Topic: Game Accessibility [AT] GDC'07 report

Accessibility recently visited the 2007 Game Developers Conference. We have written a summary of everything that happened concerning game accessibility! Read it below:

Sessions
The Accessibility Foundation joined the activities of the IGDA Game Accessibility Special Interest Group at the 2007 Game Developers Conference to discuss game accessibility during several sessions. Below follows an overview of the different sessions.

Serious Accessibility for Serious Games (March 6th)
During the Serious Games Summit a panel with members of the GA-SIG and the Accessibility foundation (Richard van Tol) discussed several legal aspects of game accessibility. More often, serious games are used in the classroom and in training situations. When these games are not accessible for everyone, some students might be excluded from participation of the curriculum.

After that, tips for developers were presented that help to design serious games that are accessible to a larger audience. Dimitris Grammenos presented the game 'Game Over', available for download in april 2007 as a great example of the most inaccessible game ever, as well as some guidelines for the development of accessible games. Grammenos also presented his theory about Parallel Game Universes. Michelle Hinn, chair of the GA-SIG, presented figures and statistics concerning the demographics of the target audience. Then Göran Lange of PinInteractive shared his insights on the value of games in education. Lastly, the speakers answered questions from the audience.

Dimitris and Michelle present at the Serious games summit

Untapped Market of One-Button Mobile Games (Tuesday, March 6th)
During this roundtable session, the value of one button games for the mobile games industry was discussed. Due to the limitations of mobile devices, developers may already be meeting the needs of some gamers with disabilities without knowing it. The speakers provided information on the convergence of gaming trends such as casual gaming (e.g. one button mobile phone games that use the same design principles as “one switch/button” games for those with mobility disabilities) to help attendees better understand that game accessibility can mean new innovations in game design. We intended to present several one button game prototypes and examples of one button interfaces, but due to technical difficulties we could only show a one button version of Tetris. The examples will be published on this website shortly, however.

Accessibility Arcade
(Three sessions, Wednesday, March 7th, Thursday, March 8th and Friday, March 9th)
During this three day arcade several games and accessible hardware were presented. Barrie Ellis from Oneswitch.org.uk provided many accessible controllers for game consoles and PC-based games. Visitors could play games using only one hand, see ‘quad controllers’ (for quadriplegic gamers) in action and see all different kinds of other adapted controllers.

Photo of the Arcade with people playing accessible games

Frank Cabanski of Cortex Gaming presented the Brainfingers system, which enables gamers to control games with the muscles in the forehead or brain waves. The system was demonstrated with simple games like Pong but also with first person shooter games and can have great value for quadriplegic gamers but also offers a very new and stimulating way of controlling games. Very interesting for developers is the possibility to use brainwaves that give information about the emotional state of the gamer as a controller as well.

Frank demonstrates the Brainfingers system

Dimitris Grammenos demonstrated 'Game Over!', The Most Inaccessible Game In The World that can be played by No-one. Game Over! is to be used as an educational tool for disseminating, understanding and consolidating game accessibility guidelines.

Dimitris demonstrates Game Over, a game you just cannot play. The player looks like he is having a hard time playing this game

Thomas Westin presented Terraformers, a game that is playable for seeing and visually disabled gamers, with the help of 3D sound and a sonar system for navigation. The Accessibility Foundation presented several accessible games for the visually disabled: Drive, an accessible racing game for the blind, Demor, a 3D-audio shooter game based on GPS technology which enables blind gamers to play on a football field, Sudosan, a blind-accessible version of Sudoku and more audio games.

photo of three laptops with Terraformers, Demor and Drive

Reid Kimball presented Doom3[CC], a mod for Doom3 that makes the game accessible for hearing impaired gamers using closed captions and an visual sound source radar.

Many more games were presented and the other speakers answered questions about game accessibility. We were really surprised by the numbers of people who visited the Arcade and the positive reactions.

Accessibility Idol: Season Finale! (Thursday, March 8th)
Game industry veterans have long been bemoaning the fact that they’ve already seen it all, done it all - what is possibly left to be done in gaming that they didn’t already do in 1970-1980, make that 1990. Then IGDA TV came to them with the challenge that they could not ignore the next chapter in total global gaming dominance making sure their games could be played by the 10-20% of the population with disabilities.

photo of Robert Florio and his mother near a projection screen with the Accessibility Idol logo

The Accessibility Idol was a show in which five professional contestants presented their accessible game concepts to the audience as well as a strict panel of judges. Announcer Frank Cabanski introduced the contestants (Brenda Brathwaite and Chris Quinn, Ernest Adams, Noah Falstein, Sheri Graner Ray and Ellen Guon Beeman) and judges (Thomas Westin, Reid Kimball, Richard Van Tol and Eelke Folmer) with his great voice and Michelle Hinn presented the show.

The Idol judges and contestants

Brenda Brathwaite presented a multiplayer game for quadriplegics and their partners to help them explore sex. Ernest Adams showed a multiplayer flight simulator game with airships (“because they’re so cool!”), which were controlled by a head tracking device and voice control to launch bombs. Sheri Graner Ray presented a design which tasked the player with training baby dragons into fighting machines. The way players train the dragon is to watch for actions performed by the dragon and then play a tune in a certain pitch. The game could record 5 different pitches and so you’d have 5 actions. Noah Falstein talked about a game that uses a sip and puff device in order to play a game in an underwater world and Ellen Guon Beeman was represented by [name will appear here soon] and presented a game in a medieval setting where the gamers had to steal treasury, using a clever one switch interface in order to control several multiple ways of interaction.

Brenda Brathwaite and Chris Quinn

Ernest Adams

Sheri Graner Ray

Noah Falstein

representative of Ellen Guon Beeman

The Accessibility Idol of 2007 is Sheri Graner Ray who won a Brainfingers system, kindly donated by Cortex Gaming. The PBS camera crews kept the cameras rolling during the whole day, so we will be seeing some of it on television these days…we keep you informed!

Media coverage
We were able to attract a lot of attention the media. Below you can find the links we have found. Please contact us if you finds some more video or audio about game accessibility at the GDC.

Robert Florio on KQED Radio

Reid Kimball showing a quad controller on ABC Television

Richard van Tol recording an interview for Game Accessibility with Lou Katz

More:
KQED Radio Coverage of Game Accessibility
ABC Coverage of Game Accessibility
Game Accessibility featured on Henry Jenkins MIT blog:

Creative Heroes: http://creativehero.es

Re: Game Accessibility [AT] GDC'07 report

The Accessibility Idol show can be purchased to listen to from GDC Radio:

http://store.cmpgame.com/product.php?id=1919&cat=56

Costs $7.95 USD (use www.xe.com for a currency conversion).