Disabled gamers & the Oculus Rift

We have been testing the way disabled people get along with the Oculus Rift in combination with a keyboard. To find this out we let the subjects play a game called Buzzwords with the Oculus Rift.

Buzzwords game screenshot flying buzz and Tangerine
Buzzwords ingame (the steeringwheel below left is not necessary).

This is the way Buzzwords works: you have to type the words you see, those words are coming at you by flying above insects, it’s like the insects carrying the words with them. In the middle is a little empty bar, the letters you type will appear in this bar. It’s a kind of feedback for the gamer. When you typed the word correctly, the bug will disappear. If you don’t the bug will be coming very close and you are game over.

So how do disabled gamers deal with the Oculus Rift in combination with active keyboard use compared to people with other disabilities? Right before we started we asked them if they had any experience with touch typing. If they had, we knew that they would find the letters on the keyboard and if there were difficulties during playing, it wasn’t because the couldn’t see the keyboard. It turned out that for the physically disabled gamers active keyboard use combined with the Oculus Rift, is not accessible. When they miss an arm for instance, or they simply can’t use one arm because they’re paralyzed on one side, it becomes really hard to switch between the different letters on the keyboard. They’re too far away from each other to type the words fast enough. They can perfectly play games with the Oculus Rift when they use the keys that are close to each other, a one button game will do for them ass well. Because turning their heads to see the bugs coming, didn’t turn out to be a problem for them.

Picture of Oculus Rift used by a girl
Oculus Rift being used by a girl who is gaming.

Buzzwords was absolutely not accessible for the visually disabled. We had gamers with poor eyesight to play Buzzwords with the Oculus Rift, they all had touch typing skills so there were no problems finding the right letters on the keyboard. Since the Oculus Rift’s screen is so close to the eyes, the words carried by the bugs were clear too see for them as well, even with poor eyesight. The problem is the way the feedback is presented in Buzzwords, it’s way too small for them. Those with poor eyesight can’t check their spelling. This will lead to a lot of frustration among the test persons with bad eyesight. For those with tunnel vision, combining the Oculus Rift with active keyboard use can actually be a good idea. The problem with tunnel vision is that you can only see the very center of the visual field clearly. Those with tunnel vision were able to see the feedback, but couldn’t see all the bugs coming their way because only the very center was visible for them.

Not 100% accessible
This means that visually disabled people can definitely use the Oculus Rift and the keyboard at once, but the letters really have to be big enough for them to read. The head tracking that the Oculus Rift is equipped with, can be a problem fore those with tunnel vision. They get along very well with the keyboard and may have no problems with typing at all, they can see very clear at the center, but the outers of the game layout will be missed. According to Buzzwords, we can say that it is not accessible for those with tunnel vision, because the outsides of the game are very important for the gameplay, and some people can’t see them clearly, or in some cases, not at all.

Buzzwords may be not that suitable for visually disabled gamers, but they can actually use the Oculus Rift and the keyboard at once without any problems. They’re used to touch typing, so they don’t need to see the keyboard per se. For the physically disabled gamers it could be a problem, off course it depends on your handicap specifically, when a gamer is in a wheelchair Buzzwords is playable for them. But it’s very hard for those who have certain conditions on their hands or arms. The keys on the keyboard are too far away when you’re able to only use one hand instead of two. It takes to much time to search for a letter, or other key when there’s time involved in the game they’re playing. Games you can control with the arrow keys will be a better idea, one button games will do as well. Gamers with a physically and visually handicap who played Buzzwords did experience more struggle from their physical handicap while playing Buzzwords.

Cartoon World Screenshot Grey medieval castle with blue skies and green grass
Cartoon world in-game screenshot

Future gaming
The Oculus Rift is known as the future of gaming. But how will people with disabilities deal with the Oculus Rift? And are they actually able to navigate through the virtual world the Oculus Rift offers them, is the oculus rift accessible for them as well? We felt the need to find this out, sins the oculus rift is been called the future of gaming. The first game our test persons had to play was ‘Cartoon world’, now this is actually not a game, it’s a simulation of a very happy, cartoony, and somewhat childish environment. But Cartoon World seemed to be a great way to experience the Oculus Rift for the first time, because the test persons will be able to navigate through the digital world just the way they wanted to. They can move as slow or as fast as they would like to move and slowly getting used to the feeling of ‘being’ and moving along in a virtual world. Although it’s officially not a game, we gave the test persons some simple assignments: they had to search for two objects in the visual world, those objects were unique in the cartoon environment and quite easy to find. The time limit for finding those objects was 4 minutes. How did people with disabilities navigate through this cartoony landscape, by using the arrow keys and/ or the mouse?

