m just a clown and a tank lover.

  • sean nelson

    As I read this article, I was excited since I recently played a guy that was legally blind in Shadow War. Then I realized it was in fact you haha!
    Great article and an awesome read after I was able to witness it in action on the table.

    At the start of our game I was a bit worried about how it would go down, but I was nothing but impressed with how well you managed the game. Also your mastery of the rules was impressive as well. Your memory must be fantastic. The only things I really did to help out was to help measure and move your models in the dense spiky city terrain.

    It was specifically interesting with the idea of other person not having all the info at the beginning. I had set up a sniper to shoot through a doorway, and I remember you being suprised there was a doorway in that wall. All I can think of was that I never even thought of that.

    Also I can easily say you were more aware of the board than I was the whole time. I had to look and confirm things where it seemed like you already had them mapped out perfectly.

    Last note: it was a fun game, great opponent :)

    P.S. I lost, hard.

    • Blind Penguin

      That building was super tall and didn’t look like it would have a door to me from the top, made sure I checked at the start of the game lol
      I generally ask for help moving things and measuring if their is a very high likelyhood of me knocking something over an dseriously messing up the battlefield. #wreckingball
      I think it’s time for some video battle reports in the next couple of weeks btw :)
      Good Game, we have more to play in the campaign!

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