RGU researchers team up with industry partners to improve digital game accessibility

Europe, March 17 2016

Researchers at Robert Gordon University (RGU) are teaming up with industry partners, including the BBC, to investigate how to improve accessibility and inclusion in the design of video games and other interactive digital content.

Dr Michael Crabb and Dr Michael Heron, from RGU’s School of Computing Science and Digital Media, have been awarded £3,800 of funding by SICSA (The Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance) to look at how developers can ensure fuller accessibility to content for gamers with disabilities.

Left to Right Dr Michael Heron and Dr Michael CrabbThe project will see the RGU team create links with game development companies across the UK to understand the challenges associated with making content more accessible and bring together academic research and industry practice.

They will begin by facilitating two workshops in collaboration with the BBC’s R&D department, the first with an industry-focus and the second with an academic research focus.

Dr Heron said: “Video games are a massive industry for Scotland, and the UK contribution to the global market for interactive entertainment is considerable.

“The current approach to accessibility in this area is to produce bespoke games. This excludes disabled gamers from a full participation in a hobby that helps build considerable social capital amongst friends and colleagues. This project is aimed at enhancing cultural and societal inclusion among gamers with disabilities by ensuring fuller accessibility of all gaming products.

”Accessibility issues faced by some players include games which are subtitled but which don’t contain positional cues as to where sounds are coming from; games which don’t allow the player to remap controls, which can prove difficult, painful, or impossible; and games which make key information colour coded reducing the ability of colour blind players to pick up on particular cues.”

He added: “We believe that paying attention to accessibility also results in games that are easier for everyone to play and we can all benefit from that.  Whether playing a game on a train, or at a windy bus-stop, or just playing it muted at night with subtitles on, accessible games are easier for all of us to play.”

The team hopes to develop a framework and guidelines for adaptive accessibility designs that would identify when users are having problems and proactively adjust the game interaction to compensate for difficulties and improve the overall experience.

Dr Crabb added: “When you’re talking about accessibility, it is about making sure that everyone is included regardless of what they can or cannot do. While creating a separate accessibility solution to a problem is a good step this can still lead to exclusion.

“The work that we are carrying out looks at how games can be made accessible for all and not for those that either do or don’t have an impairment.”

Dr Rhianne Jones, Research Scientist at BBC R&D and key industrial partner in this project has conducted research with CBeebies and CBBC into on-going barriers in game accessibility.

This work led to an R&D prototype of a game designed to be more responsive to a child’s access needs and preferences, simplifying the configuration process and reasonably adapting in subtle ways to reduce barriers to play and facilitate inclusivity.

Dr Jones said: “The RGU collaboration will develop this research, drawing on the expertise of Dr Crabb and Dr Heron. This work will foster important dialogue between key stakeholders, which will enable the BBC team to scope the issues, identify potential solutions to common challenges and create a robust research and development agenda to drive the work forward.”

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