In recent years, homemade devices and commercial products like the Xbox Adaptive Controller have proven that assistive video game technology is practical and that there is a market for it. Most of these, however, only focus on accommodating disabilities that affect mobility. The CONJURE project developed at the MIT Media Lab helps people who are visually-impaired play video games.
As you would expect, this is quite the challenge. Video games, as the name suggests, are almost entirely reliant on visuals. Auditory queues are often important to gameplay, but most games are completely unplayable if you’re unable to clearly see the screen. Mobility issues can be overcome by designing a controller that fits the unique needs of a specific player, but how do you fundamentally change the way games are played in order to allow a visually-impaired player to enjoy the experience?
Conjure accomplishes that with a tactile display. The video game, in this case Super Mario Land running on a Game Boy emulator, screen is processed into a grayscale depth map. That’s then used to set the height of the blocks on the large tactile display. With that, the player can actually feel like the dynamic screen. To control Mario, a player wheres a sensor on their ankle that can determine when they’re walking or jumping. It’s a much more physical experience than typical gameplay, but it does allow visually-impaired people to play games they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.