INTERVIEW BY VANESSA IRA
Founded in 2003, the Special Interest Group (GA-SIG) within the International Game Developer’s Association (IGDA) is made up of volunteers who have a passion for game accessibility. They have stated that they seek to make video games playable for everyone and take special considerations for gamers with disabilities of any sort. The GA-SIG also states that they are community neutral. They are an informal group of volunteers representing a variety of organizations, seeking to share and communicate issues and solutions related to game accessibility, not looking to compete with other sites or organizations.
EP magazine recently conducted an interview with the Special Interest Group of the International Game Developer’s Association to discuss their current work and progress in the area of game accessibility. Our conversation with Thomas Westin, of Stockholm University’s Department of Computer and Systems Sciences (DSV) and GA-SIG’s co-chair, provided fresh perspectives and information on game accessibility that, we are sure, many of our readers who are gaming enthusiasts will want to know more about.
EP: Who founded the IGDA?
Thomas Westin: Earnest Adams founded the IGDA (International Game Developers Association) in 1994 (originally the Computer Game Developers Association), as a “professional association that was needed to give developers a voice” (https://www.igda.org/?page=history). The mission of the IGDA is, “To advance the careers and enhance the lives of game developers by connecting members with their peers, promoting professional development, and advocating on issues that affect the developer community” (https://www.igda.org/?page=about). The Game Accessibility SIG is closely related to the advocacy part.
EP: What are the backgrounds of the committee members for Game Accessibility Special Interest Group of IGDA?
TW: The background varies; it is people from both the game industry and universities, with or without special needs. This mix is what I like best about the SIG; it is not tied to any specific topic other than game accessibility, nor is it only about academia or industry. It is a great place to meet many of the people behind great efforts in the field of game accessibility. I used to describe the SIG as a volunteer-based, informal and bilateral organization, where we can share thoughts and insights across organizations.
EP: What are the goals of IGDA’s Game Accessibility Special Interest Group?
TW: Our mission statement is: “Computer and console games are an important cultural and quality of life issue. By collaborating with the rest of the game development community the Game Accessibility SIG intends to develop methods of making all game genres universally accessible to all, regardless of disability. In order to do this we will promote education of game developers in accessibility design, tax incentives for accessible game developers, corporate sponsorship and accessibility ratings.” (http://igda-gasig.org/) A concrete list of current actions we are working on is available as an open resource through our website (http://igda-gasig.org/). In summary, the current actions include:
• Educate tool and engine developers about accessibility support
• Research and produce bolt on curriculum material for higher education courses
• Push for accessibility information in store fronts such as Steam
• Advocate for “fixed point mode” for switch users on iOS devices
• Create open code solutions based on game accessibility guidelines
• Conduct research and present at conferences
• Broaden the Global Game Jam Accessibility Challenge
• Create a Twitch channel for Game Accessibility
• Update previous successful efforts with funding bodies like Film Victoria in Australia
• Improve accessibility at the Moscone Center in San Francisco where the Game Developers Conference takes place every year.
• Improve accessibility of our main website (http://igdagasig.org/).
EP: How large is the market for gaming enthusiasts with special needs in the US? In the world? Are their interests and needs currently being served well by the gaming industry?
TW: That depends on how you define the market. Popcap made a survey showing that 20% of their gamers had a disability, and also that those 20% played more than gamers without disability. (PopCap, 2008). An academic journal paper, based upon US census data showed that 2% in the US can’t play games at all, and 9% have a reduced gaming experience due to a disability. (Yuan et al., 2011) Worldwide, there is no study of the market of which I’m aware. However, the numbers above should be extendable to other countries with similar conditions in terms of, e.g. people with impairments among the population, economy and available infrastructure such as computer hardware and Internet bandwidth.
EP: Outside “mainstream” games (those that can be bought at the mall), are other games being created specifically for people with special needs—say people who have autism, ADHD, physical disabilities?
TW: Yes. For instance, blind or low vision gamers/developers make audio games and they have strong communities, e.g. audiogames.net and applevis.com. Further, there are game jams where developers meet for a few days to create innovative games, where accessibility is a differentiator. In the latter case, accessibility sparks new game concepts, fun for all. Regarding autism and ADHD, the study by Yuan et al. (2011) concludes that there have been few efforts for making games accessible for cognitive impairments. Hopefully there can be some genuine change to that situation further on. However, regarding ADHD my hypothesis is that as games are able to immerse gamers for hours, I think well-designed games are not a problem; on the contrary I think well-designed games can be a model for how other artefacts could be designed for gamers with ADHD.
EP: When you meet with gaming industry professionals, what issues are discussed?
TW: It used to be, “What is the top-10 things to do?” but, today, there are several sets of guidelines available, which is great as a starting point for discussion. Another thing is the question of return-on‐investment, which often is built on a misconception; most of the solutions can be implemented quite easily and with low cost as long as it is done early in the design process. Further, disabled gamers tend to play more games than non-disabled, so even if the group is smaller, this smaller group spend more money on games provided they are accessible. Some die-hard blind gamers try to play all games just to find a few which actually are possible to play. Retrofitting a bad design, however, can be hard and expensive. That is one reason one of our top priorities is education about game accessibility, in order to raise awareness among developers and game students.
EP: How has the reception been to the work that you’ve done, from the perspective of other gaming enthusiasts with special needs? From the perspective of the gaming industry?
TW: The reception from the industry, including developers with various disabilities, has been increasingly positive. We have seen a big change in the interest during the last couple of years at the biggest event, the Game Developers Conference (GDC). At our first roundtable in 2004, we had one attendant. In 2015, we had hundreds of people in the audience at a panel presentation and a lecture, plus 34 people at our roundtable. You can find out more about what happened at GDC 2015 via our blog http://igda‐gasig.org/events/
EP: Can you let our readers know about your successes?
TW: Without any funding, we have been able to hold events at several game conferences since 2003, most notably the GDC. While it is hard to say what impact these events have had, I like to think it at least has contributed to awareness among developers, which in the long run have had some effect. For instance, a recent patch for Sony Playstation 4 included accessibility in a firmware patch, which is a big step forward for accessibility as consoles are very closed systems, hard to modify. More specific successes related to these events can be summarized as:
• Our white paper from 2004 is often referenced in academic research papers
• A full day of Accessiblity talks at Games for Health conference
• A White House Briefing Booklet for a Game Accessibility Day
• The FCC Chairman Awards for Advancements in Accessibility for GameAccessibilityGuidelines.com where several SIG members contributed
• Accessibility at Global Game Jam 2011, Central Orlando Chapter
• Several funding bodies have included accessibility criteria, e.g Film Victoria, Screen Australia and the EU fund Creative Europe.
• A Minecraft mod for closed captioning was made in response to our panel at GDC 2015.•
SPARKING NEW CONCEPTS
Thomas Westin, Stockholm University’s Department of Computer and Systems Sciences: “The reception from the industry, including developers with various disabilities, has been increasingly positive.”
PopCap. 2008. Survey: ‘Disabled Gamers’ Comprise 20% of Casual Video Games Audience [Online]. Available: http://www.prnewswire.com/news- ‐releases/survey- ‐disabled- ‐ gamers- ‐comprise- ‐20- ‐of- ‐casual- ‐video- ‐games- ‐audience- ‐57442172.html [Accessed 2013- ‐03- ‐09. Yuan, B., Folmer, E. & Harris, F. 2011. Game accessibility: a survey. Universal Access in the Information Society, 10, 81- ‐100
Source Exceptional Parent Magazine