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3:25pm on Monday, 20th September, 2010:

Videoless Videogames


I had a word today with Dave Lyons, Essex University's (now retired) disabilities officer and Computer Science lecturer who now runs a charity to help visually-impaired people use computers. He's been engaged by the university to convert course materials into Braille for a blind student we have in Computer Scienc. There's a lot that can be done these days to make this easier, including converting images into raised pictures so they can be felt through touch. It's a lot better than the old "take the ribbon out of the lineprinted and only use full stops" approach to printing Braille with which the blind student who was in my year as an undergraduate had to make do.

However, the reason I was speaking to Dave is because our current blind student is taking my Game Design course this year. A lot of it this just regular text, with a few diagrams and illustrations and so on, because it's Game Design (not Computer Game Design). Being in a Computing department as part of a Computer Games degree, though, it does have some computer game content. At some stage, not least because I can ensure that I don't reference games that no-one has played, I need all my students to play Pong, Frogger, Tetris, Rogue, Asteroids and Zork; of these, only Zork (and, as a real long shot, possibly Rogue) are amenable to real-time conversion into Braille. Those are very simple, classic and historically important games; I can't really think of any others I might be able to replace them with that don't have a reliance on pictures.

My classes are quite hands-on, too. I can adapt some of it for non-sighted students quite easily, for example making games out of lego bricks instead of playing cards, but board games are a problem (even one I have that boasts of its "tactile" hexagonal pieces still makes use of the fact that they are different colours). Still, if I look hard enough I can probably find something that will get across what I want to teach without having a visual component of more than cosmetic importance.

Ultimately, though, there's no getting round the fact that videogames use video. I'm not really sure what to do about this; hopefully, the student himself will have some ideas of what might work and what definitely won't. It does seem to be a big obstacle, though.

Still, what's life if not a series of big obstacles?

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).