Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Chat with a Social Worker - 'Gaming is Your Ticket'

I had a fascinating Skype chat with the Editor-in-Chief of AbleGamers foundation, USA. It is a charity organization which aims to improve the accessibility of games for the disabled people. A special thanks to him who dedicated his valuable time to have a chat with me and on giving permission to share his ideas on this blog. He has unveiled interesting insights that otherwise I would never have come across!!!

I will start with few strong remarks he made with regard to working with disabled people.

You are dealing with people not toys. So respect them
He stated that whatever the research which involves disable people should have clearly visible benefits for them. He said that these benefits need to be quick in nature, rather than coming up with some product after 10 years from the publication of some theory!

Online gaming is your ticket to engage the disabled
He stated while gaming is a promising aspect to engage disabled in communication activities, online gaming can improve the 'social' aspect of such communications.

Whatever that you develop should be FUN
Anyone should enjoy what they interact with on a computer. This is no different for a disabled person. Whatever the application that we build need to be engaging. Academics most of the time tend to develop some activities to 'test' their concepts which can be boring for any person in general!

He also mentioned some interesting statistics on disabled people and gaming.

War veterans in USA who play video games are five times less likely to commit suicide.
This was an astonishing fact which reminded me how engaging can a game be for a person with less mobility. He can accomplish certain tasks in the gaming environment that otherwise would be almost impossible in real world. Games are based on rewards. Once you accomplish a target, you will be rewarded. Which I see as a main difference between a typical desktop application and a game. These rewards can keep the user engaged and motivated in whatever the activity which can facilitate a successful achievement of the end target.

Amongst the client base of the AbleGamers Foundation, 60-70% people suffer with motor-disabilities
This is an interesting  stat because there is a considerable number of disabled people in the world: It is estimated over 1 billion people have some form of a disability worldwide [1]. 70% of that number is quite a huge population on whom my main focus is on

I also asked from him if there are any specific controllers and software that they use to assist the disabled in gaming. He mentioned a few:

Remap Ability: Change any Xbox 360 Controller function to any switch of your choice.
Toggle Ability: Functions can be customized to allow switches the option of imitating hold functions
Turbo Ability: Functions can be customized to allow switches the option of imitating Rapid button presses while simply holding a switch.
Multi Button Press: Use one switch to press Multiple Buttons.

Although this is priced at ~400 USD, He said it is cheaper than the most of the controllers which ar priced 1000+ USD.
Adroit from Evil Controllers
GlovePIE: This is a software application which can run a sequence of commands on a single button click. These commands can be customized by the user himself. It also can emulate the inputs of joysticks, gamepads, mice, keyboards, MIDI input devices, HMDs, Wiimotes, trackers, and virtual reality gloves. Main advantages are that this application is FREE and no special hardware is required to run it. It also supports range of brands of game controllers.

When I asked him that what are the most popular games that can be used by a disabled person, his answer was "what you are asking is the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to customize ANY game to be played by a disabled person. That is why we came up with the set of guidelines for developers to build accessible games - 'Includification'"

Includification is a 50 page document which provides game developers with guidelines to build games that are accessible by a person with a disability. Editor-in-chief is one of the authors of this document. It is mainly divided in to three main categories of disabilities: mobility, hearing and visual. In each of these category there are three levels of customization: minimum (the MUSTs), good and best. There are few games that are highly accessible for a disabled gamer mentioned in this document which acquired the "AbleGamers Accessible Mainstream Game of the Year"

It seems gaming has a substantial potential in the pursuit of enabling effective communications amongst the disabled. I am working on developing a simple multi-player game and to map keyboard controllers to a Makey-Makey kit. Makey-Makey is a keyboard emulator kit which has a simple setup. Any conductive material can be used as the emulated buttons: even bananas! I am quoting the Makey-Makey promotion video here also. My aim is to use day-to-day objects as the controller buttons to assist users to input their commands in to the game. So, they can modify the locations of controllers and play games at their ease. Fingers crossed! 

[1] Barlet, M. C., & Spohn, S. D. (2012). Includification. (A. Drumgoole & J. T. Mason, Eds.). The AbleGamers Foundation. Available from: