An Accessible Two-Player Multi-Modal Board Game
by Dimitris Grammenos, Anthony Savidis and Constantine Stephanidis
A multi-modal chess game has been designed and implemented for play between any two players, including people with disabilities (sight-impaired, blind and hand-motor impaired), either locally on the same computer, or remotely over the Internet.
Most computer games are quite demanding in terms of the motor and sensor skills needed for interaction control, while they require specific, usually quite complex, input devices and techniques. This fact renders computer games virtually inaccessible to people with disabilities, and in particular to blind people and those with severe motor impairments of the upper limbs. From a technical point of view, two main approaches can be adopted in order to address the accessibility issue:
a) Games are developed to be compatible with the use of assistive technologies, such as screen readers, mouse emulators and virtual keyboards. Practically, this is applicable only to non-action games, which do not rely upon fast reflexes and user reactions.
b) The development of special-purpose games, optimally designed for people with disabilities, such as audio-based games for the blind, switch-based games for the motor-impaired etc.
The first approach typically suffers from low interaction quality, and still only achieves limited accessibility. The second approach, while the most promising from the point of view of quality, has two key drawbacks: firstly, the cost of developing high-quality games is prohibitive given the limited size of the potential target group, and secondly, there is the problem of segregation between able and disabled gamers, which could lead to potential social exclusion.
In this context, we pursue the development of universally accessible multi-player board games exhibiting the following key properties:
- they are designed to optimally fit individual gamer abilities, requirements and preferences
- they can be shared remotely or locally
- versions are developed for alternative platforms.
Board games represent a well-defined, physically constrained, static game world that can be directly rendered through alternative modalities. They are based on thinking rather than reflex-based reaction. This fact can compensate for any physical disabilities and also allows for longer interaction times.
The underlying vision is that through these games people will be able to have fun and compete on an equal basis, interacting easily and effectively irrespective of individual abilities, skills and preferences.
Current Developments and Future Work
We have developed a fully functional prototype of a two-player chess game that can be played locally or through the Internet. A variety of alternative I/O modalities and interaction techniques can co-exist in its user interface. Input is supported through the mouse, the keyboard, single- or double-switch scanning, and speech. Output can be both visual and auditory. The game board, the pieces and the text can be enlarged. Furthermore, for the blind and the sight-impaired, additional facilities are offered for accessing oral descriptions of the board or its parts (eg possible moves, opponent positions, neighbouring pieces, diagonals etc).
Ongoing work includes the support of a Braille display and 3D sound for the description of the position of the pieces, as well as the integration of additional input devices. An accessible online chat facility is under development so that players can communicate with each other when playing through the Internet. Support for multilingual user interfaces is also being added.
Based on experiences from this first development, we are currently working on defining a component-based framework for universally accessible multi-player board games.
Dimitris Grammenos, FORTH-ICS
Tel: +30 2810 391 755