AD4Games Follow-up Project

Are there any further ways that AD can improve game accessibility? What is the best way to make an audio described game available in a different language and culture? And how can we co-produce a game with visually impaired people that is accessible for all? How can we enhance game accessibility training? 

This is a development of an earlier Brigstow funded experimental partnership ‘AD4Games: making video games accessible for visually impaired players.’ That study was based on the premise that play makes us human. We play to have fun, to socialise, to learn, to de-stress, and to exercise. Over the past few decades, video gaming has evolved into a worldwide entertainment phenomenon. However, most video games are not accessible or fully accessible for people with disabilities.

This previous project understood that game accessibility for players with sight loss is especially challenging due to the visual and interactive nature of games. Audio description is a service that describes visual elements in a product with spoken words. It makes audio-visual products accessible to visually impaired users. Audio description has been applied to films, TV, theatre, and cultural performances, both recorded and live. However, it had not yet been implemented in video games. The team developed the game ‘Before I Forget’ to improve game accessibility by experimenting with audio descriptions and reflecting on the experience it gives visually impaired players as well as its challenges and processes.

However, the project faced many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making recruitment of blind and visually impaired participants a significant challenge. A few people the researchers reached out were not equipped to Zoom or their computers were not updated to install the game. Ideally, they wished conduct game testing in real life, providing all necessary technology and equipment to the audio describers and participants.

This new project seeks to build on their previous research. The AD4Games project tested three methods that AD can improve game accessibility:

  1. Audio describing game streaming, which assists the visually impaired people to watch (listen to) the live streaming of gamers playing games.
  2. AD-assisted game playing, which helps visually impaired players to play a game with audio describers who describe visual elements in the game to them live, based on their actions.
  3. Implementing AD in the game, which allows visually impaired players to play the game independently.

The researchers identified several accessibility issues in the game, and realised that the only way these issues can fully understood from affective, behavioural, and cognitive perspectives and subsequently addressed is through an intensive participatory design with visually impaired players and other key stakeholders. This follow-up project will further investigate current game accessibility and localisation issues using a co-production and participatory approach.

What will the project involve? 

This project is based on 3 key research questions:

Research Question 1: Are there any further ways that AD can improve game accessibility?

This part of the project will explore the potential for interactive AD or descriptive co-playing where visually impaired players can interact with audio describers who play games while describing the gameplay, e.g., by suggesting game elements they would like the audio describers/game streamers to describe, and the actions they wish audio describers/game streamers to take.

To do this, 12 visually impaired participants will be invited to take part in 3 workshops in which they can interact with the audio describers who will be delivering live AD while playing a game. Feedback from both visually impaired participants and audio describers will be collected to reflect the practice.

Research Question 2: What is the best way to make an audio described game available in a different language and culture? 

The team are aware that existing research suggests that translation is a feasible, fast, and affordable strategy for delivering AD across languages. The quality of the translated AD seems to satisfy viewers. However, these findings are based on studies into the translation of AD scripts for feature films, rather than videogames, and between European languages only. The working hypothesis underpinning this project is that findings about the translation of film audio description may not be easily extendable to videogames because games are designed to be played, in addition to being viewed. Players’ expectations and habits may differ in Europe and in East Asia, which already has a well-developed gaming culture. This part of the project will ask the following questions:

  • Is translation more cost and time-efficient than creating AD from scratch?
  • What are the differences between the translated AD scripts and the scripts created directly in the target language?
  • What are the preferences of game players with respect to AD versions?

Drawing on the AD elements created by the AD4Games project in English for the game ‘Before I Forget’, this project will conduct experiments and reception studies in Spain and in China. Data collected from studies conducted in Spain and in China will be compared and reported.

This stage of the project will be conducted in the following steps:

  1. Preparing AD scripts. A translator will be recruited to translate the existing AD scripts from English into Spanish. The translator will play the game with AD features turned on before starting the translation. After completing the translation, the translator will be interviewed to reflect on the translation process and challenges.  Next, an audio describer will be recruited to create AD scripts for the game in Spanish. The audio describer will play the game in Spanish without AD before composing AD scripts. After completing the AD script, the audio describer will be interviewed to reflect on the drafting process and challenges.
  2. Identifying the differences between translated AD and created AD. To do this, the team will analyse the two AD scripts and identify the differences between the two versions.
  3. Voicing recording the translated AD. For this a voice artist will voice-record the translated AD scripts in Spanish.
  4. Integrating recorded AD into the game and testing. The game developer will integrate the AD recordings into the game and test the playability.
  5. Designing and organising the game testing sessions. The team will design the questionnaire and questions based on the analysis of the two AD scripts, then plan and organise the testing sessions.
  6. Hosting the game testing sessions and collecting data. The team will host game testing sessions to collect feedback from 5 blind or visually impaired users in Barcelona.
  7. Finally the team will analyse the data collected.

Research Question 3: How to co-produce a game with visually impaired people that is accessible for all? How to enhance game accessibility training? 

The project seeks to answer these two research questions together in the planned AHRC/EPSRC project, by creating an educational game built upon the current curriculum for game accessibility training. This will combine accessible game design, audiovisual translation, player and user experience. The game will be co-designed with visually impaired collaborators, audio describers, translators, game developers, and educators, and will be playable by people with diverse abilities. In this follow-on Brigstow project, the researchers plan to explore the feasibility of the ideas by seeking advice from the visually impaired players community, exerts in the field, and policy makers. They will also seek to collaborate with visually impaired or blind game designers for the AHRC/EPSRC project to design the educational game with the blind people and for the blind people.

This will involve two brainstorming sessions with visually impaired gamers, game designers, accessibility experts and charities, such as AbilityNet, which support anyone living with any disability or impairment to use technology to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Xiaochun Zhang (School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol) specialises in video game localisation and media accessibility.
  • Andy Flack (History, University of Bristol) is an environmental historian who brings his experience as a visually impaired scholar and knowledge in Disability Studies to the research design and publications.
  • Chris Bevan (Computer Science, University of Bristol) will bring expertise on game accessibility to the project from a game design’s perspective.
  • Sonia Castelo Branco is a writer and voice-over artist specialising in audio description.
  • Claire Morwood is one of the founders of the 3-Fold Games. They developed the game ‘Before I Forget’, which will be used for the experiments.
  • Robin Christopherson, MBE, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet.
  • Tanvir Bush works on the D4D Project which explores aspects of disability and exclusion.

What is to come?

The researchers intend the following outcomes from their work:

  • Three articles to be published within two years after completing the project.
  • Applications for further funding, possibly an AHRC/EPSRC project on accessible game design building on the research outcomes of Research Question 3.
  • A version of the game Before I Forget with AD in Spanish.
  • Blog posts on the Brigstow website and other social media, documenting the progress and publicising the research outcomes.