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.

Jack’s Gaming Column: Meet Jack

August 11, 2020 By Amy Green

Meet Our First Contributing Writer, Jack Freedman

This is Jack. Jack has a condition called spinal muscular atrophy. Over time, SMA has affected Jack’s ability to control his muscles, including his ability to breathe independently. SMA hasn’t stopped Jack from having a job, connecting with his friends on social media, or doing what almost all 25-year-old men love to do, play video games.

When Jack was little, his parents made his first computer setup which enabled him to play games on his own. They created slings for his arms so that he could hit the buttons to interact with the Living Books he liked to play, without having to support the weight of his arms. Once Jack had played through all the Living Books, he entered the world of Freddie Fish, Spy Fox, Pajama Sam, and all the other memorable characters from Humongous Entertainment’s  popular video games.


As Jack grew, his physical limitations increased, but his parents kept learning new ways to help him play the video games he loved. His dad, Al Freedman told us about all the trips they took to GameStop, searching for games they hoped Jack could play. They’d look at the video game cases, wondering how much Jack would be able to play the games on his own, but they would never know for sure until they purchased the games and took them home. More often than not the games wouldn’t work for Jack, but since they didn’t have a better system for finding accessible games, they always found themselves returning to GameStop to start the search over again.

Now, Jack plays video games using eye-tracking. He’s learned what games work best for him and found some favorites. He’s played every Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie game, always on the hunt for a new Hardy Boys or Sherlock Holmes mystery game to try out. However, even his favorite games have moments that block his progress. People love games because they get to make the choices themselves; nothing kills the fun faster than when Jack has to ask his mom, dad, or nurse to help him pass a level simply because the speed of his eye-tracking input wasn’t fast enough to beat a timer in the middle of a game.


Jack Playing Nancy Drew with Eye Gaze 


When we watch Jack play video games, it makes us want to work even harder to create video games that gamers like Jack can play with their friends and family, without assistance.

As we keep developing Painted Waters for children with SMA, we’re counting on gamers like Jack to ensure Painted Waters is a fun game, not a frustrating game. We’ll also be enlisting the help of gamers in our Playability Initiative community to help us solve design challenges to make our games more fun and inclusive for everyone.

Jack is our first collaborator from the SMA community. His column on the Playability Initiative Blog will focus on sharing the games he is passionate about with all of you. Tomorrow, we’ll share Jack’s first post where he tells us about a video game he wishes he could play.

Press Release – Announcing The Playability Initiative

July 16, 2020 By Ryan Green

News Release
July 15, 2020

For Press Inquiries
Ryan Green
Co-Founder Numinous Games
+1 (303) 249-8245

One-Button Adventure Game Offers Gateway To Hundreds Of Accessible Video Games

Des Moines, IA  – Numinous Games announced The Playability Initiative today at the annual Games for Change Festival. The Playability Initiative seeks to collaborate with the accessible gaming community to connect players to video games designed and adapted with their unique abilities in mind while challenging more designers to think inclusively. The Playability Initiative is made possible through the financial support of AveXis, a Novartis company. One-Button Adventure Game Offers Gateway To Hundreds Of Accessible Video Games

Through The Playability Initiative, Numinous Games will collaborate with the spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and disability community to create a new video game. Painted Waters will be a free, one-button multiplayer adventure game for kids designed to nurture togetherness, activate empathy, and celebrate creativity through play. 

Numinous Games will partner with The AbleGamers Charity to design a special game mode within Painted Waters that helps assess the player’s abilities. This diagnostic game mode will suggest adaptive technology resources to serve the player’s needs and games that may be suitable for the player as they venture beyond Painted Waters gameplay. 

“Children deserve the right to play,” said Steven Spohn, COO of The AbleGamers Charity. “At AbleGamers Charity, our mission is to enable play to combat social isolation for people with disabilities. We’re thrilled to support Numinous Games in creating a digital playground that allows children with disabilities to express themselves creatively, flex their imaginations, and most importantly, to play, just like anyone else.”

In addition to creating a new game, Numinous Games, through The Playability Initiative, is supporting the Family Video Game Database (http://www.taminggaming.com) to offer new accessibility search filters in their rapidly-growing database of family-friendly games. These expanded search filters will empower parents and adult advocates of children with disabilities to find customized suggestions of games that will work for their children.

“Every child has different tastes and needs for video games,” said Andy Robertson, co-founder of The Family Gaming Database. “Finding suitable games for a child with a disability has additional considerations. Do buttons need to be held down? How much rapid motor function is needed? Can you alter the contrast? Can you adjust captions and subtitles? With support and guidance from The Playability Initiative, we are adding detailed, searchable accomodations for games in our database to empower parents and carers to make informed decisions.” 

Numinous Games will be collaborating with Games for Change in this year’s G4C’s Student Challenge, offering an accessibility modifier to the organization’s youth-facing annual games design challenge.

“Today, we have the tools and technology to create games that adapt to the needs of the gamer, and the new Playability Initiative further fortifies a mindset where inclusivity is the nucleus of all game development,” said Susanna Pollack, president of Games for Change. “We believe the addition of the accessibility modifier to the annual G4C Student Challenge will inspire our student developers to imagine new and inventive ways to draw all people into the games’ community fully and authentically.”

Numinous will be working with Games for Change to create Playability Initiative teaching materials that will help designers of the future think inclusively in their projects.

“Numinous Games believes that a truly inclusive design begins with seeing the inherent value of every single player. As a studio, we aim to love the players who society tends to push to the margins,” added Ryan Green of Numinous Games. “We want to design a game and initiative that honors and considers those players from the very beginning. We are thankful to partner with AveXis to bring The Playability Initiative to life.”

Numinous Games invites parents, advocates, and therapists interested in adaptive gaming to sign up to receive the Playability Adaptive Gaming Newsletter for accessible game reviews, adaptive technology resources, and more. For visitors who are interested in becoming collaborators in the Painted Waters game design process, the Facebook group for the Playability Initiative will provide updates and opportunities to collaborate. To sign up for the newsletter, visit playabilityinitiative.com


The Playability Initiative Media Contact Information:

Contact: Ryan Green

Title: Co-Founder Numinous Games

Phone: +1 (303) 249-8245

Email: ryan@numinousgames.com

For more information, please visit: playabilityinitiative.com


Numinous Games is an award-winning independent video game, serious game, and VR studio inviting players on a journey of cultural renewal, through meaningful interactive experiences which explore the heart of human interaction.

Numinous’s first title was the BAFTA and G4C award-winning experimental narrative game That Dragon, Cancer, which mixed expressionist environments, autobiographical narrative, and documentary audio into a creative non-fiction video game about a little boy named Joel Green.

Numinous has continued its innovative work in health, working with Novartis to release Galaxies of Hope, a neuroendocrine cancer patient, caregiver, and physician narrative experience.

For more information, visit: numinousgames.com


The AbleGamers Foundation is a 501©(3) charity that wields the power of video games to break down the barriers of economic and social isolation for people with disabilities. Through received support and donations, AbleGamers provides disabled gamers with assistive technologies (including their Expansion Pack program) that allow those with limited real-world mobility to experience what it is like to walk, run, climb, drive and even fly – in a virtual world.

For more information, visit: ablegamers.org


The Family Gaming Database is created by a small enthusiastic team of parents and carers. They write succinct information about each game for other parents and carers who may be new to gaming. Each game page has a single non-jargon explanation, how long it takes to play, costs and in-game purchases or loot boxes, detailed ESRB and PEGI age-ratings and accessibility provision. Games are arranged in searchable Netflix-style lists to help parents find games around different themes.

For more information, visit: taminggaming.com


Games for Change (G4C) has been empowering game creators and innovators to drive real-world change, using games that help people to learn, improve their communities, and contribute to make the world a better place. G4C partners with technology and gaming companies as well as nonprofits, foundations and government agencies, to run world class events, public arcades, design challenges and youth programs. G4C supports a global community of game developers working to use games to tackle real-world challenges, from humanitarian conflicts to climate change and education.

