Video game technology improves accessibility for the blind — Quartz

Visuals are at the heart of video game design. They can improve gameplay and tell a story more immersive—or, badly done, ruin an experiment absolutely. In any case, visually impaired players do not have access to it. In recent years, companies and researchers have increasingly tried to solve this problem.

Among them is EA Sports, which makes popular games like Madden NFL and Need of speed. In the first instance, players now have the ability to add different sounds to different games, helping blind players better understand what’s going on. In Need of speed, audio signals that indicate when cars are turning or when obstacles are near, also help players who rely on sound.

“It’s not such a good experience [as competitive sighted gamers get], but it is an experience. And having experience is the most important thing,” said Karen Stevens, head of Accessibility at EA Sports, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco earlier this year. Like Ars Technica Reports, she explained how the company started upgrading its games after receiving a letter from a blind gamer and shared how she discovered an underserved audience base on Audiogames.net, a forum dedicated to accessible games to the blind.

The size of this audience could be considerable. More than 7 million people in the United States between the ages of 16 and 75 reported visual impairment in 2015, according to the most recent statistics from the National Federation of the Blind. A good part of them would probably play accessible video games: since this year, about 211 million people, or 67% of Americans, play video games, according to a study by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research.

Meanwhile, forums like Audiogames.net and efforts like Game Accessibility project, which aims to provide resources to less skilled developers and gamers, shows that the latter are a important part player demographics.

Some developers are trying to improve the gaming experience for blind people even more. the racing aural display (RAD) aims to provide an experience close to what sighted gamers get, and it can be integrated by developers into almost any racing game.

The prototype was unveiled earlier this year by Brian Smith, a new assistant professor of computer science at Columbia University. (A doctoral student at the time, Smith worked on the project with Shree Nayar, a computer science professor at the school.)

As Smith told Quartz, RAD isn’t a “watered down experience” or a “simplified version” of a game that caters specifically to blind gamers. Instead, it tries to retain the thrill and complexity of racing games by using two new types of sound cues. One is an audio slider that helps players understand the car’s speed and position on a track, while an audio indicator system alerts them to upcoming turns. When Smith tested the RAD on gamers, the subjects were actually blind executed as well as, or sometimes better than a non-blind player.

Smith hopes to share his software with companies so “developers can integrate RAD into their own game,” he says. By working with companies to create a universal standard for audio signals, he hopes the prototype can be further developed (for example, how to tell if opponents are on the track).

Granted, there’s a lot of work to be done to make games more accessible, and people with disabilities are rarely involved in video game research, because MIT Technology Review Reports.

But big companies have already started to make accessibility a priority. For example, Marvel’s Spiderman for PlayStation 4, released in September by Insomniac Games, allows gamers customize settings depending on their visual ability, with options to add great subtitles or helpful audio. These types of features, integrated From the beginning, will hopefully become the norm.


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