Accessible Gaming

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At a schools conference last week, I was asked about accessibility and gaming by a teacher who had a student who had suddenly lost vision following an accident. The student had been an avid computer and video game player.

While gaming from a stereo-typical stance requires adaptation, it isn’t out of bounds for people with disabilities. World of AbilityCraft is a great blog documenting one persons use of Warcraft. It’s not purley an info-blog, but has documented one person’s journey with some very powerful posts. According to PC World “Steve Spohn is wheelchair-bound, on a ventilator and can barely move because of muscular dystrophy, but he’s still able to play video games.” His Xbox controller was invented during a Hardware Hackers Challenge, a contest to build a handicap-accessible game controller in under two hours. Industry research has currently shows around 20% of game-players (and buyers) has some form of disability. This is no small figure, given the hundreds of millions (if not billions) of people who buy and play computer and video games.

Evil Controllers produces a range of modified console controllers. The Gaming Accessibility Guidelines provides invaluable information on the development and use of games from basic through to very complex. Game Accessibility is a very broad topic, which includes the challenges of age as well as more overt challenges. Website “Assistive Gaming” produces reviews of almost all the new titles for OSX. This shows how diverse the topic has become, with plenty of information for multiple platforms and game devices.

Games used as a way to learn, can appear quite simple, yet very effective. Many of the best selling games currently appear throw backs to the golden era of video arcades in the 1980s with simple sounds and graphics. Don’t discount them on the basis of appearance. For example, the website One Switch has a list of games which are accessible – in a library of games – some being very simple, though to being as complex as any high-street title.

Need some adaptive hardware to play? Check out Broadened Horizons for an amazing array for adaptive interface devices for video gaming – which in many instances are better controllers for fully-able players, due to often bad-design in the first place. Yes I’m looking at you Xbox D-Pad.

Game Informer recently wrote a fantastic piece on what it feels like to be a game with a disability. In it the author says ” trying to define game accessibility is like trying to nail Jello to the wall. Since each disabled gamer has different limitations, we all have slightly different definitions of what makes a game accessible.”

There is a strong case for gaming and there is no reason to believe that computer and video games are in-accessible. AbleGamers, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the inclusion of accessibility in video games, rated Dragon Age: Origins the most accessible mainstream game in 2009 with a score of 9.8 out of 10.

There are devices, games, reviews and advice online to allow gaming to be included in the classroom. Not sure where to start – how about one of these six puzzle platformers …