As some of you may know, I have recently developed an interest in making the games that I design for Second Life and other virtual worlds as accessible to disabled players as possible.  Over the last 10 days, one of them has been shown at SL8B, the laggy, cacophonous, eye candy filled street fair that appears each Spring on the islands of Second Life to celebrate another year of their survival.  It was time, I felt, to introduce the beginning concept of our next big game effort, called “the gods that walk among us”, and what better way, than to bring in some of that to be experienced by the wandering and curious populations who having tired of eating virtual cake, need a riddle or two to cleanse their palettes?

So, hmm, how do you actually make a game that can be experienced equally by a person with low vision and a person with hearing issues?  Furthermore, how do you do that when you only have 10 sec low-fi sound clips, and limited space and geometry?

How do you make it redundant enough so they understand the need to use a private channel for each local chat answer, and yet not be distracted from hearing the clues, which are only presented once? What about sound bleed, and the confusion that will cause to a visitor in a tiny area.

And lastly, how do you keep the space  ”in architectural character”  an environment that says, “come in- all of you- you can play here”.

Tough questions, and a significant design challenge for two weeks of building time. Did I succeed?  On some levels perhaps, and on others, things took an interesting turn or two.

Our next game “the gods that walk among us” is about mental and emotional transformation, about how everyone can have “godlike” powers in virtual worlds, and about how the search for these qualities will carry us across the Metaverse.

I used the visual metaphor of masks, one for each of the ancient elements- Earth, Air, Fire and Water as the key ingredient. Images of them were displayed on the exhibit, and you would win each mask by figuring out the riddles presented to you by their elemental icons distributed around the exhibit.

Having some experience with Second Life game players, I expected to see some folks hang around for long periods while they played the game, and to get sent commentary on their progress, if they happened to notice me hanging around, which I did frequently.

What I did not expect, was for them to take the elemental masks and to make their own games out of them, and to be honest, this thrilled me.  It also got me to wondering, why do we like to make games so much?  Some deep seated need to control people? Or perhaps just the same kind of joy that anyone feels when they watch someone else play.

I was given art work with images of my masks in it.  I was involved in a prolonged photo session with a small red panda.  People took the masks to parties, and wore them home.  It interests me to note, that although the avatar is one kind of mask, putting a mask on top of that would elicit yet another kind of behavior, as if  it frees the avatar, just as it does a real person at a party.  I also noted that designing for accessibility was just a support structure eventually, not the focus, which is something I am pleased with. Seamless access, that is a good goal.

Watching people play- that is my reward.

Images are on my Flikr site here: