Video: Robert Florio
This site features a small interview with Robert Florio about game accessibility. Follow the image link above to view the video (with captions).
Controller: Mouth Controller
A mouth controller can be used to control games with the mouth. Click this link to see a video of Robert Florio playing Psychonauts using a Quad Controller (external .MPG).
Controller: Head Tracker
A head tracker is an alternative for the computer mouse that allows people with head control to control a computer. A dot is placed at the forehead or an eyeglass and the head tracker uses the reflections of infrared light to calculate the position of the head. This way, mouse interaction in games is possible (displayed above is the Smartnav head tracker).
Click this link to see a video of quadraphlegic gamer Robert Galanida playing several games using the SmartNav controller (external .WMV). Click this link to download a video of Robert Galanida playing CounterStrike (external .ZIP).
Video: Head Tracker
This video shows how a game can be controlled using a head tracker. Follow the image link above to view the video.
Video: One-Handed Controller
This video shows how a game can be controlled using a one-handed controller. Follow the image link above to view the video.
About 7% of the population suffers from a severe physical disability and another 5% from a mild physical handicap . Physical disabilities include (but are not limited to): paralysis, neurological disorders, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and age related issues.
Paralysis is the loss of the ability to move a body part. It can be the result of an accident, a birth defect or a disease. Games that require a high skill level in hand/eye coordination are therefore generally not accessible, although some can be made (more) accessible using special hardware. However, assistive hardware can not always comply with the increasing large number of controls and the time needed to switch between these controls.
There are various neurological disorders that cause physical disabilities, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, often called Lou Gehrig's disease) and (Progressive) Spinal Muscular Atrophy (PSMA/SMA). Due to problems with transmitting impulses to the muscles, people with neurological disorders suffer many of the same issues affecting paralysis victims.
Repetitive strain injury, also called Repetitive Stress Injury or Typing Injury, is an occupational overuse syndrome affecting muscles, tendons and nerves that occurs when muscles in these areas are kept tense for very long periods of time, for instance due to repetitive motions. Repetitive strain injury is not a specific disease but a loose group of other, more specific conditions, like Tendonitis, Trigger finger/thumb and Carpal tunnel syndrome. Gamers can actually get RSI from playing games that require repetitive controlling. People with RSI are often adviced not to play computer games. In many cases, non-repetitive gameplay, changes in the ergonomics of where games are played or the use of a different type of controller may help prevent or solve such problems.
Gamers are getting older and older. One of the unfortunate aspects of aging is the gradual loss of flexibility in joints and difficulties moving as fast or as well as one used to. Gamers can get degenerative diseases like arthritis. Games that require much physical partitipation, such as "Dance, Dance Revolution", may not be physically possible. Controllers can cause problems for an increasingly older population, because there is often a gradual loss of muscle tone, making fine movements more difficult. Other factors like Parkinson's disease can also affect the ability to control a game. Therefore games often require highly trained motoric skills and fast reaction speeds may not be playable and/or appealing for aging gamers.
There are two important aspects for making games accessible for people with a physical disability. The first aspect is the adaptation of the way of controlling a game. This enables gamers to control the game with a specific remapped or adapted interface. Some gamers are only able to use a limited number of controls and might need grouping the controls in order to fulfill al the actions that need combined actions. A good example is this footage of quadraphlegic gamer/artist Robert Florio playing The Matrix - Path of Neo using a Quad Controller(external .MPG video). Because the actions of the Matrix are very complicated, the interface is used to switch to different modes of game play (ie. walking and fighting) with the same controls. Bullet-time - slowing down the in the Matrix called "focus"- is extremely important for switching the controls.
The second aspect is the adaptation of game play or extending the game itself with extra functionality to make the game (more) accessible. The ability to turn on slow-motion game play (often referred to as bullet-time) helps gamers in very difficult passages in a game. The option to reduce the number of controls is very important for gamers that are limited to only a few controls at a time. The ability to remap controls is essential in order to support different external controllers.
There are several games that can be played by people with a physical disability. These can be categorized as 1) games not specifically designed to be accessible (mainstream video games) and 2) games specifically designed to be accessible (one switch games).
Many mainstream video games are more or less accessible for gamers with a physical disability, usually using special hardware. The most advanced hardware interfaces are mouth-controllers and head- or eye-trackers. Besides these controllers, alternative switch interfaces are used, which enable larger buttons or (custom) grouped buttons. Two good starting points for buying alternative game controllers are OneSwitch.org.uk and KY Enterprises.
Some physically disabled gamers use regular game controllers. This article is written by Albert who is using an Xbox for one-handed game play. The video (YouTube Online Flash) shows Albert playing Project Gotham Racing 3 with one hand with a regular XBox Controller. Although Albert has really mastered his skills in order to play the game in a different manner, customizing controls is very important. Albert writes:
"I usually change the controller settings in a game so that I have to use the left button and trigger as less as possible. (So game developers, think about me, when making a game!)."
For gamers with a severe physical disability the number of controls might be limited to just one or two buttons. There are games specifically designed to be played with just one button. These games are often referred to as "one-switch"-games or "single-switch"-games. Many early arcade games actually used only a few buttons but as games grew more complex, the number of controls increased (a good example is this article on the evolution of the Nintendo controller). For instance, the Playstation 2 controller consists of 15 buttons and two analog sticks. But with renewed interest for retro games and the rise of mobile games and digital television games, single switch gaming is gaining popularity.
Unfortunately there are no guidelines for designing game accessibility for physically disabled gamers. Visit the Game Accessibility forum to discuss the Top 10 physical disability applications.
The largest resource on gaming one switch games is Oneswitch.org.uk. This website offers reviews of games that can be played using a minimal set of buttons and a download section with many one-switch games. One Switch also offers a section dedicated to one handed Controllers to buy. D-GAMER is an expertise website that focuses on gaming with a physical disability. It offers reviews of games, controllers and accessories are already present. Robert Florio is a quadraplegic gamer/developer, currently working on making a universal accessible game.The Retro Remakes website hold competitions with retro games. These retro games are often very suitable for people with physical disabilities since many use only one or two controls. Ablegamers.com is a website that looks to bring mainstream games to the disabled community. And you can discuss gaming with a physical handicap at the Game Accessibility forum.
Top 10 recommended games for new gamers:
[recommend a game]