Is Awareness A Dirty Word?

October 31, 2020 By Amy Green

Awareness fatigue. Even if you’ve never heard the term before, I suspect you’ve felt it. Awareness fatigue is a crummy feeling because we usually acknowledge that the cause the awareness is rallying toward is a great cause, but we’ve just heard about it so much we find ourselves bristling. Because the Playability Initiative wants to help raise awareness about the need for more accessibility in video games, it’s important for us to understand the factors that make us resist the call to help raise awareness. Awareness fatigue works against all of us. So, I’ll give you an example of my personal  awareness fatigue, if you promise to remember that I’m not proud of it.

October can grate on my nerves. Everywhere I look, I see pink ribbons, fundraising campaigns, waiters in pink t-shirts, even professional football teams get in on the breast cancer awareness action. And why would that bother me? Am I an unfeeling monster? No, of course not. It’s just that before October each year, I live through September, childhood cancer awareness month. What’s that? You’ve never heard of it? You’ve never seen gold ribbons plastered all over your town? Exactly. And that’s why I can get a little salty in October, when the importance of “awareness” goes from 0-60 literally overnight. (It doesn’t help that I lost a son to cancer and that childhood cancer research receives only 4% of the total government funding for cancer research.) And that’s one tricky thing about awareness; it can feel like every good cause is competing for attention. Even when we know it’s not a competition, we each have our own special causes that we want to see acknowledged, and while we don’t begrudge any good cause that needs more attention, it’s hard not to wish the things that mattered most to us were acknowledged as quickly as the big causes people universally support.

Pink Ribbons

We all bring our own circumstances into our awareness encounters. My lived experience explains my catty response when a woman checking me out at a cash register asked me if I wanted to round up my purchase to fund breast cancer awareness?  “Oh, you’re raising money to increase the awareness of breast cancer? What a great idea. It needs more awareness. Not enough people have heard of breast cancer. We need to spend more money to really help people become aware of this very under-acknowledged issue.”  Thankfully the girl at the register laughed a little rather than publicly shaming me for my bad attitude. It had been a long October. The truth is, had she told me I could round up my purchase to fund research, I probably would have agreed. And that’s another component of awareness fatigue; we may feel like it simply isn’t enough. Awareness is the first step in advocacy, fundraising, or demanding change. But we can camp on awareness for too long because it’s the easiest step, never moving on to the harder work of making life better.

So today, I talk about advocacy and awareness, knowing that it can be a bit of a dirty word. We’re all sick of people posting a few sentences on their social media pages and acting like they’ve saved the world. Every day is a national awareness day on some important issue or another. And we’ve all changed our profile pics to add a border that raises awareness about important topics, and wondered if it makes any difference or if we’re just broadcasting our “enlightenment” to our friends and family.

Does advocacy really matter? Is raising awareness valuable? Is it enough? Even though we may all have awareness fatigue, the answer is still yes. The reason October keeps flooding our lives with pink is because it works! Six billion dollars is raised for breast cancer every year. And that’s fantastic! It’s a worthy cause, and the money is helping save lives. We may all get a little tired of “awareness” as a concept. It may never feel like anyone is doing enough. But the next time you feel awareness fatigue creeping in, think of those pink ribbons in October and remember that awareness works. It is the crucial first step. Awareness leads to understanding, and understanding leads to change.

And this is especially true when it comes to less well-known topics, like accessibility in video games. I see so many of you talking about accessibility, and I’m sure you wonder if it makes any difference. The answer is yes. Large game studios are beginning to add more and more accessibility positions to their teams. In the last year, full-time accessibility management jobs were added at Xbox, Ubisoft, SquareEnix, Riot Games, Twitch and Unity. Accessibility is moving from something game devs did in their spare time to something that large studios are actively paying attention to and recruiting for because suddenly they care. Why do they care? Because their players care. Advocacy has grown. When players insist on accessible features, companies begin to pay attention. Awareness has been shifting into advocacy, and we’re seeing the first hints of change.

Various Adaptive Video Game Controllers

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Yes, awareness matters at the beginning, but what can my advocacy do at this stage in the game accessibility movement?” Most game developers already know what they need to do to make their games accessible, and they already know that they should be creating accessible games. But the sad truth is, there is a big gap between knowing what we should do and prioritizing that work under tight budgets and pressing deadlines.

