Saturday, January 17, 2015

Journeys of the Mind: Play is Where community Begins

Journeys of the Mind: Play is Where Community Begins Presenter: Michael Feir phone: 416-305-2757 Email: Skype: Michael-Feir Twittter: mfeir Introduction: Games are more than mere pastimes. They are works of art with their own lessons to teach us about reality, ourselves and our companions in play. They help us to explore the consequences of our ideas in a safe manner. They are superb tools for breaking down barriers between people allowing friendships and discoveries to take place. They can also reduce the intimidation people feel when faced with technology they must learn to use. Important human connections are formed through play. Games have become a vital cultural medium. The digital games industry earns more profit than the movie and music industries combined. For all these reasons, it is vital that blind people share in these experiences as much as possible. In some cases, a game cannot be made accessible since its core challenges depend on players having sight. However, in far too many cases, a lack of awareness of what technology makes possible is a widespread needless impediment to play. Game developers often have no idea that blind people are capable of using computers and smartphones. Sadly, many games are inaccessible due to the developers of graphical user interfaces failing to provide easy means of conveying information to screen-readers. Technology and the Internet are drastically changing the economics and business case for making games accessible for blind people as well as people with other disabilities. Crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter make it possible for interested individuals to invest in projects of interest to them from anywhere in the world. This makes catering to a wider range of abilities and smaller interest groups economically viable. Manuals and rule books for role-playing games are now almost certain to be available in electronic formats which software like the Voice Dream Reader app for iOS devices can render accessible to potential blind players. Thousands of such documents could easily be stored on a smartphone and then either spoken or read in Braille via a screen-reader and portable Braille display. Affordable Braille embossing machines and 3d printers are poised to bring fresh possibilities of inclusion when it comes to physical board and modern card games. This lecture is available in three parts at the following links: Part 1: Part 2: Part 3: Key Accessible Gaming Sites: This site should be your first destination. It has become the central point for information and discussion surrounding games specifically relying on audio. These games need not be made for blind people exclusively. Most will be accessible to blind people provided they are able to hear. Key resources include a large database of all known auditory games. Each entry has a description, download and developer links, and much more. Very active well-moderated forums allow for hundreds of ongoing discussions between interested people to take place. Be sure to stop by the "new releases" forum to learn about the latest accessible games. As its address implies, this site is focused on providing information to people using Apple products. There are tutorials, guides, thriving discussion forums, and rapidly expanding directories of information about apps. These directories are very well-organized and easy for community members to add to. If you're uncertain whether a given app is accessible, check for an entry in the app directory. Moderators also encourage people to make entries for apps which are found to be inaccessible. This serves to warn other people who might contemplate purchasing apps which are not useful to those requiring Voiceover. This initiative is similar to Applevis. However, it focuses exclusively on Android devices and apps. This site features a blog and podcasts which often discuss accessible games. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly. This site is a long-established central point for good deals and news of interest to blind people. It often features stories about accessible games and the staff include long-time veterans of the blind gaming community. This site contains all 54 issues of the Audyssey e-zine I created in 1996 and edited up to issue 40 in 2004. Although the magazine itself is of purely historical value, the community which grew out of it is still a thriving conduit of email communication between players, game creators and other interested parties. This successfully launched business aims to make modern board games accessible to blind players. People will need to purchase the original board game plus the accessibility kit designed by 64 ounce Games. Sleeves containing Braille will cover pieces or cards. Dice, pieces and other essentials will be produced using 3d printing. For people seeking physical board and card games, this is your destination of choice. This project reached its funding goal and will soon offer Braille dice used in role playing games produced by 3d printing. This project aims to create a video game experience completely in audio and make it accessible to blind players on mobile devices like smartphones. Using bin oral sound, players will be able to navigate, solve puzzles and fight in a fully 3d audio environment. Notable Games: *All In Play: This site was the first attempt at a game portal whose objective was to create games and a community for both blind and sighted players. It currently focuses on word and card games including the popular Texas Holdem variant of Poker. People can try the games for free but must then pay a subscription to continue playing and participating in the community. A text chatting system is incorporated into all games on the site allowing participants to communicate easily with each other at the virtual table. Tournaments occur frequently. *Shades of Doom: This game was the first attempt to give blind players an experience similar to this particular kind of popular action game. Players must find their way through a laboratory and shut down an experiment gone wrong. Find this game, a