The Enable Gaming Project (Siobhán Thomas, London South Bank University)

Siobhan Thomas: So my name is Siobhan Thomas, and I am not English I moved to London 17 years ago I am from Canada, so I am also not American even though I might sound American I work at a place called London South Bank University, and I run the Game Design and Development program there What I wanted to talk to you about today is a project that has been running for about five years It comes from a background of wanting to add accessibility into the Game Design and Development course when I started this job, which was about nine years ago When I started the job, I had previously been working on an intellectual disability project basically looking at how to get web developers to consider intellectual disability when they were making web designs Now, this is my mission and I arrived at university all gung ho to embed accessibility into the curriculum If you can imagine that embedding accessibility into a single game project is difficult, embedding accessibility into a course with 90 students over three years and multiple types of game projects of multiplying levels of difficulty, whether they are 2D game designs, 3D level designs, or a large scale final year project, it is quite tricky actually So the main thing I started to focus on was getting my students to meet game developers and industry people Every year we would go to Eurogamer Expo and my students would volunteer for Ubisoft or Bethesda This is where the story starts I am in a meeting at Bethesda with two guys One guy is called David Lilley, he kind of heads up events at Eurogamer I probably have his title completely wrong So David Lilley, I am sorry if I got your title wrong [Laughing] And a guy named Gareth Swan, who at the time was the European Events Manager for Bethesda David Lilley said to me, “Hey! We have this other organization that has some technology, and they want you to make your students to make some games for them.” I thought, okay; that sounds really cool So the reason I mention this project in this way is because this is where I think a lot of very, very exciting things happen at these moments which you don’t anticipate which are synchronous This is the start of this project in able gaming, which has run for five years and has had a profound life-changing effect on me, not just everybody else involved in the project I want to go back a slide Yeah, I talked about that Enable Gaming is a partnership right now between London South Bank University and an organization called Lifelites I will talk about Lifelites in a second London South Bank University, if you know anything about the UK academic structure or university structure, it came out of a polytechnic base, and it was established in 1892 Its focus is on innovation and entrepreneurship Just two months ago, I can’t remember, we won the Times Higher Education Award for entrepreneurship Which is quite cool for our university because usually these things are won by Cambridge, Oxford, or universities like that It was quite nice to have London South Bank University on the map for that As you can see, it is right in the heart of central London What happens in the heart of central London is this little Game Design and Development course which is a BA/BoC, so you do programming and art, and it is a general design course It runs for three years versus the US system and Canadian system, which is four years long I have 90 students, and it grows a little bit every year because the university forces me to take more students I am always like, “No, no No more students.” The other thing about the program is that only industry experts teach on it This was one of my criterion that the course is taught by people working in industry who have released titles in a number of different ways The guy who teaches programming has released hundreds of AAA titles The other thing is that there is a focus on networking We run an industry event called Game Camp If you are ever in the UK and if you happen to be in the UK on May 6th this year, come to Game Camp It is the most fun games event, aside from GDC and GA Conf I don’t know how to officially say the title of this conference [Laughing] I also run IGDA London, so we have a lot of IGDA London events at London South Bank University because I can get us space there and it is awesome We just had a nice PlayStation VR event, and we are having a writing event in the new year called Reads Like a Seven So if you are in London, make sure you join IGDA – London

on Facebook and you can find out when the events are happening Then, we have a lot of game jams because I think one of the things when you run a game design course is you have space to have these things That is kind of what I think my mission is, is to sort of provide opportunities for people to get together, chat, and do development work But one of the things I think you need to know about the course, and the reason I am mentioning all this stuff about the background of the course, is kind of my epistemological orientation, I guess to put it in academic terms [Laughing] It is that I believe in body-oriented game design, and my doctorate is in sensory game design and sensory methodologies for game design So I sort of force all of my students to adhere to this body-oriented methodology This body-oriented methodology spans into teaching as well For instance, I pay attention to things like the temperature of the classroom, and alter it to being hot or cold depending on how I want students to feel at a particular time We also have a lot of discussions about game feel and hardware inputs, and how does this button feel versus this other button? Or, why have you designed this game mechanic? What is the feeling