A game designer for the Playability Initiative, Hayden Scott-Baron told us a story recently about a game he worked on. He had mapped out all the accessibility features for the game. The designs were ready to implement, but they were deprioritized before release. There was too much else to do. Here’s a perfect example of a game studio knowing they should include accessible features and knowing exactly how to accomplish it. The plan was to make the whole game playable using just a mouse, but additional modes were accessed via keyboard. Hayden designed an onscreen panel that let players change modes with the mouse, but the programmers weren’t able to implement every mode before launch. Players could still complete the game but couldn’t use every feature. A month later, a player emailed the studio saying they were enjoying the game but struggled with the controls.  That one advocate, reaching out accomplished in a single request what Hayden couldn’t do as a game designer inside the studio. The player created an immediate priority. The accessibility designs were implemented, and the game was updated.

I share this because you may think one voice won’t make a difference. Your awareness fatigue may have convinced you that you’re just being a nuisance and aren’t accomplishing anything. But remember, there are people inside all the game studios you love who care a great deal about accessibility. They are trying to make a case for a bigger portion of the time and money spent on developing a game to go toward accessibility. But they can’t make that case without the voice of advocates, regularly increasing awareness about specific games and specific needs.

Awareness is not a dirty word; awareness is a catalyst for change. And if you ever forget it, walk into any business any day in October, look around, and let the sea of pink remind how much impact awareness can have. Acknowledge your awareness fatigue, and then share the blog anyway. Tell your story anyway. Keep talking about accessibility anyway. It all matters. Awareness works, even when we’re tired of it.



Interview: Scott A Jacobson, One Button Game Jam

October 29, 2020 By Katie Postma

We recently told you about the One Button Game Jam created by Scott Jacobson, a teacher at Lake City High School. We asked Scott to share more about his motivations and inspirations for the game jam! 

Hello Scott, thank you for being our first interview here at the Playability Initiative!

For those out there who don’t know you yet, please tell us about yourself, what you do and what brings you to the Playability Initiative!

Wow. How far back should I go? My first 3D dungeon game I made on a TRS-80 in under 16 KB? That’s when I first fell in love with making computer games. Years later after graduating from university, I eventually ended up teaching science at one of our local high schools. I gradually added computers to my classroom and in 2002 I was asked to create some electives as we switched to a block schedule. I created 2 new offerings, a web design class and a game design class. As much as I loved coding, I decided to cater more to the writers and artists by using graphical and block coding software. That really paid off as I watched my sections quickly grow from one to four. And it turned out that about one in ten of my students would be developmentally delayed or on the autism spectrum, responding well to the atmosphere in these classes. In 2002 my 12 year old son Tyler (a master of Unreal Tournament level design, Flash, RPG Maker and Clickteam products) would come to the high school and help with my after school Lake City Game Creator Club. He ran the club until 2008 when he graduated. The club was the birth of game jams for me.  Eventually itch.io became my choice for managing them. Over the last 12 years, as a bit of a hobby, I’ve found pleasure in helping people rapidly prototype their “worthy” game ideas in hopes of garnering funding to have it professionally produced; or just help them decide upon next steps. By “worthy” I mean games in the “serious games” and “games for change” realm. Ultimately all of these experiences converged to tee me up and respond eagerly to the Playability Initiatives call to action.

Scott Jacobson

Scott Jacobson

 

What was your inspiration for holding the game jam?

I have been a fan of Numinous Games and Ryan and Amy ever since I attended the CGDC Portland game developer conference back in 2017, attending their session “Beyond Choose Your Own Adventure: Crafting More Immersive Narratives”.  More recently, I assisted Matthew Colon with the CGDC 2020 Virtual conference where Ryan and Amy conducted the session “Designing For The One“ and introduced the Playability Initiative.  Both of these experiences, along with having many students and friends over the years with varying levels of disabilities,  fanned into flames my desire to do something to raise awareness and do something personally. I also teach introductory game design at the high school level and typically run a game jam on itch.io twice a year using themes I hope appeal to that age group.  Outside of class time I love to help others prototype worthy projects in the “serious games” genre as well.  All of this seemed to come together at the right time and materialize into the One Button Game Jam.

