Well-established card based games such as Munchkin and Cards Against Humanity provide blank cards for players to personalise their edition by adding their own customised elements, and in the past couple of years games legacy versions of board games such as Pandemic have been released in which the board and tokens are marked by the players at the end of a game to allow a subsequent game to begin with the end state of the previous game.
While I have been thinking about how games might be adapted for visually impaired people, I haven’t really considered this adaptation as a form of personalisation. Yet speaking to David on Thursday, it became very clear that while adaptations made to assist people with various disabilities can often be used reluctantly or even resented by the people they are designed to help, they can also provide an opportunity to create an incredibly personal experience. One of the games David plays is Love Letter, a game in which each card represents a character and each character has unique rules. In David’s set, each card is marked with a Penfriend tag which contains an audio recording of the name of the card and its rules – read by his wife. The next game they are considering customizing this way is Discworld, based on the series of books by Terry Pratchett. David told me they had discussed recording character dialogue from the audio books onto cards, but that he also quite wanted his wife to record lines of dialogue herself because she was able to do ‘hysterically funny’ impressions of characters.
The penfriend is designed to allow blind people to mark things such as clothes with tags describing their colour, or medicine bottles with their dosage and usage instructions; however in this context it was not only being used as an accessibility tool but also to create an extra, highly personal dimension to mass manufactured games. Unfortunately, the stickers are expensive and thus using it to adapt more complex games is prohibitively expensive.
Today was the most fun day on my project thus far, and also the most insightful. Today I got to play Settlers of Catan – or more precisely, the Seafarers expansion of Catan – in the name of research, in an awesome gaming café near Haymarket called Noughts and Coffees, with a group of visually impaired gamers.
The first member of the group I met was David, whom I had initially contacted by email after Derek Rutherford gave me his address. We discussed some of the games he and the group enjoys and the adaptations they have made themselves to popular commercial games. When he told me they played Settlers of Catan I was intrigued to find out how, and then when Dave and Michael arrived I was invited to play Catan with them.
The game started with the setup procedure I’ve seen many times over the ten years I’ve been playing this with friends back home. Dave, a sighted volunteer, put the board together and laid out the hexes and numbers. Then he drew out a representation of the starting board state on a large whiteboard, in black pen.
For the duration of the game, David held the board, holding it close to his eyes and moving it across to scan the situation. Whenever a settlement was placed by another player, that player called the resource and number of the hexes it was adjacent to and provided further details such as ‘north of…’ and David updated his board accordingly.
While this did allow him to play the game effectively, his manner of capturing the board state did lose some details; it differentiated between his settlements and roads (black) and opponents’ settlements and roads (red), but not between individual opponents settlements and roads. There is also no difference between the marking for a settlement and a city, which generates more resources than a settlement and grants more victory points. Nevertheless, I was impressed by the simplicity of the solution and the general enthusiasm and determination to play popular, complex, and modern games that were clearly not designed with accessibility in mind.
Now to write up my field notes- there will undoubtedly be further posts related to this day, and as they are very keen to test any prototypes I design, further visits to report on.
This morning I met with Derek Rutherford at the RNIB offices in Edinburgh. We had a chat about how games could be adapted and he showed me the range of products they sell (more on one of these in a later post!). Together with the expected array of tactile chess, draughts, and backgammon; and large print playing cards, bingo and Scrabble, were some matching pairs games based on weight and sound rather than pictures. I’ve not really considered weight before as a way of differentiating between pieces, let alone as a game mechanic, but I think it is quite an elegant solution to making matching games accessible to visually impaired people without the game being marked in any way – in other words, this is an example of a game which is experienced in almost exactly the same way regardless of level of sight.
I have also been invited to speak to two completely blind teenagers about their use of tablets and their opinions and desires in regard to video gaming, so I will be returning to the RNIB in the near future to attend one of their Wednesday evening socials for young people. In the much closer future, I will be back in Edinburgh on Thursday, to speak to members of the visually impaired gamer group Derek put me in touch with a couple of weeks ago when I first emailed him.
It felt very strange to be crossing the bridge this morning on the same bus I used to catch in first year but going in the opposite direction. It was even stranger to be forced into a detour through Strathkinness, a place so small that when I asked a bus driver for a ticket there in first year, he looked at me and said ‘Are you sure?!’ As odd as it was it was the perfect journey to reflect on everything I’ve experienced since coming to Dundee; the first few months living in the gatehouse of an actual medieval castle in Leuchars, crossing the Tay every day, adjusting from distance study at the Open University to studying alongside other students, most ten years younger than myself and not that long out of school, getting back into roleplaying, being a committee member, helping to set up exhibitions, group work, and most important of all, having the opportunity to work on projects which are grounded in user research and to create solutions in both physical and digital media. DJCAD has been a wonderful place to be and I’ll be sad to leave.
