VR Gaming for the Disabled
For those of us who have experienced the world of Virtual Reality, we all know of the wonder and potential that the technology offers. Being in VR is both exiting and exhilarating and usually leaves us with wanting for more. However, VR is quite an interactive medium which would mostly require movement of one kind or the other captured by the handheld controllers, camera sensors and the headset itself. These along with the VR app and other feedback peripherals (like haptic gloves or vests) make up a total unforgettable experience.
Many VR apps and games (for the matter) require us to be standing up and moving around a certain designated area. This gives the user the realism of being in an alternate reality where one can move around and interact with objects as well just like in our real 3rd density world. But then, not everyone who wants to experience and play in VR is physically fully capable or normal. Many people suffer from impairments or disabilities in one form or the other but excluding them from the VR experience just because of their physical deficiencies is not even a valid excuse.
VR is an emerging wondrous tool which can be used for many a different applications whether to enhance, to assist or to entirely create something new for the benefit of all and not just to a certain segment of the overall population. In this day and age, disabled people despite their physical limitations continue to prove themselves in their own chosen endeavors and be productive members of society. Gaming is no exemption to this. A good example is Rocky Stoutenbergh aka "RockyNoHands", the FPS pro gamer who broke the 2020 Guinness World Records twice for his excellence in the game Fortnite. This dude is paralyzed (both hands and feet) and confined to a wheelchair and plays the game with his mouth using a controller device called a QuadStick. There are many other examples of disabled gamers making their marks in the gaming world so there is no reason as well why the said adaptive control innovations cannot be applied to VR gaming as well.
The difference however with VR to conventional gaming is that VR is still quite new. It hasn't yet settled down (so to speak) in becoming a widely accessible medium like video and computer games which started proliferating way back in the 1970's. People have grown up and lived almost a lifetime with conventional games that the industry has had enough ample time to address the gaming needs of the disabled gaming crowd. There are all sorts of adaptors and controllers available today as well as games that meet the needs of almost all kinds of conceivable impairments just so that the disabled can play and have a grand time as well.
VR on the other hand has to take several factors into consideration as playing in VR as we know is a bit different from playing a game in front of a screen or some other conventional way. VR encases the player in it's own environment and the adaptive controllers that will be developed and put to use have to work well in conjunction with the encased reality and the player paralyzed or disabled will not be able to see the actual devices in the immediate real vicinity.
In line with this, a few app and game developers have started to put effort into developing design features that would make it easier for the disabled to get into VR as well and benefit from the technology. As of now (with respect to conventional gaming), most of the concentration is on the software side with the objective of making VR accessible to those with physical limitations. They have started to implement this in the games themselves so that a person with certain impairments can cope with the actions that may be required to complete the game. Of course the approach alone will be a bit different from conventional gaming.
With new games being designed, it would be best for developers to immediately take into consideration that there may be disabled gamers wanting to play their games. A few examples being currently undertaken are for players with visual impairments or Low Vision. Low Vision features would be very useful for reading text and navigating menus where the letters are kind of small and hard to read. With probably the exception of wearing one's bio-optic glasses underneath the headset, software features could be made to simply magnify the text when one physically leans forward to take a closer look. Text backgrounds could be varied as well (like White over Black or similar) to make reading the more easier. Also, sound indicators may prove to be helpful to indicate things like distance and warning signs difficult for the difficult of sight to notice.
Another consideration would be for those with hearing impairments. Most games rely on the volume of sound to indicate distance of either opponents or other characters (people, animals, monsters and machines) in the game. Visual indicators would be a great help like a flashing blip in the direction of an approaching danger that flashes faster as whatever-it-is gets nearer. Unfortunately, when it comes to gaming, what you can't hear doesn't necessarily mean won't hurt you. Another cool feature would be the indication of sign language indicators in the game itself. Like in cut-scenes when the characters speak to stress out the story line and a little somebody in the corners starts articulating with their hands public service style in lieu of subtitles. Now, ain't that sweet.
Finally are the people with limited movement like those without the use of their legs and have to spend their lives confined to a wheelchair. These people already currently have a hard time adjusting camera sensors and what not to pick up their limited movements as it is. Some developers are providing in-game options which allows the player to be just seated instead of moving around. Also, being able to reach out to objects at a distance (like the Jedi Force Pull) eliminates the necessity for the player to stoop down to pick up certain object and end up being on the floor with a painful thud instead. Adjusting game sensor controls to take players like this into consideration and not let them move around will prove to be very 'disabled friendly' thus including the physically impaired in the growing VR market.
There are still a lot of other areas where developers can come up with design innovations in both software and hardware. VR compatible controllers can be designed, modified and adjusted for people like RockyNoHands to be able to play in VR as well. Even those without the total use of their sight can benefit from VR with the use of haptic gloves, vests and a pair of headphones with 3D sound. If "Audazzle" can develop games for the blind in the conventional setting, it would then be a waste not to bring it into VR. Just like in good old video and computer gaming, when it comes to VR and the disabled, "Whenever there's a will, there's a way".