Is this something you want to make into a regular event? Would you use different #accessibility criteria?

It is indeed my intention to make this a yearly event.  I was even thinking of running it again before summer starts so that my new set of next semester students could give it a go as well.  It would also allow me some lead time with my intro students to teach to and supplement their curriculum and cover algorithms specific to this type of game, e.g. gui element cycling and timing calibration.  As far as changing the criteria, I am really content with the current state, especially “preventing the player from losing or causing detrimental outcomes if they step away”.  I’d like to see how far this can be taken without ruining the gameplay.

What rules and criteria were involved for the jam / games itself?

I started off thinking it would be very easy to explain the criteria but found out in short order that the target Spinal Muscular Atrophy Community had very specific needs that needed to be addressed and I was missing the mark in describing it.  Ryan Green, Matthew Colon, and Barry Ellis from oneswitch.org.uk came to my rescue and were very responsive in helping me craft the criteria clearly and precisely, i.e. using a mechanism for when a button is pressed down is required, not held, released, or mashed; not relying on reaction rates or precise timing or frequent button presses that can become tiring, to name a few.  I was a bit concerned that with so many restrictions it might limit participation, but once again my “rescue crew” provided game mechanic suggestions and examples to motivate the entrants. 

How did the students’ respond to the challenge?  

Sadly, thanks to Covid, my school schedule changed so much these past few months that the contact time I had with my students was cut drastically, meaning most of my beginner kids wouldn’t have the required software experience to participate.  This put the onus on my advanced students which are a much smaller group and with them it couldn’t be compulsory.  To compound the problem, I had to adapt all my lessons to be Chromebook compatible.  This really limited the software options. As a result only a handful of the entries were from my students but those who didn’t enter are playing, rating and commenting on the games. 

My only regret is that I feel a little disappointed Jack didn’t get his driving game at the end of this jam.  Next time around I’ll add a special driving game category award and provide some attractive incentives for the One Button Game Jam 2 entrants in hopes of making that dream come true.

 

Huge thanks to Scott for speaking with us! You can find the results of the One Button Game Jam 2020, by clicking here.



One Button Game Jam – 2020!

October 22, 2020 By Katie Postma

As we welcome people into the Playability Initiative, we’re thrilled and awed by how much meaningful work is being done in the accessibility community by our members.

Friend of the Initiative, Scott A Jacobson has created a One Button Game Jam for his web and game design students this year. The judging round is happening now!

One Button Game Jam

One of our goals in the playability initiative is to help inspire philosophies of inclusive design principles and consideration in future game designers. We believe that when young people participate in accessible game design challenges, they will consider the world around them in new ways, noticing who the spaces in our world have been designed for and who hasn’t been considered in the design process. Whether these students go on to have careers in game design, customer service, engineering, HR, education, or almost any other field, the consideration they’ve learned in a one-button game jam will help them make the world a little more accessible for anyone they encounter.

You can help encourage these students by voting for winners in their game jam. We’ve been very impressed with the entries we’ve tried out and think you’ll enjoy your time seeing what these budding game developer’s have come up with.

You can see the entries and vote, here:
https://itch.io/jam/one-button-game-jam-2020

We’ll follow up with a blog post about the inspiration for the game jam, student reaction, and we’ll share the news of the game jam winners!



Games Designed To Be Easier To See

October 15, 2020 By Andy Robertson

Working on the accessibility database has made me look at games differently. The first thing I do when I test a new game is go to the options settings to see what you can change to make it more accessible.

Examples of games that are easier to see: Hue, Ear Hockey and A Good Snowman is Hard to Build

It’s also changed how I look at game design as a whole. Along with offering specific settings to make games accessible, some of my favourite games of late have been those that have been designed avoid the barriers that may prevent players from enjoying them.

This inspired me to put a list together of games that were designed to be easier to see. These titles either have settings or are are created from the ground up for low vision players. 

