Michael Heron is a senior lecturer in interaction design (games and graphics) at Computer Science and Engineering. His research interests are accessibility, games, and especially accessibility in games. To this regard he is running a research blog, Meeple Like Us
, where one section is looking into the accessibility of board games, and has examined nearly 250 titles over the years.
"As part of that project I saw that almost every
category of games had at least one
game that worked for every category
of accessibility, but there was no dexterity game that works for people
with physical impairments. Dexterity games are those that involve
flicking pieces, stacking pieces, removing pieces without disturbing
others, or hitting pieces into other pieces."
A digital model of the board
As one of many grant applications, Michael Heron proposed to the Promobilia Foundation
to try a kind of 'digital bridge' to let disabled gamers play the same physical game as their friends.
"It's going to work like this – one or more people have the physical game set up so they can play it. Someone with physical accessibility difficulties has a mobile app. The physical game is played normally, but sensors around the board build up a virtual model of the state – where all the pieces are, how they fit into the board etcetera. When it comes time for the physically impaired player to take their turn, they go into that digital model on the app, and indicate a direction and a force to apply to a piece in the game."
The way to indicate direction and force should be done in a gameful way, so the app will allow for a range of different techniques, which have already been tried out in other kinds of video games. A flick on the screen, pull like on an elastic band, press and hold to build up force, are just some examples. The result gets modeled in the virtual world, and the physical players can reconfigure the board accordingly.
"Eventually my plan is to have
the pieces automatically put where they should be by some exciting
combination of robots, drones, and magnets."