Playability Initiative Year in Review – 2020December 30, 2020 By Amy Green It’s safe to say that no one will feel a sense of nostalgia as they say goodbye to this rough year that has brought everyone so many unexpected challenges. However, here at Numinous Games, we can’t ever be totally negative about 2020, because it’s the year that we launched the Playability Initiative and we’re so grateful for this opportunity to serve the disabled community as we learn and grow as developers. We wanted to take a moment and look back on the Playability Initiative year in review and highlight some of our favorite moments from this past year. This spring, we learned that we would get to bring the Playability Initiative to life with the support of Novartis Gene Therapies. This had been a dream of ours for almost a year when we first learned about children within the SMA community. We had spent time prototyping games for them and thinking about how we could really serve the community well and let our work creating a game for the SMA community serve the broader disabled gaming community as well. We wanted to do more than make a game, we wanted to launch a movement that would inspire more accessible game design for years to come. “I loved reading all the blogs written on SMA News Today, and learning more about the ways that technology brings people together. There were so many innovative ways that people used apps, software and hardware. It was especially heart warming to see the community sharing their experiences and supporting one another.” – Hayden Scott-Baron In the early summer, we built partnerships with AbleGamers, Games for Change and the Family Video Game Database. We firmly believe that we can all accomplish more together than we can separately. The AbleGamers Foundation has agreed to help us build an assessment level into Painted Waters so people who play the game will learn what other games they can play and what adaptive technology might suit them. We are sponsoring an accessibility modifier in this year’s student design challenge for Games for Change and they’re helping us design curriculum to prompt students to think more inclusively in their game design. Finally, we’ve sponsored the addition of new accessibility tags in the Family Video Game Database, so they can help everyone find the video games with the specific accessibility features they are looking for. In July, we announced the Playability Initiative in a talk at Games for Change. Although, it’s possible that Ryan and Mike’s glorious beards pulled focus from the design practices we shared. We launched the Facebook group which has grown all year and now has more than 160 members. It’s a great place to ask all your accessibility questions and have conversations about design that considers the players. We feel like we learn so much from the incredible community surrounding us. “I didn’t have a singular moment that was a highlight for 2020, but it was always the same type of moment: we’d try to create something with sensitivity, and then share it with our community. But once we shared it, we realized we had made some mistake, that there was something we didn’t consider. And from that, we’d grow and learn. All my favorite parts of working on this in 2020 were those moments of growth. And I can’t wait to see how we’ll grow going into 2021.” -Josh Larson In August, we began meeting with Jack, an adult gamer with SMA. We commissioned him to begin writing articles for the Playability Initiative blog and he taught us a lot about what it’s like to play games that don’t consider your needs. And over the course of the next several months we learned a lot more about adaptive tech as we tried to find a racing game he could play. “My highlight has been working with Jack and Al Freedman this year. I think my favorite moment was when we were finally able to get Mindball Play working so that Jack could play it. We had many disappointing sessions for Jack where we just couldn’t figure out a solution and he was so patient with us, and gave us so much trust by letting us reach into his computer and change settings. Sometimes it was an issue with zoom, or a misconfiguration on our part in the eye gaze control software, or the computer freezing up and we had to reboot it. We even resorted to Al calling into zoom on his phone and pointing his camera to the screen to make sure teleconferencing wasn’t interfering with the computer’s speed. But in the end, when Jack loaded up the game, pressed play, and was able to race down the track using his eyes, the result was magical. What a time we live in!” -Ryan Green “My favorite moment this year was watching someone be able to play a new game that they had never before felt they could. The joy, sense of accomplishment, and feeling of inclusion was staggering. It’s been an honor to partner, talk to, and work with such amazing people.” – Mike Perrotto In September, Ryan and Mike spoke at the Gaming Accessibility Conference, where we (virtually) met lots of like-minded people working together to solve hard accessibility problems in video games. “My favourite moments (there are two) are both during Ryan and Mike’s video presentation at G4C2020 and GAConf2020. When the people watching began to react and comment about how wonderful the Playability Initiative is, that warmed my heart. It was awesome to continue to chat with those people after the talks finished, invite them to the Playability Initiative Facebook group and hear how happy they are that we’re doing this!” – Katie Postma In October we began playtesting early demos of Painted Waters with Jack, and a few of our children. “I loved watching our kids play demo levels of Painted Waters. They have access to a ton of games, so we never know if something we’re building will hold their attention. And while we learned a lot about things we’d need to change, it was so exciting to see that a game focused on accessibility had the potential to be a game that everyone could play and enjoy. It is important to us that Painted Waters is a game for everyone, so children with disabilities are getting to play the exact same game, the exact same way as their peers.” – Amy Green In November we began our monthly design challenges to help foster more creative accessible design in games. We are convinced that as we all practice considering the player, our design improves. We’ve seen that in our own game development, and we love the way this monthly design challenge gives all of us that opportunity on a regular basis. We were blown away by the creative design solutions that were submitted to the monthly design challenge our first two months, and we can’t wait to see how much our community continues to learn from one another. “My year has been filled with positive things that slowly grow and compound on each other. I have a growing empathy and understanding of playing games with disabilities and some of challenges disabled gamers face. I have been amazed watching how a blind gamer can play Call of Duty. I have been stretched creatively to explore new methods of input and locomotion. And have spent a considerable amount of time trying to create a system to support various input configurations. Accessibility challenges on both sides of the equation are hard. It has been a year of steady climbing, but I haven’t been able to stop and look out because of the other commitments and life changes.” – Brock Henderson In December we completed our first demo for Painted Waters and began mapping out what the rest of the game will entail for early access players next year. We even posted the first art featuring our in-game characters in a holiday greeting post. “My highlight for the year was working on the character designs for the small world we created. Working on characters with diverse abilities while considering representation was a new challenge for me. It was hard but rewarding to challenge my own biases. The chronic stress injury I developed last year, despite how minor it is compared to other disabilities, really opened my eyes on how quickly games designed to be fun exclude players with unique needs.” – Bridgette Powell We are so thankful for our first year working on the Playability Initiative. We love the community that has rallied around us, and we can’t wait to see what 2021 brings! Happy New Year!