Many of these games include:

  • Fonts: Larger, scalable font sizes and bold fonts, like Moving Out.
  • Zoom: Ability to increase the size of all objects on the screen such as in Untitled Goose Game’s zoom feature.
  • Contrast: Settings to adjust contrast and brightness, as well as distinct colours with good lighting, like Splatoon.
  • Non-Visual Cues: Sounds and haptic feedback that help direct the player, like Lego games.
  • Colourblind: Modes that invert colours or change colours to accommodate different types of colour blindness, such as in Hue.
  • Screen Readers: Functions that read text and menus as they are highlighted and appear on the screen, such as in Eagle Island.

You can see the full list here: Games Designed to be Easier to See, that Christy Smith (thepuppiesNpink) helped me originally compile. Some of my favourites are:

  • Frequency Missing, a point and click adventure designed to be playable without any sight. You touch the screen to hear a sound of different items. My moving your finger on the screen you can home in on them to interact, pick them up, or start conversations. 

Gameplay from "Ord". Screen displays the word "Raccoon." and options to "Wrestle." or "Bribe." the Raccoon.Ord Gameplay

  • Ord, is another game that offers a visual design that focuses on super large fonts. This was in part the aesthetic style of the game, but also meant that the words were easier to see with a visual impairment.  
        
  • Krunker is less likely candidate. It’s a fast moving shooting game that you play in your browser. However, the settings it offers to adjust the screen mean that you can make the heads up display information very visible. These setting are likely included to make the game work on different size screens, but have a secondary accessible benefit because they are implemented in a flexible way.
I hope you enjoyed this little tour of some games that are designed to be easier to see. It shows that inclusive game design is as important as accessibility settings.

There are more visual accessibility settings in the database for you to explore, including:

You can browse more of these settings on the Accessibility Data Page.



Ability is a Spectrum

October 7, 2020 By Amy Green

I can play the piano. 

How much does this statement tell you about me? Not much. It might mean that I am physically capable of pressing the keys down to produce a sound. Or, I might be trying to tell you that I am a concert pianist who has mastered all of Bach’s concertos. Or it could mean any number of things in between those two extremes. 

What it happens to mean, in my case, is that I took a few years of piano lessons as a child, and I can still hammer out Für Elise or the Pachelbel Canon in C. Muscle memory is a mysterious and powerful force, but I can’t play either song in a manner that anyone would enjoy listening to.

What I hope I’ve illustrated with my analysis of the statement, “I can play the piano,” is that ability is a spectrum.

Ability is not a binary. It is not a flip of a switch. So then, why do we label people as “disabled” as if the disability switch in their brain or body is permanently stuck in the on position?

Disability is a Spectrum

We all have strengths and weaknesses. No two people will ever have the same degree of ability in all circumstances. These differences in our abilities are what make games, sports, trivia, and other competitions fun. We can’t predict how our abilities may interact with and compare to other people’s abilities in differing circumstances. In many ways we appreciate this spectrum.

So, why have we developed this label of “disabled?”

It may be because people refuse to help one another and consider each other’s needs until they are compelled to do so. Having a term we can use to designate when accommodation are required has become necessary.

How disappointing. Especially because most people are so kind and helpful on an individual basis, but in groups we tend to become selfish.  How well do you think it would work if we removed all handicap parking designations and simply asked everyone to only park as close to a building as they actually needed to park given their personal abilities? 

And so, I’m glad the term “disability” can help everyone get the assistance they need. I wish it didn’t come with the baggage that somehow people who label themselves as disabled are fundamentally different from people who don’t use that term. We all have a range of abilities.

As we design a video game specifically for children with SMA, we are focused on making a game that everyone can play. We are convinced that fun can be shared across the ability spectrum. Choosing to consider everyone no matter where they fall on the ability spectrum for button pushing, or motor control, or response time is important to us. And we don’t think our consideration will mean the resulting play will be any less satisfying. 