behind the game mechanic? But also, there is this idea of inclusiveness which spans across the entire course It is three years long Whatever year you are in, you can go to any lecture or any discussion, or any crit, any specialist seminar that is happening Whether it is year three, and you are year one or year two and you are wanting to help year ones There is a lot of peer learning There is a lot of shared knowledge It is this idea of open access that permeates everything The other thing is this idea of learning by doing This is a very unfamiliar thing for me to be doing, which is telling people about something I much prefer when people are actually enacting; enacting knowledge So that is kind of where this project started to sit So I mentioned that we partner with an organization called Lifelites When I was in that meeting with David Lilley and Gareth Swan I should mention that Gareth Swan now runs GamerDisco as well as his own consultancy He doesn’t work at Bethesda anymore I didn’t know what the organization was, I just said, “Yeah, okay I will do it,” because it sounded interesting Then, it turned out it was something to do with accessibility Then it turned out that it was to make games for a company that provides technology for 54 children’s hospices in the UK That is about 10,000 children who are in hospices The woman who runs Lifelites right now, the managing director is someone named Simone Enefer-Doy I can’t pronounce her last name either But she is incredibly, incredibly gracious and generous with her time We couldn’t have this project without them That is just something to keep in mind when you want to develop a project like this is that you need a solid industry, or non-industry in this case, partner who is willing to invest some time into the partnership But why does the project actually work? Well, Lifelites is not a games company, but Lifelites needs games made for them because they have all this technology So the project works because first and foremost, students have the opportunity to work with a professional client on a real-life brief They are given a brief that they have to achieve They are also under pressure to create quality games because it is for a client It is not just for me and I say, “Oh, I don’t like that.” But it is for the client who is going to say, “No, that doesn’t work for us or our needs.” The final thing, and the most important thing, is that it has actual real-life consequences This is a big thing You know when you make a game and you release it, you have a feeling about what that game might mean in the world But for this project when you make a game it really, really means something in the world of the people who play it It has a profound impact on their lives I have used that word profound quite a bit, but I don’t know how else to express it because that is kind of what happened So here I will tell you what the current process for the project is because I think anybody can do this And I would encourage you if you have a game development company to get people in who have impairments and disabilities in-house to work with you Or at the very least, to employ them to do small scale contract work It is a very small thing that you can do for the accessibility community That is really small Sorry So the first thing is, the whole project is organized around studio development processes Each year, there are four or five projects I sort of sit as Creative Director/Lead Producer, and then there are tams of students making accessible projects At their base, all the projects have to be one button input

There can be lots of other modes We use lot of other inputs like EEG, eye-tracking, and all that sort of stuff But at their heart, they have to be built with one button input They follow industry processes We have stand-ups We do debriefs And the other important thing is when you have any kind of games project for students is I can’t do everything myself I can direct things, but I can’t program I mean I can program, but not in the way that you need to be able to program to give students help. [Laughing] I have a team of industry experts who assist with that The other thing about running a project like this, and if you are in a game development studio you probably already and hopefully have all of those studio development processes all sorted out, is that you need to start from a core accessibility knowledge base So all team members need to get together to understand what basic accessibility you are trying to achieve The best way to do that is to have this really cool person come in and do an accessibility lecture because people will dedicate you an hour or 40 minutes to listening to that We were really lucky because there is a guy named Ian Hamilton, who I think you might know, who happened to be in London at that point in time and graciously decided or agreed to come and do an accessibility lecture So that is one hand The other hand is that we rely on things like Game Accessibility Guidelines to be the marking criteria for accessibility throughout the program The other thing you should know is that once we started doing this, and this was for final year projects, is accessibility became embedded throughout the three years of the course So now students doing year one projects, year two projects, or year three projects need to meet minimum accessibility requirements I guess what I am saying is if I can do the this in a university setting, I think you can do this I think I am speaking to the converted here, but I don’t think there is any obstacle to somebody achieving this in their company, at least in a very small way The other part of the process is that there is a client-facing element Students aren’t just doing university coursework