For many of us, playing video games and working on computers is second nature. My laptop and I are practically attached at the hip. But what if, due to physical limitations, you were unable to use your computer for gaming and other applications? Assistive Gaming is a website who aims to provide an answer to this question, offering ways to use assistive technology to play games on Mac computers, and make gaming more accessible to people with physical impairments. Launched this past January, the website's publisher, David Niemeijer, says that many people think only specially adapted "accessible" games are available, which are generally targeted at younger kids, and would be of little interest to adults and teenagers. However assistive gaming means that anyone can play just about any game, including Unreal Tournament 2004, or World of Warcraft.
"Those kind of games were never designed to be played by users with physical disabilities," Niemeijer said, "but with universal access software, such as on-screen keyboards, they can be played also by people with physical impairments."
Niemeijer became a developer of universal access software for Mac in 1996, after a friend of his was paralyzed in an accident. With a number of websites already available for PC gamers with physical impairments, Niemeijer decided that the Mac gaming community needed its own centre of support, too. Niemeijer calls the website a collaborative effort, right down to the website's banner (partially shown above), which was created by an individual who can only move his head.
All of the website's team members, currently four editor/contributors and three contributors, use assistive technology to interact with their computers (all Macs). They speak from experience in their articles on hardware and software using assistive technology for the Mac, reviews of Mac games, and other issues that arise with assistive technology. Anyone who uses assistive technology on a Mac is welcome to contribute to the website, which Niemeijer says has received very positive feedback so far from the assistive technology community and the website's users.
According to Niemeijer, the games that work best with assistive technology are ones that offer a windowed mode of gameplay, otherwise the assistive software won't be accessible during gameplay. He also said that games which allow for multiple forms of input and output work well.
"Games that can be played with keyboard or mouse or joystick or game pad will allow many more people to play then those that only accept keyboard input or only joystick input," Niemeijer said. "Similarly, games that rely only vision or hearing in terms of output exclude people. If a hint or story line is only spoken by the game, deaf users will be left out. If information is only visual, vision impaired users will be left out."
Once the barrier of accessibility has been lifted from the world of gaming, Niemeijer says that online games provide a world of options to people who can't otherwise go outside to play soccer, golf, or travel to other countries. It provides them with new experiences they may not have without assistive technology.
"The nice thing about many of the online games is also that no-one knows you have a disability," Niemeijer said. "In the virtual word there are no disabilities."
To give you an idea of the impact that assistive technology can have, Niemeijer's company AssistiveWare has created a video of one of Assistive Gaming's editors, Michael Phillips, playing a number of video games, including Unreal Tournament 2004 and World of Warcraft.