That’s why we’re passionate about the Playability Initiative; it helps us love and consider each other in new ways and look beyond the labels that limit our appreciation for one another. So, we named this initiative “Playability.” We want to focus on everyone’s ability to play – not preconceived notions on what constitutes disability. We are committed to considering how people on a wide spectrum of ability can all play together and we’d love for you to join us in the conversation about how to consider each other well and participate in making play accessible to everybody.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/ThePlayabilityInitiative



Finding Our Accessibility Collaborators

September 29, 2020 By Andy Robertson

One of my favorite things about working on the Playability Initiative is all of the incredible people I have met as I’ve been gathering knowledge and tools to share. I’ve been fortunate enough to find some amazing individuals to guide me and travel with me on this path. 

Photo of Andy Robertson as his desk. On the left is an screen capture of the Family Video Game Database website.

My role in the initiative is to create and add information to the Family Video Game Database (http://www.taminggaming.com) that enables players to discover and search for games that match their needs. Early in this process, I realized that this was a mountain I would need to climb.

 

Even coming up with search terms was a challenge. What datasets would be the most useful? I began by asking questions on social media and reaching out to the accessibility community. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I found experts who kindly gave me their time and advice. With their help, my plan for how to add accessibility search terms to the database came together much more accurately and completely.

 

As I’ve moved from planning to implementing the database, this group has grown to offer advice not only on what information I should record but also the sorts of games I should add to the database. They have given me fantastic recommendations of games that reflect good practices of inclusive design.

 

This means that I have opened up the editing of the database to this wider group. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about having other people working on it. But it’s been brilliant. And again, the conversations that have arisen from collaborating on entering data have enhanced the content in many ways already.

 

Although we’re still early in the process, we now have 155+ games (https://www.taminggaming.com/search/accessibility+features/yes/) with accessibility information entered for them. I have only been able to get so far so quickly because of the generous support and time of a wide range of individuals.  I feel privileged to be working alongside all of them. The database is better because I met them, and it can be better still with your help.

 

The database is now ready to enable a wider group to contribute accessibility information and update the data for individual games. If you have suggestions of games to add, or you would like to play a role in adding accessibility data for games please do get in touch via this blog, via Twitter ( @GeekDadGamer) or email andy@taminggaming.com.

 



Considering The One Who Needs More Time

September 24, 2020 By Amy Green

Part One – Cycling Menu Choices For Single Button Players

This week, Jack wrote a blog for the Playability Initiative telling everyone why he hates timers in games. Players like Jack can find themselves artificially barred from the fun when a timer interferes with their play experience.

Screenshot of Jack Freedman's Timer Blog post offering three suggestions on getting rid of time limits in games and keeping the game fun. 1. Instead of a timer, they could put in a limited amount of chances without a time limit. 2. They could measure how accurate I play instead of how fast I play. 3. If they had the same game without a time limit, I could finish the game whenever I want to.

In a world where physical environments often exclude people who have limited mobility, video games have the potential to open up the fun to everyone. Design choices that do not consider the abilities of the user may needlessly create an impassable barrier.  Design is all about who you consider. It is important for designers to ask questions like, “Who am I making this for? How do they interact with the world, and how can we make them comfortable?” As we design Painted Waters, we are asking ourselves these questions.

We have established a few key design constraints to ensure as many children with spinal muscular atrophy can play our game as possible. Our design constraints may change, but these are our current priorities.

Big Red Button (an example of a Switch)

  • A single button press or control switch controls gameplay
  • We never require the player to “press and hold” a button or control switch
  • We never require quick-response, repetitive button pressing (button smashing)
  • We never penalize the player for slow reaction times 

Many games require the player to react quickly to the events on screen, and if instead the player reacts slowly, their reaction is flagged as a mistake. We aspire to create a game that is just as much fun for players with slower reaction times as it is for those who are able to respond quickly.

For Part One in this blog series, we will show you one style of cycling options for players that we are considering. We’ll be illustrating these principles using napkin sketch animations. In Part Two we’ll share how we’re adapting these principles to the design of levels and features in Painted Waters.

The One-Switch Player:

Some players are physically unable to use traditional gamepad or keyboard controls. These players may rely on buttons or levers that they control with their hand, mouth, or eyes. These controls are known as Switch Access

An animated image portraying a cycling keyboard. The user waits for the orange outline to select the desired letter, and uses the switch to type out a message.