However, my intended next step is further study, and barely half an hour away is St Andrews. I attended the open day today to speak to lecturers from computing about their Human Computer Interaction MSc. I was shown the computing labs, including the dedicated HCI lab, and learned of some of the history and traditions of the university. I also visited St Salvator’s, which is a little like a country hotel, but featuring a dining room reminiscent of Hogwarts, and the more humble but older postgraduate residence, Deans Court. This was not on the official tour, but I decided to poke around anyway. Having wandered through the gardens I approached the main door expecting it to be locked, but just as I climbed the stairs a man came out, said hello, and held the door open for me. So I went exploring all the communal areas I could until I met a warden, to whom I admitted I probably shouldn’t be there. Though she laughed and agreed I shouldn’t be, she also offered to show me the vaulted dining hall. This reminded me of the dining room in The Lies of Locke Lamora, deep beneath a temple – and indeed, Deans Court was most likely associated with the now ruined cathedral just across the street. I was told that local lore holds there are secret passageways between Deans Court and the cathedral, but no evidence of them has ever been found.
It has been an interesting week. I’ve followed up on some Gurus Day leads (more on those in later posts), spoken with the Product Design Masters students (more on that in a later post too) but mostly have been exploring options for my future studies. Wednesday was the Postgraduate open day here at Dundee, and next week I will be visiting St Andrews. Although I have previously spoken to Rachel at the School of Computing about Alternative and Augmentative Communication, Wednesday presented me with the opportunity to speak to Emese Nagy from the School of Psychology about their part of the programme. Since I have never studied psychology I was concerned that I might not be prepared for the course, but she informed me that prior knowledge of psychology is not necessary and that the school runs a kind of crash course in research methods and data analysis in psychology to support students from other fields. She enquired about my current course, and following discussion of my recent work suggested that I would be a good candidate and encouraged me to apply.
I also emailed Lynne Duncan, the programme co-ordinator, who reiterated that prior knowledge of psychology is unnecessary, but listed a few books that I might find helpful should I wish to gain a basic understanding of relevant areas of psychology over the summer. (I do).
So, now I’m off to write my personal statement. For my undergraduate application this process involved writing four drafts, so I’m glad I’ve been thinking about this course for some time and know exactly what I want to include in the statement for it. I expect it will still be a couple of weeks before I’m happy with it though.
After effectively living in the Makespace for a little over a week, Gurus’ Day almost felt like a relaxing day off. I met some interesting people whose general project-related advice was reassuringly consistent: blog often, prototype as early as you can, and get as much feedback as you can. Mad Murdo informed me that while it can be difficult to secure a graduate placement through traditional channels, there is an increasingly high demand for UX at every level. While I am applying to a number of Masters courses, I would like to work in UX over the summer, so this was both good news and helpful advice: I will apply to some graduate internship programmes but I will also contact interesting companies / organisations directly and see what comes from that.
Interestingly I had a fantastic response to my PeDeTe boxes from not only our visiting gurus but also my colleagues at Social Digital. What began as a metaphor became an object which intrigued people enough for them to come over and interact with it. Some had multiple attempts, went away, and returned later to try again. Bing took photos, and had an IM conversation with a friend who asked for a video of it. Almost the whole class asked to play with it, and while it is always gratifying to have my work appreciated, this was different; people weren’t just admiring something I made, they were having fun engaging with it, returning later with friends elsewhere in the room, and sharing it with friends in other countries. This curious serendipity was immensely rewarding: I had not factored into the design of my presentation the playful spirit of those around me, but had accidently created something which encouraged precisely the kind of experience I am aiming for in my project. People were having fun, and that was wonderful. I want to facilitate that more in my future work.
YOU ARE IN A MAZE OF TWISTY LITTLE PASSAGES, ALL ALIKE. >go north >YOU ARE IN A MAZE OF TWISTY LITTLE PASSAGES, ALL ALIKE.
This is a well-known puzzle from a version of the first text adventure game, known variously as Colossal Cave Adventure, Adventure, and Advent (after the name of the exe file) and designed by Will Crowther, a member of the ARPANET development team. While researching the game for my dissertation, I began to think about the way in which blind people navigate the world as analogous to travelling through a labyrinth with the aid of thread or (as is the key to solving the Adventure puzzle, by means of marking explored passages by dropping an object in it) except the thread is the aid of a guide dog, person, or assistive tool such as a cane. Without a guide or a tool of some kind visually impaired people can feel isolated from society, so the ‘people’ aspect of this project can be visualised as the centre chamber and outermost passage of a maze, where the centre chamber represents the potential isolation of an individual in this user group and the outer chamber represents all the other people, visually impaired or sighted, that the project could facilitate communication and social bonds with. The technological and design elements can be seen as the interlocking passages that enable travel from the centre to the outside as the users are connected to each other through the design of the game, which is accessed through the use of technology.
This week has mostly been spent writing the first draft of my dissertation. It is still pretty messy, and I look forward to refining it and cutting out the large sections of background information which are likely unnecessary and somewhat disrupt the flow of my arguments. However, part of my dissertation research has inspired a concept for my Gurus’ Day PeDeTe boxes and I am now excited to begin work on them in the MakeSpace when I return to university next week.
I have booked three sessions on the laser cutters.
A short update: Preparing to present my initial research. While I have not prepared a formal presentation, my talk will focus upon the nature of games available to visually impaired people, and identify user groups both targeted and ignored by their designers.