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On The Overlooked World Of 'Accessible Gaming'

simoniker posted more than 10 years ago | from the helping-players-play dept.

PC Games (Games) 21

Thanks to TotalGames for reprinting a GamesTM piece discussing hardware and software that opens up videogaming to blind, deaf or physically impaired people. The piece notes "an increasing number of games created for the accessible market, and 'high-street' games [that] can be adapted to meet individual needs", although programmer Nick Adamson comments: "Currently the accessible games market is purely based on the PC... as for game consoles, they are pointless to blind gamers."

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Targeted To Blind Gamers (2, Funny)

nick_davison (217681) | more than 10 years ago | (#9221278)

Pretty much the entire $20 "budget" line at Target/Walmart seems to be targeted to blind gamers already.

Britney's Dance Beat is similarly targeted to the deaf.

Re:Targeted To Blind Gamers (1)

oO Peeping Tom Oo (750505) | more than 10 years ago | (#9221418)

Heh, soon we'll be able to control everything with our tounges....oh, wait...

I think console gaming is okay for the deaf (2, Insightful)

cheezus (95036) | more than 10 years ago | (#9221315)

There are some games were sound effect clues are necessary, and don't have an accompying visual cue, but for the most part there are subtitles for the voiceovers, and rumble for when stuff blows up.

Re:I think console gaming is okay for the deaf (1)

Dizzle (781717) | more than 10 years ago | (#9221598)

Funny, I didn't feel anything rumbling when the plot for MGS2 blew up...

What's the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9221319)

Why don't directors make films for the blind? Why don't painters make paintings for the blind? Why don't singers make CD singles for the deaf?

Re:What's the point? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9221736)

Have you ever played that electronic game "Simon?" It can be played by the blind, since there are audible cues. Same with the updated version, "Bop It."

And most existing games that don't use sound as a play element can be enjoyed by the deaf today.

With video games, creating visual cues for the hearing impaired could be as simple as providing a flashing light, or subtitled text, or any number of visual support elements.

Creating video games for the blind may make a little less sense, but surely the more creative of us can come up with ways that they could enjoy games. Broacast TV has its second-audio programming, which is sometimes used for audible cues (although I've only seen documentaries and sitcoms broadcast this way), why not do that for story-driven interactive games, like those "voice novel" drama games that are still being produced in Japan for the consoles (actually, the last one I'd seen was for Dreamcast, though I've forgotten the name - it was basically "choose your own adventure" accompanied by graphics and play-acted text). I can also imagine a scenario where a party game provides audible cues for one player and visual cues for other players, or even just for spectators. Aren't there segments of WarioWare where the game is based solely on audible cues like this? I may be remembering wrong, but I believe there are parts where one or more players is blindfolded, no? *

I think that most forms of entertainment can be easily adjusted to accommodate those with disabilities. I mean, the disabled can be excellent and talented entertainers, I think everyone agrees that they also have the right to be entertained as well (where "right" is used on a strictly humanitarian level). It may take some fancy financial footwork to justify the release of such games, but you have to hope that there are companies that would take up the challenge.

* Ooh ooh ooh, the ideas keep flowing. Well, you know how Super Puzzle Fighter is basically a puzzle game with Capcom characters thrown in for no apparent reason (except to provide eye candy and so that each character can represent a different block dropping style)? Well, how about games that can be enjoyed by the blind, that feature similar eyecandy for spectators, like maybe a Dragon's Lair-style game that is driven by being forced to re-input super-long strings of audible directions and button cues, along with specific timing. (Hm, would the blind enjoy Space Channel 5?) Or competitive music-mixing games. Or controllers with multiple small rumble motors that can provide feedback about what's supposed to be done (pressed or moved) next, along with vocalized game sound effects that describe what's going on. Smarter people than I should have no trouble with this stuff, if I can come up with simple ideas like this. Just imagine what you'd enjoy playing if you lost your sight or hearing.

Nethack has support for blind users (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 10 years ago | (#9221509)

I have no earthly idea how it works, but there's a number of mentions in the source.

I don't even know if it's some sort of joke. Can you buy a braille screen?

Re:Nethack has support for blind users (1)

Dizzle (781717) | more than 10 years ago | (#9221755)

I believe a braille screen is possible... but how would you change the font?

