[real-eyes] Fw: Video games' new frontier: The visually impaired (featuresAudiOdyssey)

CNN
Thursday, September 06, 2007

Video games' new frontier: The visually impaired (features AudiOdyssey)

By Steve Mollman

New interactive music video game developed for visually impaired; Nintendo 
Wii's Wiimote controller or keyboard used to play; Developers hope game will 
also be played online by mainstream players

(CNN) -- Forget shoot-em-up addicts -- video games are reaching out to the 
rest of us.

The greatest symbol of this is the Wii console from Nintendo. Its innovative 
wireless control -- the Wiimote -- has even non-gamers excited as they swing 
it through the air to control, say, a tennis racket on the screen.

Wii's Wiimote may play a pivotal role in bringing the visually impaired into 
the electronic gaming fold.

But not quite everyone has been reached. One group is still largely ignored 
by video game makers: the blind.

With that in mind, a team of researchers at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game 
Lab in Massachusetts set out this summer to make a music-based video game 
that's designed for mainstream players and also accessible to the blind.

Appropriately, perhaps, they incorporated the Wiimote into the game-play, 
though it's optional.

The resulting DJ game, designed for the PC, is called AudiOdyssey. In it, 
players try to lay down different tracks in a song by swinging and waving 
the Wiimote in time with the beats. Or they can just use keyboard controls.

The game reminded this writer of my lack of any rhythm whatsoever. I used 
the keyboard version, where you're instructed to follow the beat by hitting 
an arrow key. Miss a beat and you get an ugly sound. Things sounded pretty 
ugly. But I did start to get a little better after 15 minutes and was 
awarded occasionally by crowd cheers. It's a fun game. And I got a kick out 
of it.

So did 41-year-old Alicia Verlager. For her, though, the fun is a bit more 
significant. She's visually impaired.

"Play is one of the ways in which people build relationships," she notes. 
"It's fun to take on the challenge of a game and take turns encouraging and 
laughing at each other's sillier mistakes. That's the experience I am really 
craving in a game -- the social aspects."

AudiOdyssey is presently single-player only, and there's no scoring system. 
But a multiplayer online version will be released in a few months. 
Intriguingly, players in this version won't necessarily know whether their 
opponent is blind -- and it won't make a difference in the game.

"Ideally, they shouldn't even know that it is designed with the visually 
impaired in mind, since we want to make a 'mainstream' game," says Eitan 
Glinert, a 25-year-old grad student at GAMBIT and the lead researcher on 
AudiOdyssey, which is his thesis.

That said, "after they find out that the game is designed to be accessible, 
it increases awareness," he adds.

Though using the Wiimote isn't necessary, Glinert believes it's a more fun 
and expressive option. From a development standpoint, getting the Wiimote to 
work with a PC game (it's meant to be used only with Nintendo's Wii) was a 
considerable engineering challenge.

And players who want to use the device will have to do a little extra work, 
as well, including linking a Wiimote to a PC wirelessly via Bluetooth signal 
(instructions on how to do this are included with the game).

Verlager believes AudiOdyssey's use of the Wiimote makes it unique among 
accessible games. It's also, as far as she knows, the first accessible music 
game for blind players. A startup called All inPlay offers online games, 
including poker, designed to allow play between blind and sighted users.

For Verlager, it's important that games be mainstream and inclusive --  
rather than "special" and for blind players.

"I really get frustrated with the way blind people are portrayed as if they 
live in isolation from the rest of the world and have no sighted family or 
friends," she says.

Media, which includes video games, "is something people share and 
participate in together, a way of building relationships and exploring 
feelings and attitudes about real life," she says.

For now, AudiOdyssey is an "early concept prototype," says Glinert. But 
"ultimately, we'd love to bring the game to consoles," he adds. "If we get 
the chance we'll definitely move quickly on that."

The current version of AudiOdyssey is available for free at the GAMBIT Game 
Lab Web site.

LINK: More information and game download - 119Mb executable file
(Added by Leon Gilbert, blindnews volunteer)
http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/index.php#audiodyssey

(Source URL below)

http://www.cnn.com/2007/BUSINESS/09/02/video.blind/index.html?eref=rss_latest

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