They are having to go outside and achieve for a client based on what a client says The other thing, and I will talk more about this during the rest of the presentation, is that we have user testers embedded weekly coming in to test the games So they are institute within the development process I think this is the most important thing that you can do is to find people who will commit time to come and be with you while you are doing development You can’t ignore accessibility if someone is sitting there, looking at you and trying to do things The other thing, as you might imagine, for a hospice project is that we go and visit the hospice Now, that has all sorts of difficulties because obviously you can’t just walk up at a hospice any time you want There are some sensitivities with working with hospices, which I will talk about in a second Then, the other thing is some sort of burst So, a coalescence in time where you might be working on your project every single day of the week, but to have a dedicated time where you have nothing else that gets in the way So to kind of leave time to do that Either a jam either off-site, or in our case, an on-site at LSBU I am going to go back in time I mentioned this was a five year project, and I start at year one and year two I was pretty excited in year one I thought, yes, I am really excited about this project Yes, I will make it happen I say yes a lot to people, and worry about how I am going to fit it into things later Then I kind I of realized, well I have this three year project, which right now was all microcontrollers and making different types of hardware inputs for game developer projects I thought, okay, well I will just add in accessibility here and we will start making games for the hospices I am going to make this project, which was called Tangible Play before, and mostly focused on physical computing I changed it to be this brief, light project where students still had to deliver their hardware input and make their own physical hardware input, but now they had to meet the client brief as well This is the other thing that happens in the course is I just keep adding things to modules because it gets harder and harder every year And in year one and year two, they deliver their unique controllers, they went to Lifelites, Lifelites came to LSBU and gave feedback We had an external facing jam, and then we went to the hospice That was kind of the first two years of the project When I look back and think, what did we do in the first two years? It didn’t seem like we did very much Then I reflected, well in its entirety in those first two years was only 24 weeks long because it was only in each semester When students go to Lifelites, it is very important that it is a very formal thing They have an appointment that they have to go to, and they go in their teams They meet Simone, and she talks through the history of Lifelites

She shows them technology Then, she underscores the geographic kind of expanse that the project covers It is, as I mentioned before, 54 hospices; 10,000 kids that they provide technology for This kind of the user group that we have to make the games for The cool thing about the hospice I mean, this is an older photo It is from the first two years of the project, but this was the first time the student had ever used eye tracking It was the first time a lot of students had ever used eye tracking Then, just being in this environment, trying this out, and seeing it is really tricky to try and use eye tracking if you don’t use it on a daily basis In that same first year of the project, we also did an accessibility jam at the Virgin Media space I think this is quite an interesting thing to do if you are doing development work, especially accessible development work, is to get out and jam externally so that people can see what you are doing, and that you can gain publicity for it It sort of piggybacks what Tara was saying earlier about getting people to be evangelical about the work you are doing So, we had a newspaper article written Ian was there again Ian is lovely and just dedicates his time to helping people out He was really good to have on-site, and to give accessibility feedback So that is the visit to Lifelites That is the external game jam I just want to talk a bit about going to hospice Obviously going to a children’s hospice is incredibly tricky It is time consuming to organize It is time consuming to get there You can’t be sick, you can’t have a cold, and access to the hospice is through this organization Lifelites I don’t think we could run this project in the same way if Lifelites didn’t exist So the students go in small groups, and there is usually a small number of children in the hospice You are never sure how many children are going to be in hospice actually because it is quite a fluid situation And like with any other user testing, but even more so because you get one sort of chance at doing this, you have to make sure you are organized You have to have all your forms of questions printed out, you have clipboards, you have your audio recording devices, and you have made sure that all your forms and consent forms, and parental consent forms have been covered off before you even arrive at the hospice The reason I am just mentioning this is just to flag that when you are doing user testing, there is all this structural process stuff, which Hannah alluded to for the BBC projects as well, that you have to consider It is not just that you do accessible user testing, it is not just that you do accessible test development, but you have to do some sort of structural basis for it as well I think it is super important if you are going off-site, and especially doing work with kids is that you should have