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Blind player Ben Shaw on raiding and WoW for the sightless

Blind player Ben Shaw on raiding and WoW for the sightless THUHOLD FOR IMAGES
It was World of Warcraft's feel-good people story of last year: Ben Shaw, the energetic young British serviceman who, astonishingly, continues to perform at peak efficiency in endgame raiding with the help of a "guide dog" guildmate. Our interview with Davidian, Ben's in-game guide, went viral and was seen on gaming websites and general news publications across the globe. Blizzard took notice, commemorating the duo's partnership with a set of in-game helms.

But after attacking Mists with a new pandaren rogue, Ben said he found himself craving more WoW than ever. By the end of the year, he was ready to reach out for a new guild home, where he's now Shadowstepping into heroics with the best of them.

How does a blind WoW player maintain competitive DPS and utility in endgame content? In an era when making a jump to a new raiding guild can be a challenging proposition for any player, how does a guy who can't see bump to the front of the line? (Hint: It's not PR power.) Ben and I pulled up a virtual chair in a phone conversation across the ocean to talk about the challenges of playing a video game when you're completely blind.

Visually impaired gamers: Check the end of this interview to learn how to connect with Ben's new initiative to share his experience and resources with other blind players.

Blind player Ben Shaw on raiding and WoW for the sightless THUHOLD FOR IMAGESMain character Dirtypawz
Guild Unqualified
Realm Stormrage-EU (Horde)

WoW Insider: It can't be easy to find a guild who's open to the idea of having a blind man on their raiding team. How did it come to pass that you've changed guilds?

Ben Shaw: It's really just finding a guild that is okay with the way it is. The men on the guild don't have a problem with me following them, which ... Yeah. The new guild that I'm in have absolutely no problem with it at all.

How did you meet them?

It was on the WoW forums. It was just before Christmas. I'd been with Die Safe two, two and a half years, and it'd just come since Cataclysm, toward the end of Dragon Soul, that everyone had gotten a little burned out. And then coming into Mists, I thought everybody was going to be on a lot more, but it didn't really change. People were still just kind of raid-locked, especially on weekends. On most weekends, I found it was just myself on and maybe one other person and those people were just social people. I just got pretty bored.

So I just put a post up on the WoW forums explaining my situation. I described what I could give as a player and what I was looking for from a guild, and if anybody was happy to give me the opportunity, I could show them I could play just as well as anybody else.

And I was actually really, really surprised by the response. You know, I thought that maybe there might be one or two guilds but the actual guilds I got that came back and responded asking me to join them was absolutely phenomenal. There was one guild, a 25-man guild ... which sit in the top 200 in the world. There was another, a 10-man; they sit in the top 500 10-man in the world. I was like, "Wow." There was at least 10 pages of people responding.

Blind player Ben Shaw on raiding and WoW for the sightless THUHOLD FOR IMAGES
How did you whittle all that down and make a choice?

I was very vigilant. I thought, you know, there was the WoW Insider thing, and one of the things that did cross my mind was whether some guilds would use it as a bit of "Oh, look who we've got in the guild." So when I spoke to the guilds, I wanted to speak to them over voice chat. I can pick up a lot from what people say and how they talk.

But one of the things I wanted to do was to join a guild that had near enough the same progress as I had at that point. I could go and join a guild ... that was sitting at about eight of 16 heroic, but then I wouldn't feel happy with that because it would be like I was boosted through the content, which I didn't want because I've always done it myself.

... So I spoke to [the GM of Unqualified] and I said, "You do know I'm blind?" And she was "Well, of course I do. I read the post." ... They'd been looking for a rogue for a long time, but rogue is a very unplayed class at the moment. So she said you want to get an absolutely exceptional rogue player but their personality is just absolutely horrible, or they're the nicest people in the world but, you know, they're not very good at their class -- so she said it's really hard to find a good rogue. They went off the principle as well that they don't just go off "Oh, they're a super-good player; that's fine. We'll just get them in." They go off people's personality, so they want to chat as well.