Re:Nethack has support for blind users (1)

Reorax (629666) | more than 10 years ago | (#9221841)

You use a text-to-speech program to read you the screen. "Hello Ogar, welcome to nethack. You are a lawful male human archaeologist. Hyphen, hyphen, more, hyphen, hyphen. Upper-left corner, horizontal line, horizontal line, horizontal line, horizontal line, horizontal line, horizontal line, horizontal line, upper-right corner. Plus, dot, dot, dot, dot, at, dee, dot, dot, dot, vertical line. Vertical line, dot, dot, dee, dot, dee..." Crap, I'm screwed.

Re:Nethack has support for blind users (1)

mmcleod (570170) | more than 10 years ago | (#9224365)

That's close, but modern screen-readers have the ability to associate such text with keywords that they can announce rather than the actual character. For example, the software wouldn't say that you saw a percent-sign. It might say "Food." for a lower-case d, it might say "canine monster." so that the user can know what he's seeing. Also, the software can ignore characters that are not important. One of the fundamental settings for such software is to ignore punctuation.

Re:Nethack has support for blind users (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 10 years ago | (#9222580)

I've never heard of a braille screen but I have heard of 80 column braille output devices which can be read a line at a time. Presumably, if you were willing to write some software, you could use more than one of them at a time.

Ever since the mention of this braille ebook (I think it was on here actually but I don't want to look for it) I've thought that the absolutely ideal solution would be to combine the braille elements on that thing with a mouse. It might be best to have a wide pattern, perhaps five elements wide in the middle, and three wide above and below that. You'd slide the mouse around to change the area represented on the braille elements. That would make nethack a snap, although you'd also need to implement mouse navigation (some flavors of nethack have it already) or you'd spend all your time going back and forth between the keyboard and the braille mouse.

Re:Nethack has support for blind users (3, Informative)

WildFire42 (262051) | more than 10 years ago | (#9222756)

I don't even know if it's some sort of joke. Can you buy a braille screen?

Blind users tend to use one of two devices, either a screen reader (which will read the contents of the screen out loud and assist with navigation), or an RBD (Refreshable Braille Display), depending on personal preference.

The most popular screen reader is called JAWS, by the company Freedom Scientific. [] There is a Linux screen reader, which is open source, known as EmacSpeak []

Here's a company that makes good Refreshable Braille Displays, for those who are interested. []

Interestingly enough, Freedom Scientific, and others also make Audio-based and RBD-based PDA's.

Since Nethack is text-based, it's easy to make this game work with Assistive Technology (which is what all of these different technologies are known as), as text is extremely easy to present to someone in alternative formats (spoken, Brailled, enlarged, etc.). Highly visual games, however, require an extra level of accessibility.

Just a little FYI.

Re:Nethack has support for blind users (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 10 years ago | (#9225689)

That's interesting, because I've always considered Nethack to *be* highly visual. In short, without an easily-readable 2D map representing the areas of the dungeon around the player and already explored, how could a blind player explore and fight effectively? With a braille screen I can understand, but I don't know if, for example, a blindfolded me could bear to play with a screen reader.

I do understand that it's a lot harder to convert a 3D game to that sort of thing... though I have to wonder when you're talking about game play that's usually no more complicated than turn and shoot.

audio games (2, Interesting)

cgenman (325138) | more than 10 years ago | (#9221862)

There was actually an audio-only game released in Japan for the Saturn and Dreamcast, Kaze no Regret [] . Sadly, it is Japan only,

Harmonix Music also makes Karaoke Revolution [] , a game which could have far more accessable menus, but once the player gets through the menu structure the game is all about singing, which anyone can do (though generally poorly).

Overlooked by who? (1)

beakerMeep (716990) | more than 10 years ago | (#9221993)

It seems to me the article places the blame mostly on the accesibility device and software manufacturers for overlooking the gamers not gamers overlooking the disabled. This is a fascinating point in my opinion. It also occured to me that the two best bets to bringing games to the disabled are for cookie cutter type pulgins and hardware that fit with existing games as well as the disabled themselves modifying or creating games specifically designed to be accessible. Both of which seem to be taking place. Also, it occured to me when they mentioned making Mario Brothers sound only, certain types of diabilities could lead to wholy different gameplay senarios because of the heightened senses that some people have developed as a result of their disability. Which is something "normal" people (yeah those "quotes" are for you in the red hat, you know who you are) might never get to experience. Or perhaps it could lead to innovation that would bring new gaming types to the masses.

