Abhinit Parelkar - UX/Interaction Designer
ABHINIT PARELKAR

Accessibility

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Commercial Gaming Experience for People who are Blind and Visually-Impaired (Accessibility)

The problem:

To explore challenges faced by gamers who are blind and visually-impaired. 
 

Limitations:

Although our participants had a wide variety of vision impairments,  we did not include any participants who were 100% blind. We had a small sample size with only five participants so our findings can only generalize to individuals with partial vision impairments.
 

The process:

The video gaming industry is booming. However, people who are visually-impaired or blind are often excluded from commercial video games There are at least eight sets of guidelines for designing games with accessibility in mind [1]. Yet, most gamers who are blind or visually impaired cannot successfully play most major titles [5]; several researchers have investigated video game accessibility.

In this study, we explored how people who are blind and visually-impaired experienced commercial games; what games they can and cannot play, what difficulties they face while gaming, and what improvements game developers should keep in mind when designing games for accessibility.

We aimed to answer three research questions. First, how are games that are designed for people who are blind perceived by the blind community? Next, how accessible are typical commercial games for people who are blind? Finally, what kind of games do gamers who are blind or visually-impaired want to see developed?
 

Data collection
We recruited five participants from the Chicago area in Illinois. We recruited participants from two organizations that serve people who are blind and visually impaired: (a) the Chicago Lighthouse and (b) Friedman Place. Prior to participating, participants were required to confirm that they were legally blind, and had some experience with playing video games. Participants were compensated for their time with a $15 gift card. See Table 1, for demographic information.

 The Chicago Lighthouse

The Chicago Lighthouse

 Table 1: Participant Demographic

Table 1: Participant Demographic

After acquiring verbal consent, we conducted semi-structured interviews; interviews were audio recorded and later transcribed.

Data analysis
We individually inductively coded our transcribed interviews for common and salient themes using www.saturateapp.com. This web application allowed each group member to code the five interviews individually, and all of the codes created with www.saturateapp.com were pooled into an excel file to identify themes.
 

Findings
Slow-Paced Gaming
Our participants used a diverse range of video games. In addition to PC games and smartphone games, participants also played on the major gaming consoles  (e.g. Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation).  However, almost all of the games our participants played were relatively slow-paced.

Non-visual Based Interactions
Our participants found tactile and audio-based feedback to be immensely helpful to playing games successfully. One of our participants, Anthony, described how good sound design could make or break his ability to play certain games. "Even having the footsteps sound differently for your team versus their team… even little things like that could go a long way… If they (your team) were in close enough proximity to you, their voice would come in directionally. So, if they were in a certain radius, you can tell if they were in front of you, behind you, to the side of you. It was the only game I have ever seen done that. But I really hope more companies can implement that.

Visual Aids and Restrictions
Some visual aspects of video games were particularly problematic for the participants we interviewed For example, games with low color contrast or low brightness were particularly difficult for our participants to play. Darlene mentioned that low lighting or contrast made it difficult for her to play some games. “It would be much easier to play if there was better lighting or if the background wasn’t so dark”.

Another major finding was the preference for slower paced and turn-based games. While many fast-paced games have such a large following because their players enjoy the intensity and pace of these types of games, game developers might consider offering slower paced modes for single-player games and slower-paced servers for cooperative games. 

We also found that the primary motivation to play video games for some of our participants was to engage in social interaction. People who are blind can often run into difficulties relating to social engagement. However, almost all of our participants used the video games that they could play as a means to engage and socialize with others. The ability for our participants to use these games to engage with others can in part be attributed to the accessibility of the games that they can play.
 

References:

  1. Brian Bors. 2015. The current state of game accessibility guidelines. Retrieved November 19, 2017 from http://game-accessibility.com/documentation/accessibility-guidelines/
     
  2. Joyram Chakraborty, Suranjan Chakraborty, Josh Dehlinger, and Joseph Hritz. 2016. Designing video games for the blind: results of an empirical study. Universal Access in the Information Society: International Journal, v16 n3 (201708): 809-818.
     
  3. Tatiana V. Evreinova, Grigori Evreinov, and Roope Raisamo. 2008. Non-visual game design and training in gameplay skill acquisition – A puzzle game case study. Interacting With Computers, 20(3), 386-405. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
     
  4. Per Anders Östblad, Henrik Engström, Jenny Brusk, and UIf Wilhelmsson. 2014. Inclusive game design: audio interface in a graphical adventure game. Proceedings of the 19th Audio Mostly: A Conference on Interaction With Sound Article No. 29, Denmark, Oct 01 -03, 2014.
     
  5. John R. Porter, and Julie A Kientz. 2013. An empirical study of issues and barriers to mainstream video game accessibility. Proceedings of 15th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility, Washington, Oct 21 - 23, 2013.
     
  6. UIf Wilhelmsson, Henrik Engström, Jenny Brusk, and Per Anders Östblad. 2017. Inclusive game design facilitating shared gaming experience. Journal of Computing in Higher Education. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s12528-017-9146-0.
     

Technology used: 

Microsoft Word/Excel/PPT, www.saturateapp.com
 

Contribution:

The team consisted of five members (researchers). Following were the members who equally contributed throughout the process:

  • Abhinit Parelkar (Researcher) 
  • Daniel Spinner (Researcher)
  • Cheng Zeng (Researcher)
  • Abbey Chu (Researcher)
     

Learned Lesson(s):

Although our participants had a wide variety of vision impairments,  we did not include any participants who were 100% blind. We had a small sample size with only five participants so our findings can only generalize to individuals with partial vision impairments. 

In future studies, we would like to integrate usability tests that allow our participants to demonstrate how they play games to gain a better understanding of their gaming experience. We would also like to recruit a larger sample size for our study.


 

 

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