multiple devices Bring the game on your laptop, bring the game on your well, you probably wouldn’t put it on your iPhone, but you could put it on an Android device Make sure you have different types of input mechanisms as well So you bring switches, you bring We always bring Makey Makeys because you can attach I don’t know if you know what a Makey Makey is It is just a really quick thing that you can create an electrical circuit to, and with anything that conducts electricity, then you can make into a controller You can make a banana a controller That is the easy example that they always use So then basically anything can become a switch input, no matter where you are, so you don’t have to spend a lot of money on switches The thing to keep in mind about switches, is that there is a slight delay Each switch is slightly different about how it interacts as an input mechanism Sometimes if it is a long There can be a slight delay, if you are combining switches with keyboard input devices The other thing to just flag is that eye tracking takes a long time to calibrate sometimes This was our first user testing at the hospice I think there were three children there at that point in time The reason that I am putting this up is I wanted to give you a sense of the environment because in the hospices, they have a technology room But then you can also put technology in the children’s room when they are in their actual hospice beds And it was really important that we brought mobile devices because as you can sort of see, this is how one child interacted with the phone You can see hand position and sort of the challenges that child might have with hand position But then you can also see the sort of challenges that this child had with hand position It is quite good to bring a device, so you can see how people are physically interacting with your game, especially if it is a mobile game Then we just had prototypes, an easy switch [Laughing] Once you have Arduino or you have Makey Makey,

you can just make any kind of switch you want It is the easiest kind of input mechanism to make, It doesn’t have to be glamorous In this case it sort of wasn’t glamorous, but it sort of did the job He just rested his hand on it It fit with sort of the game input because it was just an adventure exploration game at that time On the previous slide, I had the word celebration noted, and I think this is really important in game design in general I think we often forget to do this, which is basically any time something happens whether you nail a jump mechanism or something good has happened, you should take a moment to celebrate that success In the case of user testing with someone who has intellectual disabilities, or with children, you definitely need to celebrate that success And sometimes you celebrate it in really seemingly cheesy ways, but it is really, really important So I think this is something to consider when you have children user testers, people with intellectual disabilities, or just sometimes people in general They just want some sort of certification that they have completed this thing they have done for you The other thing is in the case of a hospice situation, it is really important that the children’s names go, if they want to be recognized, in the credits of the game Things like leaderboards take on a different dimension, if you are dealing with people with life-threatening diseases So that was kind of what happened in year one and year two After trying to set things up in a hospice for a while, we realized it doesn’t work that well I mean, you can go to the hospice, and we do go to the hospice every year But you also need to do other types of user testing because if you only user test once with your target audience, then it doesn’t really produce the best games at the end of the process So we had one in-house user testing session in the third year So now we are on to year three This was the person who did the user testing I am going to play a video The first thing that we would do any time we worked with user testers was to do some sort of benchmark to see sort of the capabilities of the user In this case, he couldn’t move his head, and he had minimal hand movement Just contrast that with another user [Onscreen inaudible] So I am talking to him about what he already has that he can use for game input Siobhan onscreen: All right, how about this then? So you usually use a joystick as your input? [Inaudible] Siobhan: Can I touch your button? [Inaudible] Siobhan: So you find this is easier to use than that? Okay, that is good to know That is really interesting So even with button controls, you have to consider the weight and pressure [inaudible] Siobhan: Oh, can I see your joystick? [Inaudible] Siobhan: [Laughing] Sorry Siobhan: It is a little, mini one. Okay Can I use it? Oh wow! It uses really, really light pressure User: Yes Siobhan: Can other people try the joystick? [Inaudible] May some other people try the joystick? Is that okay? So now all my students try using the joystick and touching the buttons because they feel really different than what we might anticipate for a button or a joystick I think somebody made the point before about having user testers in place versus getting people through email There is no way I could have understood that bodily information about just how light that button what little intensity of press was needed to make that button happen And then if you were going to try to map that into some sort of game feel mechanic if you didn’t know that, it would be a different type of game mechanic So the actual mechanism for control and how the mechanism feels, whether it is a big switch, or a squishy sort of switch, or a little button that somebody already has are really, really

