Michael Espinoza has been blind since birth. And yet he's been playing video games since he was at least six years old. Confused how those two facts might square up?
"Growing up," he told VICE News, "there were things that I either couldn't do, or was told I couldn't do. Luckily, I'm really stubborn."
Espinoza starting playing games on his cousins' Sega Genesis. But then his parents bought him a Playstation for his seventh birthday, opening up an entirely new universe. "I was hooked," he said.
He started with games like Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, and Grand Theft Auto before switching to fighting games like Street Fighter, Soulcalibur, and Mortal Kombat — his absolute favorite.
For one, fighting games negated the issue of navigation, so Espinoza could focus completely on memorizing a game's sound design — how different moves sound depending on who is making them, or from what distance.
After years of practice, Espinoza describes learning a new game or character like learning a new instrument. At this point, he knows the theory, so to speak, so it doesn't take him that long to dial into a character's sonic universe.
These days, Espinoza regularly beats sighted players online, which holds particular meaning. "Beating a sighted person online when you're blind is probably is one of the most gratifying feelings I have ever felt," he said. "It makes me feel like my skill doesn't have to be dependent on other people's perceptions of what I can do."