To accommodate this style of input, the game can present the player with a set of choices.  The player can cycle through the choices, and activate their switch to select their desired choice.  This process can take a long time, especially with a large number of choices. In the following examples, we’ll share some different cycling patterns we are considering when designing our game.

 

Example One: The Automatic Cycle

Visual example of automatic cycling. A frog is rotating between 3 plates of food, a bad banana, an apple, and a piece of cake. The frog rotates to face each plate of food at a rate of 2 seconds per plate. A timer displays for the user to know when they can tap. An orange button shows the user selecting the cake plate.

Automatic cycling means that between the three choices presented here, the banana, the apple, and the cake, the game will automatically rotate the frog to point at each choice after a given amount of time.  When the frog points at the choice the player wants, they hit their switch to select the cake!

 

Pros to The Automatic Cycle:

  • This works very well for a limited set of choices.
  • The time between choices can be adjusted to suit each player’s needs.
  • It only requires one tap of a switch to select the desired choice.

 

Cons to The Automatic Cycle:

  • If a player misses their selection, they have to wait for their desired choice while the game cycles all the choices again.
  • More choices take much more time to cycle through.
  • If a player selects the wrong choice, there is no way to undo their selection.
  • Multiplayer games often put players with slower reaction time at a disadvantage against those who are able to react quickly using a different input method, or players whose physical response is more reliable.

 

Example Two: The Automatic Cycle with Increasing Time Between Choices

Visual example of automatic cycling with increasing time between choices. The same frog is rotating between the same set of plates. This time the visual timer waits longer, the longer the player waits. The first three cycles of plates are 1 second apart, the next cycle 2 seconds, the third 3 seconds, until the orange button is pressed, selecting the cake.

This Automatic cycling with increasing time between choices is almost identical to the previous method, with one variation. The longer the player waits, the slower the choices cycle.

 

Pros to The Automatic Cycle with Increasing Time Between Choices

  • This method provides a good balance between increasing efficiency, and lowering the risk of the player selecting a choice they don’t want. If a player wants to play fast, they can, or they can take their time to make sure they select the choice they want.

 

Cons to The Automatic Cycle with Increasing Time Between Choices

  • For players who want to play fast, they could grow frustrated by having to wait for a longer period of time whenever they miss their desired choice.

 

Example Three: The Manual Cycle with 2 switches

Visual example of manual cycle with 2 switches. Same frog, same plates. This time the orange button cycles which plate the frog is looking at, the yellow button selects the cake.

Manual cycling with 2 switches means that the player uses one switch to cycle between choices, and another switch to select their desired choice.

 

Pros to The Manual Cycle with 2 Switches:

  • The game can eliminate any time pressure placed on the player.
  • Selecting the wrong choice is unlikely, because the player selects the choice controls when the choices switch themselves.

 

Cons to The Manual Cycle with 2 Switches:

  • This method requires a player to press a switch once for every choice they cycle through and again for the selection.  In a set of 5 choices, this can mean 6 or more switch activations. For players with decreased motor function this increased pressing can cause fatigue and discomfort.
  • This method requires 2 switches, which increases the need for players to both pay attention to the game, but also focus on moving their hand or finger to another switch.  For players who experience difficulty moving their limbs, or with impairment in depth perception, this task can take longer to complete as well as cause increased fatigue.
  • The player’s game setup may only have one switch, or the player may only be able to use a single switch reliably. This method would exclude all players who do not have access to two unique switches or who are unable to control two switches reliably.

 

Example Four: The Manual Cycle with 1 Switch

Visual example of manual cycle with timeout. Same frog, same plates. This time the user presses the orange button to select which plate the frog looks at, however to select the cake, the player stops pressing the orange button long enough for the timer to run out and select the cake automatically.

Manual cycling with one switch allows a one-switch player to select their desired choice reliably, by only switching choices when they activate their switch, however it can reintroduce time pressure on the player because if the player does not choose to cycle to the next choice by pressing their switch before the timer runs out, the system assumes they are making an intentional selection of the current choice.

 

Pros to The Manual Cycle with 1 Switch:

  • Accessible to the one-switch player.
  • Selecting the wrong choice may be less likely, because the player advances the cycling themselves. 
  • The player can focus on the screen, and not the physical switch, since they don’t have to alternate between 2 switches.

