It’s rather difficult to imagine a video game for the blind, seeing they can’t actually see, but what people should loose sight of is that the other four senses are still there, and they’re quite sharper. A group of researchers at the Department of Ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School have developed a game whose environment is the exact replica of a real-life building in which the blind player must navigate it, retrieve certain objects and exit the premises. The game might be scaled to more buildings and environments and thus help the blind build a cognitive mind they can use to navigate in real-life and thus live a more autonomous life.
“For the blind, finding your way or navigating in a place that is unfamiliar presents a real challenge,” Dr. Merabet explains. “As people with sight, we can capture sensory information through our eyes about our surroundings. For the blind that is a real challenge… the blind will typically use auditory and tactile cues.”
For the game, called the Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES), computer generated layouts of public buildings have been made, including that of the actual physical environment of the Carol Center for the Blind in Newton Massachusetts. Participants must find jewelry hidden through the rooms of the building and exit it before a monster catches them and steals their jewelry, only to hide them back in other rooms.
Since it’s actually thrilling and pressing, the blind gamer is actually motivated to explore the surroundings. The interface with the virtual building is made using a keyboard and a pair of headphones that play auditory cues that help the blind wearers spatially orient through world around them.
Through this interaction, in time, the researchers claim an accurate mental layout of the mimicked building is made, allowing people to learn room layouts more naturally than if they were just following directions. To make it easier and more easily available to some of the 285 million blind people world-wide, the scientists are working on porting the game on other user interfaces, like a Wii Remote or joystick.
“It is conceptually difficult for a sighted person to understand ‘a video game for blind people.’ What JoVE allows us to do is break down layouts of the game and strategy, show how the auditory cues can be used and how we quantify performance going from the virtual game to the physical world,” Dr. Merabet.
Findings have been published in the journal Journal of Visualized Experiments.