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Life has been pretty good to me.
I spend most of my time in front of my screen of some variety. Television, laptop, desktop monitor - you name it, I've been there. In spite of the extensive radiation, I've always had perfect eyesight; something that disgruntled comrades promise me will give away at some point. Over the last decade, I've also had my knuckles smashed, flown off treadmills, gotten into countless fights and even a few good road accidents for good measure. Nonetheless, I've crawled out of most of my exploits with nary a scratch; a scar or two, maybe, but I've stayed able-bodied and mostly whole.
Frankly, I can't imagine what life would be like otherwise and for the longest time, I never tried. Now, don't get me wrong. I do have physically disabled friends; there was a mute girl I was close friends with - we communicated via an endless stream of written notes. I hold no prejudice. Nonetheless, it was always someone else's 'thing', in the same way I've never sat down and wondered what it would be like to be black or have blue eyes and golden hair.
This changed a few years ago. Back then, I was an avid World of Warcraft player and Burning Crusade had just been released. With my friends gearing up to bring down Illidan, I spent a lot of time trying to catch up; ask Andrew, it took me a year to get to seventy. True story. During that time, I had the good fortune of meeting a Druid tank and oh, was he the colorful character. Loud and outspoken, unabashed about his history, he was always ready with stories that bordered on outrageous. He is also probably the only person I know of with five marriages behind him, children from all five and cordial relationships with every member of his extended clan. Combined with an impressive ability to tank, the guy was, in a nutshell, pretty damn awesome
He was also legally blind.
Obviously, I wasn't aware of this at first. It wasn't until we were doing our rounds in Blackrock Depths that I found out about his condition. While I can't remember the poor guy's name, I do remember the day I first found out about his situation.
It was right after a wipe. His impressive skills were absent. As we sprawled on the floor, contemplating life, liberty and the taste of granite, a conversation started. What happened? Was he busy? Had real life interfered? There was a moment's pause and then he explained. He couldn't see a thing. Thanks to the dark environment, he had no way of telling which way was up let alone catch a stray patrol.
I remember being shocked. We all were. He went on to explain that the world was very much a blobby mess of colors to him, that he had a program that told him if a wall was in the vicinity, that screen readers and a hundred different add-ons made life in Azeroth bearable for him. After we all overcame our awe and surprise, we went on to conquer the instance with little fanfare. It was a small thing, I know. Countless players have surmounted their physical disabilities to engage themselves in their favorite games. Nonetheless, that one encounter left an indelible mark on me.
Games are a personal thing, a way of connecting a million different people. Stripped of physiological differences, players become nothing but a mass of thoughts and reflexes, shared interest and the voice behind your avatars. In some ways, it's easy to believe that everyone is the same behind the digital smiles and in many ways, it's an unsurprising misconception. After all, most developers do design games to cater to only the largest demographic.
Meeting that tank changed things for me. It made me glad to have what I have. It makes even happier when I run into things like Alter Aeon, an old-school MUD
with an amazingly large population of blind people. One day, maybe, we'll run into a mainstream developer who'll have the same amount of consideration.
Dear awesome tank whose name I cannot remember, I hope you're doing well out there.