So they were happy with the way I was. They checked our logs and the Die Safe logs to see what the other members were doing, and they were absolutely fine with the numbers. They looked at my WoW Progress on my rogue, and obviously because it's all linked account-wise now, she said "The kills you got through Cataclysm heroics, you just can't fake those."

I decided to take the jump and let Die Safe know that I was going. ... I moved over server, and it's going really well.

It sounds like a great transition.

I wanted to take the plunge as well myself. Because I had developed the way of being able to play it blind, one of the big things was I wanted to kind of step outside my comfort zone and see if [after] changing the guild, it was possible or not. I thought it would be, but yeah, it worked out really well.

Blind player Ben Shaw on raiding and WoW for the sightless THUHOLD FOR IMAGES
I'd like to talk about how you do actually make it work, because let's face it: This is a game about clicking on things, and you can't see where to click!

(laughs) That comes down to the guild, which is why I put it out there and I explain everything to them. Like for example, we're going in for a raid -- they know I can't jump on a mount and fly in their direction, so they'll just go to the summoning stone and summon me. Say for example if Sha of Anger is up, if the person is not on Ventrilo, they'll get on Ventrilo and say, "Ah Ben, do you want to come do Sha with us?" And I'll say yeah, and they'll throw me an invite, and they come where I am and pick me up. And I just follow them on my mount all the way over to the Sha of Anger.

In the raid, that's where it comes down to my addons and keybindings. It really comes down to a lot of practice, and having a good internet connection, a good computer and a good sound stage as well. That's pretty key. Especially with some of these new bosses. Lei Shi is one of them that really needs good sound equipment for when she pushes you back – getting back to her. I can hear where the tanks are, hitting away at Lei Shi. I've got a pretty good sound card and really good headset. I can hear because it's 360 sound where they are by Lei Shi. So it comes to me, getting back to Lei Shi and catching up and so on.

People have really gotten away from even having their game sounds turned on sometimes, haven't they?

It came about the other day when we were actually on Lei Shi. A lot of people say, "Okay, when the boss spawns, take him over here --" And I'm like: "Her." And they're like, "Okay. Well, take her over here, and then when he does that --" And I'm like: "Her." And they're like, "Well, what do you keep saying that for?" And I'm like, "It's a her! You can hear by the voice it's a her! It's not a him." (laughs)

Blind player Ben Shaw on raiding and WoW for the sightless THUHOLD FOR IMAGES
You're definitely paying closer attention! But sound can only take you so far ...

That's where the people I'm following come in. Nine times out of 10 I know when I've stood in something that's bad, because once again, I have the addon GTFO. So soon as I've stood in something bad, there's a huge siren that starts going off and I know I've stood in something bad. And if the person I'm following doesn't know -- like for example, Stone Guard. You know there was a lot of rubbish on the floor there. I can get out of it, just strafe left and right. But you know, if I'm strafing left and right and taking damage, the person I'm following will say "Follow me quickly," and I'll follow them and they'll go to a position where it's clear.

It's quite amazing. The time I've been raiding with the guild, the person I'm following now, yeah, he does absolutely fine. Like he said initially when we did the first raid, he thought, "Oh my god, this is just not going to happen. This just isn't going to work at all." But then the second and third raid, he was like, "Oh, right, okay. It's not as much as I'm thinking it is." And he said it's more an aspect of at first, he didn't know what I was capable of. When he said "follow me," he didn't know how quickly it would take me to follow him. But as a couple of raids have gone by, he realizes that when he says "follow me," I am extremely quick.

A lot of it, I can do off sounds. When it's a new boss encounter, it takes me a couple of tries to get used to the boss mods and hearing the different sounds that the boss mods have as opposed to what's happening in the fights. And also cross-referencing that with what the boss is saying.

Greatest example of this is Elegon. When Elegon changes phases, he does that "Boom, boom, boom," and you know it's switching phases. So it's a case of me listening to the sort of -- although I don't think Blizzard intended it -- the roleplay sort of stuff triggers for me to know what phase the boss is going into and what is spawning.

