The ability to see is something that many people inadvertently take for granted. Activities such as video games, which often require the player to rely heavily on their sense of sight, are nearly impossible to participate in for those with significant visual impairments. However, a group of Drexel students from the College of Computing and Informatics aims to change that with a self-designed video game known as Project Goalball, a video game created specifically for the visually impaired.
The game of Goalball was contrived in 1946 to help rehabilitate World War II soldiers with sight related injuries. The overall gameplay is simple; three-person teams attempt to throw a ball, which contains bells so that the players can gauge its location audibly, into the opposing team’s goal. It was included in Toronto’s 1976 Paralympic Games, and has been an event in every Paralympics since.
The Drexel group, which is advised by computer science professor Jeff Salvage, consists of TJ Heiney, Cho Gyn Min, John Frankel, Buzz Lakata, Colton Terrace, Jordan Stone, Ryan Crim, Richa Bhartia, and Ryan Smith.
“The idea for this project came from Overbrook School for the Blind where a student there approached one of Drexel’s professors, Professor Salvage, about turning one of their favorite activities into a digital game. That activity was Goalball,” the team said in an email interview.
While video games exist that visually impaired individuals may be capable of playing, thanks to certain included audio options that can be toggled on or off, most games are still targeted towards individuals with full capability of sight. Video games made specifically for the blind, if any do exist, are very few in number – the Project Goalball team thinks that they may even be the first to create one. As this is the case, the game is programmed with specific features to make navigation as easy as possible for the players.
“The game contains audio based menus that help visually impaired players navigate to various parts of the game, including a tutorial. At the same time we include high contrast text menus for partially visually impaired players. Players can start or join games from our game menu, which uses a Drexel based server to host the games that our users can connect to. The actual game is played between two teams of three where each team has a left wing, a right wing, and a center,” the team explained.
Project Goalball uses a combination of sounds transmitted through the players’ headphones and vibrations given off by the controller to indicate to the player when they can pick up the ball and where it is in relation to the goal. The rules of the game are fairly simple.
“The players have a ball dropped in the court on one of the sides and they must grab it, position themselves to aim a throw, and bowl the ball at their opponents. As the ball comes towards you, you must try to either dive in front of it, or pick it up before it scores. This game goes back and forth until the time runs out and the team with the most points is the winner. If there is a draw, the game will go into overtime,” the developers elaborated.
For several months, the development team has been working with students from the Overbrook School for the Blind to develop and beta test the game itself.
“During our 9 months working on this project we have made over 10 trips to the Overbrook School for the Blind. While there we gathered requirements and suggestions in the first few trips. In later trips, we tested various [versions] of the games with the students there. The feedback we received from the students, teachers, and other faculty at Overbrook has made the game what it is today,” the team stated.
Project Goalball isn’t available to be played by the public just yet, but the team says whoever takes the reigns following their graduation will hopefully bring it to that level.
“We created an early concept of what a tournament system for the game would be. The next group that works on Project Goalball will expand this functionality and host an International Goalball Tournament at Drexel. This will allow players all over the world to play one of their favorite games together,” the team explained of their plans for the game’s future.
“The team is glad to have given something back to the community. We would also like to see Project Goalball act as a call to action for other developers to begin work on games that are more accessible. We hope that the game introduces new players to the wonderful sport of Goalball and brings the wider Goalball community together in brand new ways,” the developers expressed.
The exact time when the game will be available is unknown, but in the meantime, the Project Goalball team will continue their work on perhaps the first video game for the visually impaired.