RetroArch emulator adds text to speech for the visually impaired

Published: December 16, 2019 8:30 AM /


RetroArch promotional image

As much as video games have progressed over time, the joy of timeless gaming classics remains - an imminent update for LibRetro’s RetroArch emulator will make these classics more accessible, allowing vision-impaired players to engage with experiences which would previously have been impossible. 

RetroArch is a free, open-source frontend for emulators, allowing for a wealth of classic titles to be experienced on modern devices - the platform will increase the accessibility for sight-impaired players with the implementation of universal text-to-speech in the upcoming Update 1.8.2. An announcement from The LibRetro Team outlines the advantages provided by this update.

The feature works by employing an AI to scan the contents of the game screen, detecting all text present with a high degree of accuracy, which is then read by a robotic voice. A video from LibRetro demonstrates the functionality of this new feature, a blind player, Devin Prater, configuring the feature, navigating menus, and playing PSP title Dissidia Final Fantasy within the emulator.

As is shown in the video, at its current stage, the feature appears useful, but imperfect. The AI reader delivers contractions such as "don't" as two separate words, "don" and "t," and when faced with unfamiliar words, tends to spell them out letter by letter. Instances involving pop-ups, with redundant text still visible in the background, prove problematic, as the AI will scan the entire screen and begin reading the background text all over again, before arriving at the relevant text of the pop-up.

Clearly, there is room for improvement. However, even this imperfect feature enables a visually-impaired player to engage with the game in a way that would have been previously impossible. With any gaming experience, there is a learning curve of systems and syntax - it is likely that as the technology progresses, blind players will be able to get to grips with this system and engage in a fulfilling gameplay experience.

RetroArch is available on a wealth of systems, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, but also many obscure, older operating systems and consoles. A full list of compatible platforms and a download link can be found on the emulator's official site

The update containing this accessibility feature is coming soon, a date has not yet specified. Guides for activation and use of the feature are available within LibRetro’s announcement.

Do you know someone who can take advantage of this feature? Are you excited to see the gaming industry taking steps towards wider accessibility? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Sam Gohra
| Staff Writer

I'm studying Law and Arts at the University of Adelaide. I am passionate about video games, movies, books and music, and love to write about them.