Re:Overlooked by who? (1)

Sigma 7 (266129) | more than 10 years ago | (#9228043)

It seems to me the article places the blame mostly on the accesibility device and software manufacturers for overlooking the gamers not gamers overlooking the disabled.
That's not too bad - some software game companies overlook the gamers as well. Too many examples to choose from... :)

It also occured to me that the two best bets to bringing games to the disabled are for cookie cutter type pulgins and hardware that fit with existing games as well as the disabled themselves modifying or creating games specifically designed to be accessible.
I find that neither of these are a requirement for making a game accessable to disabled people (provided that it is a "reasonable" disability such as deafness or limited eyesight.) These should always be taken into consideration for writing a computer game, and don't need any plugins. In fact, I find that methods used to make games more accessable generally make the game easier to play as well - for example, I don't have to worry about reaching for my volume control just to hear something that is barely audible, and reaching for it again because certain things become too loud.

Writing a game to work with a major disability such as blindness is much more difficult, especially if you want to maintain the current pace of the most common set of current games. The amount of changes required to get a "normal" game to work with a disability generally require a change in the core design - usually resulting in something completely different.

Its out there, just very few... (1)

MMaestro (585010) | more than 10 years ago | (#9222021)

...most of which are bad, niche based games, or just plain don't get any attention. Additionally some games CAN be played if you're blind and/or deaf. As for impaired and/or a combination of the above, nothing short of VR would even come close to solving that (good luck playing a FPS if you're blind, deaf, missing your right arm, and had a triple bypass so you're not allowed to do anything that would dramatically increase your blood pressure.)

Some of these games include:

Dance Dance Revolution : not for the leg impared and would have to be a modded version.
Vib-Ribbon : again would require modding but overall one of the most potential games, not for the hand impaired or the blind and deaf.
Doom : now think about it, the game is really 2-D, if you could adjust the sound so you could play through the game if you were blind. On easier difficulties you could get through with one hand. Naturally level design would have to be changed though.

Interactive Fiction (3, Insightful)

metamatic (202216) | more than 10 years ago | (#9222738)

At the risk of pointing out the very obvious, Interactive Fiction will work fine for blind users, via a screen reader. There are many excellent freeware IF games, comparable to Infocom's finest.

What about MUDs? (2, Interesting)

mmcleod (570170) | more than 10 years ago | (#9224386)

A MUD, MUSH, or other similar world that relies entirely on text should be easily accessible by blind or deaf people.

Games Accessibility Special Interest Group (2, Interesting)

Sartian (248427) | more than 10 years ago | (#9224924)

My name is Michael McIntosh and I am one of the core members of the Games Accessibility SIG ( founded by Thomas Westin of Pin Interactive. There are organizations, like ourselves, examining the problem of how to makes games accessible for people with disabilities and working to come up with potential solutions and offer guidance to the game development community on how to offer this functionality. This is a very important quality of life issue for those with disabilities because without accessibility technology and practices whole avenues of recreational opportunities are not available to them. I'm an avid gamer myself and it is one of the ways I use to deal with stress and occassional socialize with multiplayer mayhem. There are many games, especially puzzle games, that can be modified ever so slightly to be played by people with visual, auditory or physical disabilities. I personally spent time working with an off-the-shelf game "Oni" (by Bungie Studios) to make it accessible for people with physical disabilities. Severe cognitive disability requires a different approach altogether, but there are plenty of people who are fully cognitively able to appreciate the complexities of a great (or bad) video game that simply lack the means of either 1) control or 2) feedback. We are currently working on a white-paper which is due to come out soon about the current state of accessibility technology and how it can be applied to games accessibility. I find it really refreshing that I am seeing more articles regarding this subject. As a bonus, a lot of work that goes into user-interface and accessibility design directly benefit able-bodied individuals as well. The television remote control is a prefect example. :) It was originally designed to be an assistive technology device for people with disabilities but it now used by couch potatoes everywhere! :)


Let's dig up that tounge control story... (1)

Pvt_Waldo (459439) | more than 10 years ago | (#9225342)

A few days ago this slashdot story [] was posted about a tounge-control system for gameboy.

The sad thing is, someone had a cool thing for helping some disabled people get access to a game, and what happens? Masses and masses of juvenile posts.

Kudos to those that can skip the mindset and do cool stuff for those who want to play too.
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