RetroArch is an application that can run emulators for games across different platforms. An update for the program was released yesterday and included several new features, such as faster video playback and a manual content scanner. The biggest addition, dubbed the Accessibility feature, was screen reader functionality for several emulated games, in which an AI can read in-game text aloud for players who are blind or otherwise visually impaired. A video released earlier this month showcases the screen reader in use with Dissidia Final Fantasy, a 2009 PlayStation Portable title.
The screen reader won’t work in all games, but it can at least read menus and options in many games. Games that are more text-heavy have more capability with the feature, as a RetroArch blog post explains: “A blind person still cannot get Super Mario into the castle in Super Mario 64, nor defeat Lavos in Chrono Trigger, although perhaps one could probably play Radical Dreamers now. Much more work will be needed to make video games completely accessible to blind people, even portraying health bars in fighting games through sound cues.”
RetroArch claims to be the first emulator with a screen reader function. They attribute this ability to the increase in machine learning capabilities, which include optical character recognition (OCR), or “the extracting of text from images.” Though RetroArch is available across many platforms—from computers, to console, to mobile—the new feature is currently only available on Windows, macOS, and Linux. Despite this limitation, RetroArch believes this is a huge step toward making games much more accessible to players with disabilities.
“While people without disabilities have been able to play thousands of video games, both current and past, blind people have not had the ability to enjoy more than a handful of video games. Through emulation, this is beginning to change,” the blog post concludes. “It is hoped that this is only the beginning of a great advancement in accessibility, with RetroArch paving the way to even greater video game accessibility for people who are blind.”