Accessible Video Games

January 29, 2011

I’m so happy that some game developers are thinking about making their controls and gameplay modes customizable, because this is what is needed in order to adapt controllers for gamers with disabilities.

Hardcore gamers also frequently ask for customizable controls (hardcore gamers are a notoriously difficult demographic to please). You can accommodate disabled gamers by doing the very thing that the most abled gamers want anyway! It’s a win across the board.

What makes the games in this post exceptional is that they are both console games, not PC games. Video game consoles are traditionally very limited in their flexibility, and unlike a PC, cannot run the user’s custom software to assist with accessibility.

MLB 11 custom Dualshock controller

Two examples listed below.

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Sarah Einstein writes

Redstone SFDisability is created by the ways in which we live. I couldn’t carry two five gallon buckets of water from a communal well to my house a few miles away or easily climb the steps of Machu Picchu in the thin air of the Andes. Because I am a privileged, twenty-first century American woman, this does not make me disabled, but if I were living another life, it could. I am able-bodied because the place where I live already accommodates the ways in which my body does not function optimally. What would a world look like that accommodated all kinds of bodies, all ways of communicating, every way of being an embodied human? How will the need to accommodate alien bodies influence how we accommodate our own? How will science help us build fully inclusive communities?

There is too little science fiction written that envisions a fully accessible, universally designed future. And so we are asking you, gentle readers, to do just that. We’re announcing the first contest to be sponsored by Redstone Science Fiction!

A science fiction writing contest. What a superb idea. Science fiction exists to prepare us for the future. What kind of future are we preparing for in terms of people with disabilities?

See What I’m Saying

March 11, 2010

I know my design blog hasn’t really been much about design, but that stuff takes longer to blog about and I’m working on a PhD here. Instead, here’s a documentary coming out soon

the Oscar goes to…

March 8, 2010

Music by Prudence

Oscar for best short-subject documentary.


This got a little more attention at the Oscars since one of the producers “pulled a Kanye” on the director as he was giving his acceptance speech. (Also, how funny is it that Kanye is now part of the lexicon for someone who upstages someone accepting an award?)

I’ll come back and edit if I find out when this documentary will be shown on TV in the U.S.

Lady Gaga and her interest in wheelchairs

I didn’t watch the Video Music Awards last September, but afterwards, there was a big to-do about the inclusion of a wheelchair dancer.

Some discussion on the topic:

It was probably a reference to the actual video to the song:

Lady Gaga

She can walk!!!

I’m not entirely sure that my opinion on the social implication of this matters since a) I’m abled, and b) Lady Gaga’s whole schtick is that she’s all vacuous surface and no substance, so any “statement” she makes is instantly made meaningless anyway.

(And this happened last September, which gives you an idea of how far behind I am about blogging this stuff).

Artie from Glee

Artie Abrams from Glee

Glee (9pm Wednesdays on FOX) is a musical comedy about a high school glee club. It has a sortof Freaks and Geeks vibe about it in that it talks about the divide and also the overlaps between jock and nerd cliques.One of the members of the Glee Club from the beginning has been Artie.

It has a rather large ensemble cast, so up to this point Artie hasn’t really had an episode yet. Last night it was his turn. The school will only provide a standard bus for the club to go to a competition and the club needs to raise the money to rent a wheelchair-accessible bus

As a bonus, there was a subplot about the evil cheerleading coach allowing a girl with Down Syndrome onto the cheerleading squad. (Also, damn the writers for making the villain of the show into a sympathetic character!) Yes, she has a sympathetic moment even after earlier in the episode she gives a hilariously incomprehensible speech about how wheelchair ramps encourage laziness in the ablebodied students by giving them a way to avoid the stairs.


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Ghost in the Shell &

Ghost in the Shell—Stand Alone Complex

The Japanese manga/animé series Ghost in the Shell actually is (at its deepest levels) mostly about people with super-disabilities—although ostensibly the theme is about humans’ relationship with the machines they build and how that relationship changes us.

What is a “super-disability” you ask? Consider South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius.


Oscar, a double amputee, created a stir in 2007 because he came within 0.75s of qualifying for the South African Olympic Team. Not the Paralympics—the Abled Olympics. There was some debate as to whether he should be permitted to compete because his prosthetic limbs give him an unfair advantage.

We’re not quite there yet, but what happens when the artificial becomes better than the real thing?

This is a key question in Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

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June 3, 2009

Disclaimer: Please excuse the half-formed randomness in this post

Imaginary play shares a lot of features with improvisational theater. It is an emerging narrative that no one participant controls, turns are dynamic and responsive from moment-to-moment, and, most frustrating to programming AAC, the meaning of any action may change as the result of future actions!


Children are playing in dressup area:

Child 1: takes coat from coat rack and puts it on.

Child 2: Are you going to work? Have a nice day.

Same scene, different narrative:

Children are playing in dressup area:

Child 1: takes coat from coat rack and puts it on.

Child 2: That’s on sale today. Eleventeen percent off.

One child initiates an action and the second child defines the meaning of that action. This is why “scripts” in an AAC system can’t work. A child needs to be able to keep up with an uncertain, unfolding narrative. If the first child had an AAC system, if that system was set for “playing house,” it would be useless in crafting a response to Child 2 in the second example.

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I loved this scene from season 5 of Malcolm in the Middle.


Malcolm and Stevie

Stevie has stopped talking in this episode and is using an AAC device.

Would an AAC device in real life survive that sprinkler?

Would an AAC device in real life survive that sprinkler?

Stevie: (with computer) Thanks, Malcolm, that is what I really needed to hear.
Malcolm: Oh, good.
Stevie: (with computer) This thing sucks at sarcasm.

It’s funny because it’s true!

Brian Crecente, a video game blogger, gentleman and scholar, wrote a column about how The Master herself, Maria Montessori influenced the design of Wil Wright‘s video games. (You may not know his name, but you probably are familiar with his masterpiece, Sim City).

The Great Sensei herself

The Great Sensei herself

Constructivist education practices are all over Sim City, the other Sim games, the digital dollhouse (and best-selling video game ever) The Sims, and the recent release Spore. Sim City is practically an object lesson in How It Is Done.

Just like a big box of wooden blocks, there is great pleasure to be gained from carefully balancing and building a city or anthill or human being up and then knocking it over (although Wright gives us tools such as meteors, earthquakes, tornadoes, and removing the ladders from swimming pools). There really is no way to win or lose a Sim game. In exploring, building and breaking, you learn a lot. Montessori would be delighted!

SimCity. Montessori would have loved this.

SimCity. Montessori would have loved this.