AD4Games: making video games accessible for visually impaired players

Is audio description assisted game playing feasible? Can audio description be applied to game streaming? Can video games include audio description? This research project seeks to answer these questions and promote accessible video gaming for all.

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. Accessibility is a precondition intended to ensure that persons with a disability enjoy full and equal participation in society, which includes not only physical but also digital access to the same tools, services, organisations and facilities (United Nations, 2013). Access is an essential requirement for respecting the human dignity of all. 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 has yet been implemented in video games. This project seeks 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.

What is being created?

  • The game “Before I Forget” will be made more accessible to visually impaired players.
  • Gameplay videos with audio description.
  • Research findings will be published in academic articles.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Dr Xiaochun Zhang (Modern Languages) specialises in video game localisation and media accessibility.
  • Dr Andy Flack (History) will bring his experience as a visually impaired scholar and knowledge in Disability Studies to the research.
  • Dr Stuart Gray (Computer Science) specialises in serious games for children’s health and wellbeing. He will bring expertise from game design to the implementation of audio description.
  • Dr Jane Devoy (audio describer, filmmaker, writer and creative researcher). Jane will provide audio description for the experiments and contribute to the discussions and research publications.
  • Sonia Castelo Branco (audio describer, writer and voice-over artist) specialises in audio description. Sonia will provide audio description for the experiments and bring her expertise to the discussions.
  • Claire Morwood and Chella Ramanan (3-Fold Games) developed the game which will be used for the experiments. They will implement audio description in the game and seek to create a more accessible version of the game.

What's next?

The research team will explore further funding to develop their research in accessible games design.