Above the spectacle of PAX East's show floor, in the lobby of the convention center, gaming charity AbleGamers set up their own mini pachinko parlor. With its vertically-mounted machines, loud noises and flashing lights, the Japanese devices were quite a spectacle. Curious to learn more about the sort of group that would bring them to PAX, I managed to grab Craig Kaufman, a member of the AbleGamers team, to learn more about what the charity does and how he got involved.
Terry Garrett is completely blind. Although he lost his eyesight at an early age, he didn't lose his love for gaming. Garrett appreciates the usual gaming mainstays like Metal Gear, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and Mario, but it is the Oddworld games that he gets the most out of.
It isn't difficult to see why. The Oddworld games were 2D and possessed very strong sound design. The game characters spoke (more or less) and just about everything (most on screen objects) in the game emitted a sound a player could differentiate. This combination creates a playing environment open to blind player. Even so, there is a process that Garrett must go through to play the game.
The AbleGamers Foundation and Gamers Outreach Foundation team up for a panel called "Gamers Doing Good - How We Use Video Games to Make Life Better for Others." The purpose of the panel is to "discuss how video games are being used to help others from the disabled to military veterans". It takes place at the PAX East in Boston, Massachusetts on March, 11, 5pm EST at Cat Theater.
Joining the panelists will be Avery Alix of PopCap Games (who will be moderatoring) and Christopher Frost of RadioActive Nerd.
You may have not heard it by now, but I kinda love the PlayStation Move. Sure it's derivative, but that's easy to forgive considering how effectively it fulfills the promise of motion controllers that was only hinted at with the Wii. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I went ahead and bought a second Move want in anticipation for The Fight: Lights Out.
When we think of ways for people to accomplish a task, we often focus on what we want them to do instead of what they need to do. In all the tantalizing distractions (3D television! Motion control! Touch screens!), it's easy to lose track of the essentials.
Computer scientists at the Pontíficia Universidade Católica in Rio de Janeiro are working on non-visual games for mobile phones that they hope will be fun for players who are blind, have low vision or are sighted. In a paper in the Journal of the Brazilian Computer Society, Luis Valente,Clarisse Sieckenius de Souza and Bruno Feijó describe their protype adventure game Audio Flashlight. They also discuss some things they learned during field testing about making games accessible to players with visual impairments.
Researchers from Trent University and the Division of Rehabilitation and Ageing at Nottingham University have found that some kinds of video games may help people with intellectual disabilities improve their ability to make decisions.
With all the studies on therapeutic uses for Nintendo's Wiimote, a deaf school's innovative use of PlayStation Portables and the potential for Microsoft's Project Natal to make games accessible to players with disabilities thanks to its ability to recognize objects, voices, gestures and facial expressions, it's easy to think that motion-sensing technology is an unequivocal boon to players with disabilities everywhere. But is it? It's certainly easier for some people with disabilities to move an arm than to push a small button (or six). But what about those players with disabilities who are attracted to video games partly because pushing buttons allows them to do things they cannot otherwise do? Will the move toward motion control realism bar some players from their hobby?
While I think Nintendo's Demo Play feature would be great for skipping the boring or poorly-designed bits of a mostly-good game, some people wonder if games getting their own players "unstuck" is the end of gaming as we know it. Others point out that this feature may be very useful for players with disabilities, who may find parts of a game completely impossible.
At this month's DEFCON hackers' conference, engineering students Josh Marks, Rob Rehrig and Larry Aiello did a demonstration of their project WiiAssist, (PDF here) which allows people with disabilities to use the Nintendo Wiimote as a head-pointer and the Wii Balance Board as a mouse. VultureBeat's Dean Takashi writes:
"[T]he project adapts the infrared sensors in the Wii controller, which detects a Wii game player’s motion and position, so that it can be attached to someone’s head. The sensor is then used to track head movements, which can control a mouse in a computer application."
The University of Delaware students chose the Wiimote in part because it can track up to four infrared sources and it has Bluetooth capabilities, as well as an open-source library for Windows and Linux machines called Wiiuse, which supports "motion sensiong, IR tracking, nunchuck, classic controller, and the Guitar Hero 3 controller."
Long-term goals for WiiAssist include sign language recognition and a design that uses less power and fewer wires.
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