APRIL 30, 2020 — Eric Nave, a student in UTSA’s Department of Computer Science, and John Quarles, computer science professor and director of the San Antonio Virtual Environments Lab at UTSA, have launched the first worldwide Accessibility VR Game Jam.
The project’s mission is to raise awareness and educate future game industry professionals about the need for making virtual reality gaming entertainment accessible to gamers with disabilities. But as the project’s inaugural competition approached, the UTSA team hit a major obstacle: the COVID-19 pandemic. So they worked to quickly migrate the game jam to an online-only environment.
Quarles shared the lessons his team learned in the process and about the future direction virtual reality needs to take to be more inclusive.
You organized the nation’s first Accessibility VR Game Jam. Can you describe the event?
This is an open competition where teams of computer programmers, artists and sound engineers created accessible VR games in 48 hours. We provided the perspective of a gamer in need of adaptive/accessible games as the focus topic for the jam. Jammers didn’t know what disabilities the gamer had until the start of the actual competition.
Can you describe an example of how the electronic game industry needs to be accessible or more adaptive for a person with disabilities?
Many people with disabilities have a strong desire to play VR games, but they cannot play them due to physical or cognitive barriers introduced by the interface design. Many of these barriers could be broken with some minor changes—for example, enabling one-handed mode for games that currently require both hands.
What were the challenges that the participants faced?
We gave the gamers the added challenge to develop the game’s software for a fictional user called Johnny Boy who was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This disease causes Johnny Boy to have minimal motor control, which makes him use a motorized wheelchair to move around. His chair can raise and lower if need be. Also to make it extra challenging, Johnny Boy gets tired easily and his head moves barely left and right by only 30 degrees.
Which was the VR game that took the top prize?
The top winner was a game called Intrepid Intents. The player can be seated and can play with two or one motion controllers. There is the option to manipulate the game using your gaze as an alternative. Also, the analogue sticks’ movement or teleport function can be optimized for positions. Button presses are also not required but can be used to speed up selections.
“Stairs are always my enemy, but I can fly over them in VR,” said Eric Nave, the UTSA software engineering senior who was co-lead with Quarles on the game jam project to make devices more accessible. “When I first got my Oculus Rift, I couldn’t play many games. I would get stuck on menus saying ‘Reach the start button in front of you.’”
Historically, game jams involve strong face-to-face collaboration between teammates. However, with COVID-19 you had to convince participants to organize and develop a game while working remotely. What surprised you the most about the participants’ ability to adapt?
Communication and collaboration is hard online. It is hard enough to do this in person, especially when designing physical interactions for VR games. However, you could tell that some teams really took the time to think and plan potential accessibility solutions for VR, regardless of the limitations of online collaborative work.
Why should the electronic game industry pay attention to UTSA’s first Accessibility Virtual Reality Game Jam efforts?
You also opened the game jam to include artists from UTSA’s Department of Music. Why?
Good games can elicit emotional response from the player. Music and art is a huge part of that. Game innovation requires a diverse set of skills and a multidisciplinary team. For this reason the game jam also gave artists and sound engineers the ability to transfer their education to different industries beyond the traditional.
We as gamers require more and more sophistication in the games. For this to happen, virtual reality needs to sound and look good as well.
In your opinion, who does accessible virtual reality games really well?
There are a lot of companies that do VR well, but most have not considered accessibility challenges in their products.
And the Winner Is...
Watch a preview video of Intrepid Intents, the winning entry in the game jam competition.
The virtial event will feature undergraduate student research and creative endeavors from across the university. Students who have participated in research experiences beginning summer 2020 through Spring 2021 are invited to participate.Virtual Event
By participating in this training you will feel more prepared to recognize potential harm on a spectrum, decide how you would respond in certain situations and take action to keep our Roadrunner Community safe.Virtual Event
At UTSA, there are many ways to connect with others, gain relevant career experience, and leave your mark at a world-ranked university. With over 300 student organizations, there’s something for everyone at UTSA. Hear from various UTSA Students Leaders about their life as a Roadrunner and why UTSA is their new home.Virtual Event
This course is offered by UTSA's Employee Assistance Program EAP Deer Oaks. Every new beginning comes from something else ending, and in our ever changing world, it is essential to develop the ability topositively cope with change. This session provides participants with the insight to understand the nature of change and learn how to effectively deal with both the losses and the gains that change brings to one’s life.Virtual Event
On April 28, 2021, millions of people across the world will wear jeans with a purpose, support survivors, and educate themselves and others about all forms of sexual violence. To support this movement our donation drive will be items that we will be putting together to make Care Kits. These Care Kits are for students, faculty and staff to get in case of an emergency and they need to leave the situation they're in ASAP and do not have time to pack.Ximenas Ave Garage
ISD Saturdays are an exclusive opportunity for students at an ISD in San Antonio. Each event will group various districts together for each presentation date or session.Virtual Event
Floor captains play a critical role in emergency preparedness, safety awareness and crime prevention techniques throughout the university. They focus on safety and security initiatives while providing guidance and direction to building occupants. During emergency activations, they assist with required evacuations and reentry, shelter-in-place commands, interface with police and other first responders, and help those who may require assistancer.MyTraining Webinar
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.
UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education.
The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to ending generations of discrimination and inequity. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.