 

Cons to The Manual Cycle with 1 Switch:

  • This method can cause increased fatigue in players, since they have to activate the switch more times to complete simple tasks.
  • Younger players may find it difficult to wait, as they tend to enjoy pressing buttons rather than waiting for the timer to “fill up” and confirm their choice selection.
  • A player may “run out of time” and accidentally select an unintended choice.

 

Example Five: The Undo

Visual Undo example. Same Frog, but only 2 plates, the apple, and the cake. The frog is automatically cycling between each option at a rate of every 2 seconds. This time the player presses the button to select the apple. A message is displayed asking if the user wants to undo? The player selects undo by pressing the orange button before the timer runs out.

The undo is an option you can add to any of the above methods to make sure the player is able to correct their choice, if a mistake has been made.  A built in undo within the game gives the player the opportunity to go back and select the choice they desire.  In this animation, there is still time pressure to click at the correct time, however if the player activates the switch at the wrong time, they can activate the switch again to select the other option before the Undo timer expires. To finalize their choice, they have to push the switch  to select their choice and then wait for the undo time to expire.

 

Pros to the Undo:

  • It is unlikely the player will be stuck with an undesired choice.

Cons to the Undo:

  • Undo can slow down gameplay. If every selection must be “confirmed” by the player a second time, it doubles the selection time. Every choice requires the player to wait for the undo timer to expire.

 

The Eye Gaze Player

Eye Gaze players have the benefit of quick reflexes. Our eyes can move fast! However, players typically can’t play as fast as they move their eyes.  Just looking at something on the screen doesn’t mean they want to move their avatar, or attack an enemy on the screen. The game needs to know what the player intends to do with their eyes.

Eye Gaze systems often use onscreen dashboards to control the player’s intent.  

Visual representation of an eye tracking dashboard. The image displays 6 buttons, one for left click of a mouse, one for double click, and 4 arrow keys to move the mouse cursor incrementally across the screen.

When the player wants to move their mouse cursor, they may select a “move mouse” option, or when they want to “double click” they may select the “double click” option, and then look where they want to double click.

When designers don’t think about the time it takes for a player to comfortably input what they want to do, then game design can penalize these players or leave them out.  

 
 

In Jack’s case, he had to move a cursor a little bit at a time across the screen using buttons like the ones represented in the image above. Then, he had to look at a different screen to determine if his mouse was in the correct location for what he wanted to do.  For a timed mini-game, it didn’t matter that Jack knew how to play and knew how to solve the puzzle, the time limit didn’t wait for Jack’s eyes.

In Part 2, we’ll share with you some of our design considerations for reducing timer dependency in the action and movement of the game. We’ll also discuss how our level design and game play consider those who need additional time. We want to make sure that Painted Waters is fun for everyone to play together.



Jack’s Gaming Column: Why I Hate Time Limits in Games

September 22, 2020 By Jack Freedman

My name is Jack Freedman and I’m 25 years old. I have a disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. My muscles are too weak to use a computer mouse or the keyboard that comes with the computer. I use Eyegaze. 

A timer counts down

Eyegaze is a computer system that I use with my eyes.  A camera reads the way my eyes move. I select a letter or symbol by holding my gaze on that place.  There are two computer screens, one for the game and one for the Eyegaze keyboard or mouse control. I can use my Eyegaze to type and to move my cursor and to move and click my mouse.  I play games using my (Eyegaze) keyboard and mouse. I can play some games independently, but sometimes you have to be quick, and then I need help!

When I have a time limit in a game, I have to ask other people to help me because I have to be quick. I can’t be quick because I have to look back and forth between my Eyegaze screen and my computer screen.  It’s too fast for me to do two things at once with my Eyegaze when there is a time limit!

It feels frustrating to me when I ask other people to help me with a time limit because I’m not quick enough to play the game independently.

Jack Freedman smiling
Jack Freedman

 

Here are a few ways that I think game designers could get rid of time limits and still keep the fun: 

  1. Instead of a timer, they could put in a limited amount of chances without a time limit. 
  2. They could measure how accurate I play instead of how fast I play. 
  3. If they had the same game without a time limit I could finish the game whenever I want to.

