We have a long way to go before all video games are accessible to the visually impaired, but a blind fifth grader in Japan has gotten particular enjoyment out of one series: Nintendo's "Rhythm Heaven."
As a baby, Hibiki Sakai got surgery to remove his eyes in order to save him from the cancer retinoblastoma, his father told Buzzfeed. Growing up, he didn't play with toys the way most kids did, but he would hit them against surfaces to make sounds. He played with his first drum set at age three and has been hooked ever since.
"Rhythm Heaven" consists of "Rhythm Games" that require players to produce beats by tapping a touch screen. It was the perfect way for Hibiki to practice his percussion skills. So, he wrote a sweet letter thanking Nintendo for giving him a means to play and learn.
"I cannot see with my eyes, but I have always wanted to play games, just like everybody else," he wrote. "There were hardly any games I could play. The only game I could actually play was 'Rhythm Heaven.' I was able to enjoy only this game with others, and no one could beat me in this game."
He also called on the company to update the game so that other blind kids have a way to occupy themselves. "I strongly hope you keep making 'Rhythm Heaven' going forward," he said. "I can handle it, even if you made it a little bit harder!! I am sure that there are many visually impaired kids besides me who want to but cannot play games. That is why I hope you develop games that people with physical disabilities can enjoy with other people. I will continue to support Nintendo."
Nintendo wrote back with an encouraging response: "We are extremely happy to hear that you enjoyed and perfected all the games in our 'Rhythm Heaven' series. Hibiki, your letter will be shared with our game developing team. We will keep doing our best to create games that everyone can have fun with. We hope you will keep supporting us."
Hibiki's father said Nintendo's letter gave his son hope — and that his son gives the whole family hope himself. "Hibiki taught us that people are not unfortunate because of their disabilities, rather, the heart that is weakened by the disabilities is unfortunate," he said. "By changing his blindness from a fate to a mission, he fights on everyday toward a big goal of becoming a drummer who can bring courage and hope to the world."