For more information, visit: gamesforchange.org


AveXis, a Novartis company, is the world’s leading gene therapy company, redefining the possibilities for patients and families affected by life-threatening genetic diseases through our innovative gene therapy platform. Founded in 2013 and headquartered in Bannockburn, IL, the goal of AveXis’ cutting-edge science is to address the underlying, genetic root cause of diseases. AveXis pioneered foundational research, establishing AAV9 as an ideal vector for gene transfer in diseases affecting the central nervous system, laying the groundwork to build a best-in-class, transformational gene therapy pipeline. AveXis received its first U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in May 2019 for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). AveXis is also developing therapies for other genetic diseases, including Rett syndrome, a genetic form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) SOD1 and Friedreich’s ataxia. For additional information, please visit www.avexis.com.

Focused on What Our Kids Can Do!

July 15, 2020 By Amy Green
A memory from seven years ago popped up on my Facebook feed. It was a video of my son walking. I watched it twice with the sound turned all the way up – absolutely captivated. Watching the video, some people may find themselves focusing on all the things he could improve on. Some might feel pity. A few might even watch his clumsy efforts and say to themselves, “what a shame.” His gate was uneven. His steps were clunky. His balance was precarious. But when I watch it, all I see is everything Joel was able to do. 

I see a little boy who learned to walk with a tiny gold walker, a boy who took his first steps at the age of three. He often gripped his shirt tightly in his fist as he walked, because he was so unstable on his feet that he needed the security of having something to hold onto. Even if the security he sought was an illusion. He didn’t just learn to walk once. He learned to walk several times after tumors put pressure on his spinal column, and the pain stopped him in his tracks. 

This video, in my “memories feed,” captures the first steps we’d seen him take in three days. We had been preparing for a road trip, a precious luxury after years of cancer treatment that kept us tethered to the hospital, never more than an hour away from the help Joel might need. But while he was terminal, we didn’t have active treatment to consider, and every now and then, we could whisk the children off on an adventure if Joel was doing well. He had just finished a series of radiation treatments. We couldn’t wait to escape. But we had begun to notice issues we tried hard to ignore. Was Joel walking a little less? A subtle wince shifted Joel’s eyes anytime he moved around. He fell after a few unsteady steps – not surprising, but not reassuring. And then two days passed without Joel taking any steps at all. Sometimes with cancer, you know before you know. Neither my husband nor I wanted to be the first one to question if we should cancel our plans.

But on this beautiful day, he rallied. All the worst case scenarios we tried not to imagine were chased away by the sight of our son up on his feet, exploring the neighborhood. And so I press play again. I watch his clompy feet stomp. I listen to his giggle as he “runs.” I remember the trip we didn’t have to cancel – the ribs we ate at a roadside bbq restaurant, Joel’s brothers jumping around on hotel beds as he laughed, not quite able to join in the fun but adding his merriment to the mix, and I remember Joel, climbing every step at the Lincoln memorial, as he held my hand, with fireflies beginning to light up the sky. The holiness I felt inside that sacred space mixed with the gratitude I felt that I had been allowed to witness this boy take each daunting step to the top. 

Joel Eating Wings | Joel and his brothers snuggling | Visiting The Lincoln Memorial

I play the video again, and I notice how Joel barely negotiates the curb, carefully managing his balance. And then he puts his hand on his head for a moment. Why? I wonder now, as I consider him and all he managed to do. Did his head hurt? Did he feel dizzy? He couldn’t tell me. He never spoke.

There was so much he couldn’t do. But we focused on all the things he could do because every ability he displayed resulted from a hard-won battle. Every shaky step was a victory.

Today, we are announcing the Playability Initiative at Games for Change. It’s an initiative that has our whole heart because it allows us to focus on the abilities of children like Joel, who may not be able to leap and run and dance and sing, but we know that everything they can do is a precious gift to the people who love them. We are designing a video game for “the one.” The one others may not see. The one that may get brushed aside so we can serve the majority. The one who the shepherd might leave the 99 for. And what if this one can only move a single finger, ever so slightly? Can we imbue meaning and joy and connection to that child’s ability? We can. We just have to be willing to consider them, to see value in their abilities, and believe they are precious enough to warrant our efforts. Because of Joel, we see all of these “ones,” and we don’t think, “what a shame,” we think, “look at them go!”

If you want to join us in considering children like Joel, follow our journey in the Playability Initiative by joining our Facebook group, and signing up for the Playability Initiative newsletter.