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 Racial Justice Book Club was established at UTSA by members of the campus community to explore social justice following acts of racial violence across the nation over the last few years. We are reading The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas by Monica Muñoz Martinez. We will meet every Wednesday in September and October at 2 pm on Zoom.Virtual Event
We invite you to learn about the process of screenwriting and explore the intersection of identity and pursuing dreams from Jorge Ramirez-Martinez and Raymond Perez, screenwriters for the Selena: The Series, released on Netflix. They will discuss their careers and writing process, including how their identities as Mexican American and gay men have shaped their professional experiences.Virtual Event
Please join us in remembering those who have entered the next part of life by designing a nicho box in their memory. This workshop will provide the necessary items to create your nicho box, though please remember to bring a photo or small object that can fit in a 3.5 x5x1 inch box (small jewelry box).John Peace Library GroupSpot B, Main Campus
Come celebrate the end of Hispanic Heritage Month with La Comunidad at The University of Texas at San Antonio. We will have food, games and dancing!H-E-B Student Union Ballroom 1 & 2, Main Campus
LMSA invites you to join us in celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month through an interactive cooking lesson! This cultural experience will teach you how to prepare a popular Mexican dish, street taquitos. You will be able to sample this dish and learn the recipe to use in your own home.Recreation Wellness Center Demo Kitchen
Future Roadrunners will see what Roadrunner life is all about at UTSA Day. All of Main Campus transforms into our UTSA Day open house for Future Roadrunners and their families to explore the university experience.Main Campus
Learn about the LGBTQIA+ community and being an Ally and advocate for LGBTQIA+ people, communities, and the issues that impact the LGBTQIA+ community.Multicultural Student Center for Equity and Justice Lounge, Main Campus
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.