D. Herbert

Friday, July 29, 2005

Video Game Tool for the Blind

Quite a few blogs have linked to the blind gaming wizard story (via jkOnTheRun), which leads me to ask the question, how can existing games be made more accessible to the blind and visually impaired?

The obvious answer is to include audio cues. For a 2D fighting game like Street Fighter, this would probably mean some sort of buzzing noise that would change based on the distance between the two fighters. For a 3D fighting game like the new version of Mortal Kombat, the sound might change differently based on the direction of the enemy and such--although this would probably best be sent only to one player, rather than to both (so each player could get their directional cues separately if both were blind).

So I came up with a tentative solution:

It should come in three separate parts:

1) the actual device that would be used by the blind player. This could be a pair of headphones worn near the ears that would provide an extra buzzing noise to send information to the player, while the player still hears all of the normal game audio, or it could be a vibrating arm bracelet, or pretty much anything else.

2) The middle layer would be the same regardless of what game was being played or what output device was being used. It would constantly be receiving very simple input from the game (probably just a short list of integers and/or floats) and passing it along to whatever device software is chosen by the user. For a game like Street Fighter, there might be only 1 variable worth sending, namely the X-distance to the other player. There are already audio cues for things like jumping and firing projectiles ("ha-dou-ken!").

3) the video game would send that simple output to the middle program. The video game would never have to communicate directly with a special device, only implement a very simple interface to send info to the middle program (with separate info for each player if it is a multiplayer game). This means support for blind/visually-impaired players could be added as an afterthought to new and existing games--and would probably be very easy to add to old games like Street Fighter. (would the relative simplicity of Street Fighter, as compared to 3D games, make it easier for blind people to play?)

What do you think? Somewhere out there, there's probably a patent for this that's gathering dust...


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