tank-driving simulation and more at: *Top Speed 3: This was the very popular culmination of a group of racing enthusiasts to bring the thrills of multi-player racing to blind people. The game supports force-feedback steering wheels if available but a keyboard is all that is required to play. Sadly, lack of time and interest has ended further development of game by this promising group. However, Top Speed 3 stands as a profound example of how far compassion can take us. *She Noire: This is the first game of a popular casual style known as "hidden object" to be made accessible for blind players. It can be played on Mac, PC, or iOS and puts you in the role of a detective with a shady past attempting to thwart a master-villain. You do this by finding and retrieving objects hidden in various scenes. Finding all of the hidden objects in a given scene advances the game's story. *ESP Pinball Classic: The company offering this title, Draconis Entertainment, has preserved it along with many others originally created by James North. This controversial but brilliant developer found a way to use the principles of stereo sound to present the blind community with a fully accessible authentic experience of six Pinball tables. Hear the ball roll and bump into obstacles after carefully timing your flipper strike or aiming your shot. Find this piece of accessible gaming history at: *Paladin Of The Sky: This game has quickly attracted a large player base. It is the first attempt to bring the experience of what is called a console rpg to blind players. A computer running Windows and a keyboard are required. Find the following games in the appstore on your iOS device: *King of Dragon Pass: This game was originally inaccessible. It is a story and statistic-driven simulation complete with artwork and an interactive map. Players make choices on behalf of a clan situated on a magical world. The developer, David Dunham, had no idea that blind players would be interested until he was contacted. David chose to invest the time and resources needed to make this game accessible on devices running Apple's iOS operating system using the built-in Voiceover screen-reader. Blind players can enjoy this game knowing they have access to all information and options. There are now also versions for the PC and for Android. However, these are developed by different companies who did not include accessibility support due to the increased effort and cost this would have incurred. *Crossly: A game capable of generating endless crossword puzzles allows competition with other players. It has been made fully accessible using the Voiceover screen-reader built into Apple's iOS operating system. Other popular word games include Hanging With Friends, Ordet, iAssociate 2, and Clever Clues. *Papa Sangre II: This illustrates what can happen when audio games are made for everyone as opposed to just blind people. You are placed in a fully immersive audio environment as a dead spirit attempting to retrieve stolen memories thereby gaining the strength to return to life. The famous actor Sean Bean acts as your guide through this strange realm. You control your character by tapping on the corners of your device's screen and physically turning to steer your character. This game requires you to wear headphones or earbuds. *Frotz: This app now constitutes the most accessible and easy way to share in the joy of text adventures or interactive fiction as games of this kind are called today. There are literally thousands of games which this app can handle including Infocom classics like Zork. Voiceover allows complete control and access to this app letting people have the text read to them or read it themselves using a Braille display. Commands can be entered from the onscreen keyboard, dictated using SIRI, or entered in Braille with the keyboard of a Braille display or the new onscreen Braille input method introduced in iOS8. *Zombies, Run: This game introduces blind people to combining fitness and fun. Defend Able Township from hoards of zombies in a world where the dead can't even stay still. Since headphones or earbuds should be worn while running in order to enjoy the audio dramatics, I humbly suggest a treadmill or safe venue for running be added to the list of requirements. The accelerometer in your iPHONE or iPOD can track your runs and the came gives you supplies with which to build and upgrade your town as a reward for your real-world physical effort. The story is told during your runs via audio segments played in between your chosen play list of music. Recommended Reading: Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How they can Change the World by Jane McGonigal This blog posting by Ian Hamilton explains screen-readers and the difficulties currently being encountered when attempting to play what otherwise could be accessible games. Ian Hamilton is an advocate for participation of people with disabilities in games who undersstands the technical issues and economics involved. This recent article in the New Yorker discusses an audio-only game which caught the attention of the sighted gaming community. It discusses the growing economic case for accessible games. When a group of Dungeons and Dragons players chose to include a blind person who wanted to participate, they found that including him meant discovering what role-playing was supposed to be. Terry Garrett wants to play the same games as his sighted friends. Good audio design helps this be possible. He can actually play the Oddworld series of games due to good sound design. Brandon Cole has learned to play many songs in a popular music game called Rock band. He has created a site with tutorials for blind people to help them play mainstream games. Jordan Verner from Ontario has beet en Legend of Zelda; Ocarina of Time. He had sighted friends give him literally step by step instructions. Blind gamer Brice Mellen was able to become good enough at Mortal Combat to reach championship level play. This article caught the attention of hopeful players and game developers alike when it appeared on Polygon, a widely respected games site.

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