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Blind gamer’s style utilizes audio cues

Scott Bauer Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. – Brice Mellen is a whiz at video games such as “Mortal Kombat.” In that regard, the 17-year-old isn’t much different from so many others his age.

Except for one thing: He’s blind.

And as he easily dispatched foes who took him on recently at a Lincoln gaming center, the affable and smiling Mellen remained humble.

“I can’t say that I’m a superpro,” he said, working the controller like an extension of his body. “I can be beat.”

Those bold enough to challenge him weren’t so lucky. One by one, while playing “Soul Caliber 2,” their video characters were decapitated, eviscerated and gutted without mercy by Mellen’s on-screen alter ego.

“I’m getting bored,” Mellen said in jest as he won game after game.

Blind since birth when his optic nerve didn’t connect because of Leber’s disease, Mellen honed his video game skills over the years through patient and not-so-patient playing, memorizing key joystick operations and moves in certain games, asking lots of questions and paying particular attention to audio cues.

He worked his way up from games such as “Space Invaders” and “Asteroid” onto the modern combat games.

“I guess I don’t know how I do it, really,” Mellen said, as he continued playing while facing away from the screen. “It’s beyond me.”

He started playing at home when he was about 7.

“He enjoyed trying to play, but he wasn’t very good at first,” said his father, Larry Mellen. “He just sat there and he tried and tried until he got it right.

“He didn’t ever complain to me or anyone about how hard it was,” the elder Mellen said – although, he added, “He’s broken a lot of controllers.”

When the question of broken controllers comes up, Mellen flashes a smile and just shrugs.

“I used to have quite a temper,” he said. “Me and controllers didn’t get along very well.”

Now they get along just fine.

While playing “Soul Caliber 2,” Mellen worked his way through the introductory screens with ease, knowing exactly what to click to start the game he wanted.

He rarely asked for help. Once the game started, he didn’t need any.

“How do I move?” an exasperated opponent, Ryan O’Banion, asked during a battle in which his character is frozen in place.

“You can’t,” Mellen answered before finishing him off.

“That’s what happens. It’s why I don’t play him,” O’Banion said after his blood-spattered character’s corpse vanishes from the screen.

Mellen hangs out any chance he gets at the DogTags Gaming Center in Lincoln. Every now and then someone will come in and think he can easily beat the blind kid.

That attitude doesn’t faze Mellen.

“I’ll challenge them, maybe. If I feel like a challenge,” he said. “I freak people out by playing facing backward.”

Mellen will be a senior in high school next year. After graduation, he plans to take a year off because he wants a break from school.

When he does go to college, he wants to study – what else? – video-game design.

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