Reflections on Accessible Game Design: Working with Players & Game Design Experts

Recently, we ran two very different game design projects: When teaching Advanced Games Studies, we challenged our students to create wheelchair-accessible movement-based games, and in a university-funded research project, I (Kathrin) worked with young people who use powered wheelchairs, trying to elicit game concepts that they would be interested in. A comparison of these two approaches to game design will be available in the forthcoming special issue on Participatory Design for Serious Games in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.

Perhaps the most surprising lesson that we learned throughout the project was how daunting the creation of a wheelchair-controlled game was for design experts; many of them felt they would not be able to grasp the implications of wheelchair use, and wondered whether they could create respectful and engaging games, worrying about the choice of game theme and background stories. In contrast, many of the young people using wheelchairs openly reflected on the impact of their abilities on play, and where we expected to see instances of vulnerability, participants voiced their opinions and appreciated the opportunity to make themselves heard. In the end, both groups came up with a number of exciting game concepts, and there was quite a lot of overlap between them.

What this teaches us is that involvement in design can expose vulnerability in unexpected ways. But beyond that, it also raises the question of how accessible game design should be approached to turn it into a rewarding experience for game designers and players, and it suggests that we might need a wider discussion of game accessibility that extends beyond interface design and adaptable game mechanics.

Gerling, K., Linehan, C., Kirman, B., Kalyn, M., Evans, A., and Hicks, K. Creating wheelchair-controlled video games: challenges and opportunities when involving young people with mobility impairments and game design experts. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies (in print, 2015). View Pre-print.

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