Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gaming and the Disabled Community

In class last week we talked about how gaming can have quite a significant affect on young children especially when it comes to their academic performance. It is a proven fact that students who spend hours each day playing video games don’t do as well in school. This left us wondering why games cannot be education and entertaining at the same time.

This discussion left me wondering whether gaming is as influential is the disabled community. After doing a little research I found an interesting article that addressed this very issue. The article talks about how three graduates from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Class of 2008) developed a game that could allow for independence among disabled individuals.

The graduates named their game, “Capable Shopper” and simulated a shopping trip at a local super market. In the game, players could move through the virtual grocery store. The virtual store was actually designed using real blueprints of the store and players can shop in the store using a specially designed joystick or a head mouse, depending on how mobile the player is. The best part of the game is that a large group of people with varying disabilities can play the game.

For several years now interactive games have been a popular pastime for individuals of all ages. However, for some individuals who have visual, auditory or physical disabilities, gaming can be inaccessible. Fortunately for these individuals, companies have started developing assistive technology to make video games accessible for everyone, including the disabled.

For individuals who are visually disabled there are several assistive technologies that can be used to allow them to play video games. These individuals have to find games that are compatible with their computer’s reader or Braille interface program. Another option is play games that allow them to adjust the size of any text used in the game or to adjust the color contrasts to make the images easier to see.

There is also assistive technologies for individuals with auditory disabilities. It is possible for these individuals to select games that have closed captioning. Another option is to have a volume amplifier that can help increase the volume to a range in which they can hear.

Individuals with physical disabilities can also participate in gaming even if they have trouble gripping or if they have very limited fine motor skills. Luckily for these individuals, companies have made modified joysticks which have been designed to have an easier grip, and some are modified so that the buttons on the joystick are larger and easier to press. There are even some joysticks which have been created to be operated with a person’s mouth rather than their hands. For some disabled individuals, they do not have control over their hands, feet, or mouth. For these individuals there are special pointers that utilize their eye movements to guide the video game characters.

David Thomas, who is a paraplegic commented in an interview: “For me, social games, like the ones we make for Facebook and the iPhone also seem to have the same power; they can bridge gaps and provide a feeling of a shared experience.

Why? Well other than being a self-professed geek who loves playing video games, I am also a self-professed geek who loves playing video games living with a disability. Being able to participate in social games with my peers and friends is even more meaningful, because otherwise (in real-life) I am not able to do it as easily…The barriers of the physical world that were preventing me from playing side-by-side with my friends were now virtually and literally removed…I believe that my online achievements in Pac Man and Asteroids made me seem “normal” to the other kids. So it also helped my self-esteem. Now, they could finally see me as real competition and not just someone in a wheelchair…To conclude, for me, as someone who lives with a disability, computers, games, the Internet and social media (social games in particular) have opened many doors. These social spaces have allowed me to keep in touch with old friends and to make new friends.”

Over the past few years, creating assistive technology has become more popular and the market for assistive gaming technology has increased by leaps and bounds. All over the world there are accessibility stores that offer a wide variety and selection of assistive technology devices and most recently assistive gaming technology. Many electronic stores now carry modified joysticks and accessible video games. For individuals with disabilities if their local stores do not carry the modified technology or games that they need they can even contact the game manufacturer to see if they manufacture assistive gaming technology for their games, and if they do not they can in most cases tell the individuals where they can find them.

No comments:

Post a Comment