AD4 Games

by Dr Xiaochun Zhang, AD4 Games

Video gaming has become a worldwide mainstream entertainment with over 7 billion active gamers in the world in 2020. Yet, most video games are not accessible or fully accessible for people with disabilities.

Game accessibility for players with sight loss is especially challenging due to the visual and interactive nature of games. Despite the accessibility barriers blind and visually impaired users face, some of them like playing video games and do so by using different strategies, such as playing with somebody else’s help or playing simplified versions of existing games, which may reduce their gaming experience and enjoyment. Making games accessible for blind players requires all visual elements to be represented by means of auditory or haptic feedback. Audio games are games built on audible and tactile feedback with no visual elements, which are thus blind accessible.

The aim of the AD4 games project was therefore to investigate how audio description (AD) can improve game accessibility by working with professional audio describers, game developers, and visually impaired participants.

The first step of the project was to investigate how AD can be applied to game playing. We identified three ways AD can be produced: Pre-recorded AD, live AD during a gaming stream and finally the delivery of AD live while the audio describer plays the game themselves. Throughout the project we trialled and tested each approach, uncovering the varying strengths and challenges of each. This provided interesting insights into the complexities of providing high quality AD to games already developed. The project uncovered many areas of AD in games that must be carefully considered by both game developers and audio describers in the future.

For the pronouns, feedback varied as to how people wish the audio describer to address the character in the game. When using first person (“I opened the door), participants may feel disconnected from the gameplay as this removes the ownership they have over the character. Should the description be provided as if the audience is playing and interacting with the game or as a co-player? Again, answers to this varied, perhaps a future study with a larger sample size can determine a majority consensus, or perhaps the gamer could have the option to change how the AD describes the character within the game.

With regards to interactivity between the audio describer and the gamer, some participants felt that the AD would have been enhanced given the opportunity to engage with the audio describer. Particularly during live streaming of the game to an audience, where people from the community expressed interest in asking questions to the audio describer during gameplay. This was also a consideration when thinking about scrip-based AD (used when AD was pre-recorded) versus live AD. This issue is well-summarised by a participant who wrote: “Script-based description wouldn’t allow for community interaction but would provide a tighter and more cinematic gaming experience, since all the right words would be used to convey exactly what’s happening, as opposed to live description where the describer may not be able to think of the right word, forcing them to approximate”.

With the AD and data gathered from the experiments, the team is now working with the game designers, exploring possible ways of implementing AD in this game. Currently, we have added audio cues and AD, and created a tutorial room to help the players to engage with the accessibility features. From a theoretical viewpoint, data and experience collected in this project may contribute to set up guidelines for audio describing gameplay. Meanwhile, it is also interesting from a collaborative translation or co-creative design perspective to explore the interactions among game designers, audio describers and game players in producing translation products, in this context, the final version of the audio description in the game.

This project faced many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making recruitment of blind and visually impaired participants a significant challenge. A few people we reached out were not equipped to Zoom or their computers were not updated to install the game. Ideally, we could conduct game testing in real life, providing all necessary technology and equipment to the audio describers and participants.  We hope to test the game with more visually impaired participants and improve on the current version.

Find out more about AD4 Games: making video games accessible for visually impaired players.