There was a difference between the test persons who gamed a lot at home, and those who didn’t have such an interest in gaming. Those who gamed a lot more were way faster used to the way of moving through the game, and using the head tracking the oculus rift is equipped with. Because they could move quickly through cartoon world they were able to find the two objects within 4 minutes or less. Even if they were visually disabled. Especially for the visual disabled ones the oculus rift was such a pleasant experience. For them it felt like they left their disability behind and moved on without it, during cartoon world. This is because the Oculus Rifts’ screen is much more closer to the eyes than a normal computer screen usually is. This means that those with bad eyesight don’t have to scan the screen, so they can play a game while sitting in a comfortable pose just like gamers with good eyesight. It is absolutely helpful that Cartoon World is designed this way. There were not much details to be found which makes it so much easier for gamers with bad eyesight to recognize the objects.

Oculus Rift VR glasses latest version 2015
Most recent version of the Oculus Rift

Game experience
The game experience was something that really did matter during this test. It was really clear too see that those with game experience were less anxious to try out different ways of moving ahead in the virtual world. And it went so much faster, this means that people with more game experience were able to find the objects quicker. When you look at the the type of disability the most problems were found in the group of the intellectually disabled. In this group most of the participants were getting unbelievably excited that they forgot to pay attention to find the right objects and somehow lost their concentration because they were so excited. Some of them just got it to better right in time and finished the assignments in 4 minutes. An other part of this group looked at the objects we shown but simply did not recognize the objects in cartoon world.

Head tracking
The way the test persons moved themselves through Cartoon world was very different, there were people who preferred to use the mouse, other ones liked the arrow keys better. They all did find a way that was most appealing to them. What they all had in common was that they did not use the head tracking in a tactical way. It felt very unnatural, for some reason, to use your head while gaming. After a while they were all getting used to it but those with gaming experience got used to it much faster.

New way of gaming for visually disabled
For the visually disabled the Oculus Rift was such a surprise, it improved their sight while gaming because the screen is so close to the eyes. Off course it is such a relief if you don’t need to scan the screen anymore and have to concentrate on what you can see in the game. The most test persons find the experience with the Oculus Rift very overwhelming. But does the Oculus Rift makes gaming really more fun? Or easier? For disabled people. We found a way to find this out. We let the test persons play a very simple shooter game called: Gravity Well. We asked them to play the game three times without, and then three times with the Oculus Rift.

Oculus Rift Gravity Well game
Gravity well menu

It turned out to be much more comfortable to play Gravity Well without the Oculus Rift. This was such a surprising outcome. The reason was that Gravity Well was so overwhelming because it went so fast, the graphics were almost bombed at you. When the test persons played Gravity Well without the Oculus Rift they felt that they were actually controlling the game much more because now they had more overview, they said. It turned out to be true, their scores were much higher by playing without the Oculus Rift. Even the scores of people with bad eyesight. For them Gravity Well was not an accessible game. The way color is used in the game is so inconvenient for them. The color of the tunnels changes really fast and frequently. They completely lost overview and shooting down the enemies became a really hard task. For the visually impaired this game is way too fast and way too intense, they simply can’t keeping up with the gameplay. The Oculus Rift became a interference factor instead of a tool for visually impaired gamers.

Cognitive disability
The intellectually disabled test persons gave varying responses when it comes to playing gravity well with the Oculus Rift. Some of them really enjoyed it and described it like “I am really falling into that tunnel right there it’s like a water slide!” the score, and the fact that they did not hit any enemies didn’t really matter to them the experience was much more important somehow. Some testpersons of this group absolutely did not prefer to play Gravity Well with the Oculus Rift. The way Gravity Well needs to be controlled is with the space bar, for shooting, and the arrow keys for avoiding the enemies in the tunnel. This combination of controlling a game along with the use of the Oculus rift seemed to be very confusing for some of the intellectual disabled test persons. They really felt the need to look at the keyboard and see the way the game needs to be controlled. They find it hard sometimes to use the arrow keys and the spacebar at once when they can’t control their actions.

Using the keyboard in this way can also be an obstacle for the physically disabled gamers. Especially when they are only able to use one hand. Because of the Oculus Rift they can’t see the keyboard, the Oculus becomes an obstacle for the physically disabled gamer as well. They have to switch between the space bar and the arrow keys. This is very frustrating when you just can’t see them. Overview while gaming is very important to this group. Because they’re not always able to use both hands, beside this group also discovered that the lack of overview was not appealing.

Many of the test persons really liked the concept of Gravity Well, but it just went too fast, combined with the oculus rift the overview is gone completely and that’s not a good thing for those who can only use one hand, or those who can’t take too much tasks at once. Besides, the way Gravity Well is designed is not accessible for visually disabled gamers. The colors are changing so fast and frequently that their eyes can’t keep up with it, they can’t focus on the main goal of the game because the color changing really distracts them from avoiding and shooting their enemies.


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