Posted on Thursday, January 17, 2013 by Allison Byers
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three years, odds are you’ve heard of Angry Birds. That horribly addictive smartphone game in which you fling a variety of “angry” birds at mischievous, thieving pigs was downloaded eight million times on Christmas Day alone. It’s undeniably entertaining.
But what if you couldn’t see the screen? Nazanin Oveisi, MFA Design 2012 alum and current MBA in Design Strategy student, centered her 2012 thesis on creating interactive, tactile games -- including Angry Birds -- for persons with and without sight.
Games for the Virtual World
“One of the million capabilities of the virtual world is the opportunity for the sighted to play games on screen,” says Oveisi. “When experiencing these interfaces, my main question as a designer has always been: What if the visual sense was not available? When a blind person or someone whose eyes are engaged in other tasks touches a glass screen, all they feel is flat, featureless glass.
“I have been in contact with blind people for years through my previous and current research. There are so many technologies based on audio, for instance, or hand gestures, that make touch-screens accessible without requiring the operator to have the visual sense.
"But these features are admittedly not as enjoyable as the experience of gazing at a screen when we’re talking about playing highly visual games like Angry Birds.”
Fulfilling Our Need to Fidget
Oveisi believes that games like Angry Birds actually satisfy a basic human need to fidget. “Casual gamers play in almost every situation,” she says. "In class, attending a lecture, talking on the phone, talking with friends. Because the eyes are engaged in the game, it may be wrongly perceived that the person is less interested in, or even avoiding, the primary activity.
"But fidgeting, using sensory stimulation to improve focus and increase brain functioning, dates back to our earliest civilizations.”
Designing for the Blind
Through her expansive research, Oveisi designed a series of interactive, tactile casual games that satisfy the fidgeting impulse and can be played without visual engagement.
“My approach for each game was slightly different, but generally, I would first sketch out the logic of the game and see if it made sense. Then I would try to play the game on a piece of paper, pretending that there’s a button, or using some plastic cubes.”
“After refining my idea, I would start to gather the materials and parts required to make a fully functional prototype. Each game took about a month and a half to finish.” Prototype construction was sometimes challenging. “My professor Scott Minneman was incredibly helpful in helping me figure out how to deal with that aspect.”
Creating Angry Birds
Oveisi’s tactile version of Angry Birds was similar to TACTris, her tactile version of Tetris. “I modified the TACTris game platform (see the design here) by using a stretch sensor and two PSP controllers.
"Like the original game, the goal of the tactile version is to use a physical slingshot to destroy the pigs with the given number of birds. The pigs are situated on top of solenoid pins. So that each round is a different challenge, the pins rise and fall to indicate different positions.
“The player pulls the slingshot and aims at the pig, and the device vibrates when the slingshot is within range of hitting the target. Once the player receives this feedback, they let go of the slingshot and, depending on the precision of their aim, the pin holding the pig will go down.
"If the player successfully ‘hits’ all of the pigs before running out of available shots, he or she wins. If not, all 16 pins quickly pop up one after another, indicating that the player has lost the round.”
All, of course, accompanied by those all-too-familiar Angry Birds sound effects.