20 – Making Games Accessible for Everyone
Eelke Folmer is a prominent game researcher, concerned with game accessibility at the University of Nevada, Reno. At the Games For Health Conference 2009, he gave a talk about his areas of research and an introduction to game accessibility in general. His argument is that games as a major force of culture should not exclude disabled individuals from playing and enjoying the benefits of them. He outlines a game interaction model, where we see different forms of sensory output of games: visual, tactile, and auditory, and similarly different standard devices, such as game controllers, allowing the player to physically enter information into the game system. Feedback and interaction work in synthesis in games, however often not accounting for all possible modes of interaction or feedback that might challenge so-called able gamers.
As gamers grow older the problem of interacting with games may grow (and they might become part of the accessibility statistics), but a large number of disabled people are currently excluded from playing games. This should not be a problem as games in general are about researching alternative forms of interaction and thus different interaction forms should be available in games, some of them may even be included as gameplay modes (adding bonus value to the product). Before we talk about this some more, first have a look at this presentation.
Professor Folmer outlines a few of the games spawned by his research. Blind Hero is a Frets-on-Fire variant which allows players to connect a guitar controller and a haptic feedback glove, so they are able to play the game by touch and sound alone. The game design had certain tradeoffs, such as removing a button and removing lookahead. He designed a user study to test the effectiveness of the game with 4 visually impaired and 8 regular participants and found the haptic feedback to be a viable strategy for music interaction games.
Next, he discusses one-switch games, which rely on a single switch and may be especially helpful for paraplegic gamers. Common controllers are for example, an eye tracker for gaze interaction, mouth controllers, or a one-handed joystick. For designing a one-switch game, it is important to focus on the smallest common denominator between game and input modality: What is the smallest amount of input that preserves gameplay? This requires a lot of extra work for the artificial intelligence that takes over most the steering, for example, in a first-person shooter (FPS), which is usually done with the mouse and keyboard. What he did in his example (see video below) is to basically put the FPS camera on top of a game bot that takes over the steering, while all the one-switch player has to worry about is the shooting. Although, certainly alternatives could be explored, such as focusing on exploration gameplay and steering with one switch, while the artificial intelligence (AI) takes care of the shooting.
The final case study, he presents is his experiences with TextSL (Download). This game interaction software uses the virtual world of Second Life, but removes the graphics interface and replaces it with a command-line interface (similar to a MUD) that allows to navigate in the world, but also puts an emphasis on the social interaction (in form of text chats) that is the primary driver of Second Life gameplay. More exciting game accessibility projects can be found on his research website.
Bonus Presentations on Game Accessibility