Friday 4 July 2008

Power Up: The Game

As referred to in a previous post, some of the IBM folk have developed an accessible game called PowerUp which is described in the following paper,

author = {Shari M. Trewin and Mark R. Laff and Anna Cavender and Vicki L. Hanson},
title = {Accessibility in virtual worlds},
booktitle = {CHI '08: CHI '08 extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems},
year = {2008},
isbn = {978-1-60558-012-X},
pages = {2727--2732},
location = {Florence, Italy},
doi = {},
publisher = {ACM},
address = {New York, NY, USA},
abstract = {Virtual worlds present both an opportunity and a challenge to people with disabilities. Standard ways to make such worlds accessible to a broad set of users have yet to emerge, although some core requirements are already clear. This paper describes work in progress towards an accessible 3D multi-player game that includes a set of novel tools for orienting, searching and navigating the world.}
My first impressions suggest that it's quite similar to Second Life in some respects (fixed name lists, Orientation Center).

I'd be interested to hear feedback from some blind or VI players.


Anonymous said...

I think the main thing stopping much interest here would be Power Up's lack of either a compelling game or the highly developed social aspects of SL. This would probably explain the seemingly low level of feedback.

Also there may be a certain amount of apathy in responding since SL seems such a distant concept to us in the VI community, a smaller issue when it's actually directly discussing it with someone as in the interviews but more so for a general call for feedback perhaps.

Gareth R. White said...

Hi anonymous,

You make some very good points.
I'd be interested to hear more about the 'highly developed social aspects of SL'.

What in particular are you referring to?

Anonymous said...

Not having played SL (due to being blind) I can only guess, but it strikes me that for example the numbers of people in SL and the fact that it seems primarily a social "game". I also might have misunderstood something in the power up instructions, but it didn't seem like you can talk quite as freely.

The main thing though is indeed the numbers of people, and the fact that friends are far more likely to be playing SL than power up.

In essence -
Socially there aren't as many people to meet and/or spend time with in Power Up, and seemingly fewer areas in which to socialise. The size and scope of the project sadly works against it in this regard, more than anything to do with the actual quality of accessibility. There just isn't enough to keep people's interest I think.

Mark Laff said...

Greetings everyone. Just came across this blog posting and wanted to discuss some of the points further (if people are still interested).

By way of introduction, I'm part of the team that created PowerUp. The core development team was in IBM Atlanta, but the accessibility component was added by my colleague, Shari Trewin, and myself, both at IBM TJ Watson Research Center (email:

As to your comments, we would largely agree. PowerUp does not provide very powerful support for social interaction. It was intended as an experiential learning tool to teach middle-school aged children about alternative energy. As such, there was a policy decision to provide structured chat with limited vocabulary to ensure a save environment.

As for the accessibility aspect itself - this was our initial foray into an area which many people said was either impossible or impractical - making virtual worlds accessible to people with visual disabilities. While the ultimate goal would obviously be to address accessibility in SecondLife, the limited scope presented by PowerUp helped us to understand the problem and to make progress. And, since the game platform was completely open (based on the Torque Game Engine), it allowed us free range to explore possible solutions (we iterated quite a bit working in concert with design feedback from collaborators at Lighthouse International, NYC, and United Cerebral Palsy of Suffolk County).

So, viewing this as a first step, and being in the planning stages for a next step, I would love to open up discussion of which accessibility options work well in PowerUp and which don't.

Gareth R. White said...

Hi Mark!

Awesome to have your comments here, I really appreciate it.

As you can probably tell though, this blog and project has pretty much run its course and wound down now. We're not planning any follow up studies, but the blog itself will stay around indefinitely for anyone who comes across it.

As for the accessibility features of PowerUp I'd like to commend you and your team for their vision to take the project on, and congratulate you on the implementation. As far as I can tell it's without peer as the leading accessible 3D environment.