USC Games recently granted five scholarships for students to attend the AbleGamers Charity’s upcoming course in game accessibility. USC Emeritus Professor Dennis Wixon and USC undergraduate David Barrett, who are in connection with AbleGamers, were able to sit down with us to provide further insight.
Q. Tell us about AbleGamers and APX—what are their values, and what work have they done?
David: APX is basically a nonprofit dedicated to making games accessible for anyone, regardless of their background or ability. We’ve been working with APX, and they’ve been laying out the groundwork for what a game should be satisfying in terms of its accessibility and usability, as well as helping us set our baseline for play heuristics.
Dennis: Yeah, APX has created a whole series of design patterns that are guidance to designers to help make the game accessible—but at the same time as broadly inclusive as possible. This seminar that David and other students will be attending is oriented toward the same values that we have in Interactive Media and Games: we want as many people to enjoy games as possible.
Q. How is the upcoming training program structured, and what does it entail?
Dennis: It’s a two-day training program, and it involves teaching people about the design patterns that they can use to make games more accessible. They actually have a couple of different layers: one is sort of initial accessibility, and a second one is more advanced. This seminar is really very valuable because while any large company or studio may have their own particular approaches to increasing the diversity of players, they often don’t take the time to share that with other people.
Q. Since the program has now shifted online, how will this year’s experience differ from years prior?
David: There’s some ups and downs to both sides, but I’d say it’s definitely something that we’ve had to make work. Honestly, I think it’s gone pretty well transitioning over.
Dennis: One of the things that we found is that while you do give up the intimacy and hands-on experience, you also gain accessibility for a number of people—because they can come in online. That’s one of the benefits of online training.
Q. Who would be a good fit for this program, and what is the ultimate goal for attendees?
David: The type of people that should be interested in this program should be the type of people who are empathetic and really passionate about sharing and understanding that games are created for people’s enjoyment. It’s basically being obsessed with hearing people out. If you’re looking at the kinds of people who would benefit from this course, it’s designers and engineers who are the bulk of both graduates and undergraduates.
Dennis: When you train students in these kinds of design techniques, it’s kind of like throwing a pebble into a lake. It can have very broad implications. People in the industry are very much influenced by examples of other games and other companies. Some of our students who get trained will spread that to their classes and extend that specialized training to a whole group of people. That’s the kind of thing that we’re hoping to see happen here, too.
Q. What are your hopes for the future of this program?
Dennis: At this point, we’re hoping to continue the program and learn from it. One of the things that’s true about our division and the rest of the film school is that we often learn by doing. We try things out, and if they work out well, we try to institutionalize them. If there are some things that we think are not working as well, we’ll look to see how we could improve them and give APX feedback.
In a broader sense, the gaming industry—even though it’s been around for 50 years or so—is still very young, and so we keep seeing a greater and greater expansion of the influence of games across society as a whole. It’s still evolving, and I would say evolving in primarily a good way—I’ve seen real positive steps in terms of inclusiveness and social responsibility.
David: I haven’t experienced the program yet, but I hope that I could learn a new perspective about how to think about the design process—games should be something that you want to make sure people have easy access to, no matter their ability or their background.
USC Games is proud to be partnered with AbleGamers in our shared mission of making games that can be enjoyed by everyone. We look forward to seeing what will come from this collaboration. Keep an eye out for the results of some of their work at the USC Games Expo!
AbleGamers offers two-day online training sessions based in the West Coast, the East Coast, and the EU. To learn more about the AbleGamers Charity and their public courses, visit their website at accessible.games.