'Guide Dog' Helps Blind Vet Play World of Warcraft

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Score one for human kindness. Role-playing in the graphics-heavy online game World of Warcraft is enough of a challenge for sighted people, but a blind veteran plays it successfully with help from an in-game "guide dog."

Scottish soldier Ben Shaw lost both his eyes to a roadside bombing in 2007 while he was serving in Iraq. After returning to the United Kingdom, he made the local news by learning how to race a Ferrari using directions from an instructor based on the clock face. The weekend of his big race in 2008, he also got married.

After mastering the Ferrari, Shaw wanted to try World of Warcraft. For the uninitiated, World of Warcraft, or WoW, is a massive multiplayer online game where players control avatars in a fantasy-like setting. Players get to do all kinds of things: battle monsters, go on raids and interact with each other as their avatars.

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At first, Shaw enlisted ex-members to help guide him, but that often didn't work out because they had to be in the mood to do it. Then, last year, Shaw met another player online, a fellow Scotsman named Owen. The two clicked right away.

To assist Ben, Owen functions as an in-game guide dog, giving verbal instructions and encouragement through the open-source voice chat software for gamers, Mumble. Ben also has macros for the game, including a follow function that allows him to stick with Owen, and participate fully. An add-on called GTFO tells Owen when they're dying and need to move on.

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"Where people were seeing it as a challenge, I see it as a delight to have somebody as committed as Ben to raid beside," Owen told WoW Insider.

The two players haven't met in person yet, but they might soon. "We have spoken about everyone getting together and meeting at some point this year, which would be an awesome adventure," Owen said in the interview. Right on, raiders. Right on.

Image: A screenshot of guildmates Ben (left) and Owen (right) in World of Warcraft. Credit: WoW Insider.