Blind player Ben Shaw on raiding and WoW for the sightless THUHOLD FOR IMAGES
Blizzard didn't intend that? I don't know about that. You're playing the game at that point, instead of playing the addons.

Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

And what about your rotation itself?

Rotation and so on comes down to addons -- me setting up my addons and sound triggers and macros ... A whole heap of addons, but they all nicely mold together. And then with practice, it just gets better and better.

What addons do you use?

The main addons I use are Mik's Scrolling Battle Text as one of the sound triggers for my rotation and Slice Admiral, which is a rogue-specific addon that lets me know when my Rupture or my Slice and Dice is about to run out.

[I also use] a range display that has a different format. I know it says "range display," but it's also audio as well. It enables you to add sound triggers for different ranges like between yourself and the enemy or yourself and a friendly target. You can literally set these distances to anything. I have a sound of two swords clashing together when I'm within melee range. And then when I'm at midrange, the range for my Shadowstep, it makes a kind of swish noise. And then when I'm outside of Shadowstep range, it makes kind of like a cancel sign that means I'm basically out of range of any of my abilities.

As soon as I hear that swish sound, I know I'm in Shadowstep range. Like on Elegon when we go out for the adds to clear our stacks and we're heading back in -- the warrior, I can hear him Charge. As soon as I hear that swish, I hit my Shadowstep. Then I'm straight back in on Elegon.

So with this rogue character, you need another melee player to help lead you in to the boss. What made you choose a rogue? Isn't the positioning rather tricky?

No, no, no, rogue's a lot easier. Rogue's surprisingly easier than the majority of the classes out there. Shadowstep teleports you right behind the target.

Do you still play your shaman, too?

Yes! I'm actually in the process of gearing my shaman up for enhancement/elemental.

Blind player Ben Shaw on raiding and WoW for the sightless THUHOLD FOR IMAGES
Since our first article about you and your guildmates a year ago, we've had so many readers write in hoping to contact you for advice about playing with their own visual impairments. Tell us what most people are wanting help with. What advice do you find yourself giving the most?

Some of the people ask about the addons, which is fine. One of the strange things I find is that I think people think you can literally get the addons I've got and get the macros I've got and that's it, they'll be off to do the same as me, straight away. But it's a case of even a sighted person coming straight into World of Warcraft now wouldn't be able to pick up a level 90, put the gear on, and then do the same as somebody else who's been playing the game for years. It'll take practice and it will take time. I can give them the tools, but it's a case of they've got to practice themselves and work out their method of doing fights and how addons work for them and looking for different addons that they find more useful.

What else do people ask?

One of the strangest questions was "How do you quest? How do you level? Because I can't get to the quest giver!" I was like, "Well, I do it with friends. We go in dungeons or we do recruit a friend and go in dungeons all the way up." "Oh. So how do you do quests?" (laughs) I don't do the quests. I do the quests inside the dungeons. It's just quicker nowadays to go through the dungeon grind all the way up to 90.

So you've not done any of the other quests at all?

Oh, yes. Some of the main quests like the rogue legendary daggers, but I do them with other people because there are limitations. I think this is one thing that people probably need to understand about it. Blizzard didn't specifically design this game [with the intention that] any blind person would be able to play it. It's a case of I've taken the game and I've forced it to work for me and developed it to work for me.

As much as I could say it would be great if Blizzard developed something so it would work for us all the time, you know, it's ... (sighs) There are very few blind or visually impaired people playing it. I think I've shown that regardless of whether Blizzard added anything or not – and if they add something, it's a bonus – but with meeting the right people in WoW and determination, it's still doable! (laughs)

That's the one thing: If people are in my situation, they've just got to persist at it.

Blind player Ben Shaw on raiding and WoW for the sightless THUHOLD FOR IMAGES
Tweet your questions to Ben!

Ben's firing up a Twitter account at @BenTinyShaw to field questions from other visually impaired players, as well as to trade suggestions for useful addons and macros and share tips and advice. "There's a wealth of knowledge out there, and I cannot go through literally every addon," Ben says. Start the conversation with Ben on Twitter.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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