important things for the game that you are making And this is just an example of what happened during user testing In a typical user testing, we play the game on a big board and the students take notes, video, and document while the user tester is testing So at the end of year three, I was actually quite delighted We had a user tester come in successfully, and the students were actually really happy with what had happened, and had done something different than they had ever done before within the curriculum Mentioning things like they had the chance to pitch a real product to a real client, they understood the benefits of a constraint of having to make everything for one button The project was so innovative that it got the attention of game industry people that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise So I was pretty happy about that And then, I went and met a group of people who had put us in contact with the user tester This was a really insane moment for me Here is this guy who came to user test once Previous to user testing, his family had sort of written him off He has Duchenne muscular dystrophy Previously, the life expectancy for people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy was really low So the government and employment agencies and organizations didn’t expend a lot of money on supporting people’s employment if they had Duchenne muscular dystrophy because they just sort of said, “Oh, well they are just going to die anyways.” I mean, I am putting that really bluntly, so excuse that It wasn’t that his family had written him off, but just sort of had overlooked him After doing user testing once for like two hours, this is the lie of the land, His family started to realize that actually he has something to contribute to our family His niece started asking his advice, and he set up his own game accessibility design consultancy [Laughing] So when you think about, “Oh, my accessibility work I am just going to make this game accessible, and you think should I get user testers in to test my game? I am saying you should get user testers in to test your game And you should try to pay them because then they are employed It is such an easy thing to do Such a win, win. You will get better stuff for your game The user tester will be way better off because they will be in some sort of employment So that was the end of year 3 [Laughing] That was a pretty amazing thing to find out about this project Not only are we changing children’s lives in hospices, but we are actually changing people’s lives outside of the hospice and in ways that I hadn’t anticipated That brings us to year four [Laughing] I have two more years to go No, I am kidding That brings us to year four Then I thought, if it is cool to have a user tester come in once, why don’t I get them in every single week? So they have come in every single week This is Ravi Ravi can move his head about this much And he can move his left index finger about this much He drives from Birmingham for two and a half hours to test each week Oh that was Mithun, sorry And this is Ravi Ravi is testing with eye tracking, and then he is doing EEG testing for the game input So for them, it is something in their weekly calendar [Laughing] Ravi is now doing work, I think, at a bank because he had something he could do on his CV to get a job The students are getting user testing every week Mithun has his own game accessibility consultancy And he is helping other people get into accessibility But the biggest thing is it fundamentally changed my students’ way of being in the world This is an international conference for Action Duchenne Oh, sorry. I can’t remember what the conference is called, but the boys in this group here all have Duchenne muscular dystrophy My students are running a game design workshop with them Because they had the accessibility knowledge from doing the user testing, they could do that It was a very, very cool thing to see actually

All of those boys who never would have thought about getting into game development are now thinking about getting into game development It is kind of a win-win situation The skills that students learn from projects like these, then they can go talk at TEDX, and show off their games Then, I think overall in addition to employability for students and employability for user testers, there are just a whole range of positive impacts of the project I just want to summarize these in closing First is that for the hospice, the project can improve the quality of life for people with life-threatening disabilities The project itself has been recognized because of the development work Students make games that have a dramatic impact for the better on terminally ill children’s lives In addition, the knowledge they gain is fed back into the development community It increases the employability of students, user testers, and consultants Lifelites is really, really happy They are happy with the way that students engage with the project The success of Enable Gaming helps Lifelites to access funding through GamesAid I don’t know if you know what GamesAid is here, but it is a charity in the UK that supplies funding for things like Special Effect and Lifelites It is great for us This year, we won the Best Educational Initiative and Talent Development Aware at the TIGA Awards And in closing, that leads to the future Just one last thing Students aren’t just learning skills, they are getting a phenomenal life experience, as am I. I can say my life has completely changed And I think your life could completely change too because I am looking for people to get involved globally in this So if you are interested, you can just drop me an email Thank you, thank you [Audience applause]