 



Introducing the Family Video Game Database!

September 3, 2020 By Amy Green

Finding Accessible Video Games To Meet Your Needs

Last week we introduced you to Jack Freedman, our friend with SMA who plays video games using an eye tracking system. This week we are introducing Andy Robertson, who is working with us to support gamers like Jack.

In our early conversations with Jack’s dad, he told us that he and Jack took countless trips to Game Stop as Jack was growing up. They’d pick games up off the shelf and study them, making their best guess at which games Jack might be able to play. More often than not, they’d get their selections home, open them up, and discover that the games weren’t accessible enough for Jack to play and back they’d go to try to buy different games. The whole process was incredibly frustrating for Jack and his dad, but trial and error was their only option at the time.

I’m happy to report that times have changed. The internet has allowed people to share information and recommendations much more easily, STEAM and other digital stores offer free returns. A little of the guess work has been removed from the process of finding great games for players with unique needs. However, we think more can be done.

The Playability Initiative is partnering with the Family Video Game Database to create searchable, curated lists of video games. The Family Video Game Database was already offering lists of games for parents on topics like “hope through play, games that encourage reading, games you can play that commit no violence, games that help you be a good neighbor, and the lists of games you can search for is constantly expanding based on user requests.

A selection of games from the Family Video Games Database

The Playability Initiative is now sponsoring the database to add even more lists of games that offer great accessibility features. So now you can also search for games “designed to be easier to see, designed with deaf and hard of hearing functions, and games designed for reduced motor function.”

We’re excited to introduce you to Andy Robertson, a family video game journalist who created this database because he loves helping families find new ways to play games together. He will be sharing blogs with us all about the database, and how he’s curating new lists of games, as well as what he’s learning about accessibility in games during this process.  

He would love to hear from you in the comments on our blog or through the Playability Intiatiive facebook group to find out what kind of parameters you want to be able to search for on his database.

“Having only scratched the surface on helping people find games with great accessibility features, it’s exciting to be able to now make accessibility data an integral aspect of the Family Video Game Database,” says Andy Robertson, our partner in this endeavor.  “Whether you want to find games where you don’t have to hold down buttons, have resizable subtitles, visual prompts for audio cues or with customisable difficulty, the database will soon support these features and more.”

“Video games are now a normal part of childhood and growing up. It’s therefore crucially important that we minimise the barriers to play so that as many people can enjoy and benefit from these imaginative worlds, competitions, collaborations and communities as possible.”

 



Jack’s Gaming Column: A Game I Wish I Could Play

August 11, 2020 By Amy Green

(editor’s note: Yesterday we introduced you to Jack, our first collaborator from the SMA community. For today’s article, we asked Jack to tell us about a video game he wished he could play. He took to Steam, browsed the library and picked out a game that looked like fun to him, and here’s what he shared with us about that experience.)

 

A Game I Wish I Could Play

By Jack Freedman

 

My name is Jack Freedman, and I’m 25 years old. I have a disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. My muscles are too weak to use a computer mouse. Because of that, I use Eyegaze. Eyegaze is a computer system that I use with my eyes.  A camera reads the way my eyes move. I use my Eyegaze to type and to move my cursor and to move and click my mouse.  I play games using my keyboard and my mouse. I can play some games independently, but sometimes you have to be quick, and then I need help!

 

The game I wish I could play is called Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.  I found the game on Steam.  The driving looks like fun to me. I would like to play it because it would be entertaining and fun for me!

Jack and Need for Speed on SteamI tested out the game on Steam, and it didn’t work for me because it required a keyboard. Sometimes the keyboard on my Eyegaze works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Some games work and some games don’t. I can’t play the game at all. I feel disappointed!

 

For me to be able to play Need For Speed, the controls would have to change from the keyboard to the mouse. If the controls were with the mouse, I would be able to do it on my own independently.

 

I wish that I could play this game all on my own!

 

 

We wish Jack could play a racing game all on his own too. So, we thought maybe our community could help us solve this problem for Jack. Do you know of any racing games on Steam that can be played with Eyegaze that don’t require a keyboard? We’d love to hear your suggestions for Jack.