What Would a Universal Interface Look Like?

Our final class was one of the most memorable experiences I have had in an Amherst class. The Stencyl games I tried out were engaging and impressive, given the timeframe in which we had to complete them. Most fascinating where the various interfaces groups created and incorporated into their games. Enormous card box surfaces placed spatially around the player, a sunflower-shaped controller that snugly wrapped around the player’s hand, and a Hoberman Mini Sphere Rainbow modified to convert expansions and contractions into game controls were a few of the great interfaces I played with. Despite the ingenuity of our interfaces, one thing stuck out to me as a limitation that was unavoidable because of the fact that we had to use a Makey Makey. All our interfaces required a form of tactile input to play the games we created, which might prevent people such as the disabled from playing these games.

This observation made me think about the promise that touchless gaming interfaces may hold as universal interfaces: interfaces that can be used by anyone regardless of any disability. My first candidate was an interface that would enable users to control games by voice. An example would be Amazon’s Alexa, which we briefly talked about in class. However, this interface might not be usable by people born deaf and/or mute. Another promising interface is eye tracking, which is a feature that is found in Microsoft’s Kinect camera. But this interface would also be inaccessible to some populations, for example people born blind. The problem with interfaces, whether touch-based or touchless, is that they rely on a feedback loop between sensory input and output. You say something that you can comprehend and know is what you intend to say because you can hear what you just said, or you move your eyes in a direction that you are aware of because you can see your visual field shift in a direction that matches your expectation. This inherent sensory-feedback-loop aspect of all game interfaces prevents them from becoming universal interfaces, since they automatically exclude people who do not have the ability to complete these feedback loops.

If all interfaces require this feedback between sensory input and output, can there really be a universal, one-size-fits-all interface? I can imagine a brain interface that measures brain activity–an output all conscious humans can give–and uses that activity to control games. The type of brain activity that maps to each control would be calibrated prior to gameplay. The input part of the interface would need to have the ability to transmute events happening in game into any combination of sight, touch, and sound, so that the input players receive matches their sensory abilities. Such a device is probably infeasible with current technology, but ideas about possible universal interfaces might at least start a conversation about ways in which video game interface designers can make interfaces that are accessible to all.

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3 thoughts on “What Would a Universal Interface Look Like?

  1. This universal interface you’re referring to reminds me of a couple of different sci-fi pieces. One is the Black Mirror episode called Playtest where an American man is in London and needs some extra cash so he volunteers to be a test subject for this highly anticipated videogame that is created by hooking your brain up and then the game simulates your greatest fears. Basically, players get the rush and anxiety of actually facing their fears because it seems so real but they aren’t in any real danger. While a very cool concept, it makes me wonder if tampering with the brain would have any adverse side effects that would make playing it dangerous or detrimental to your health. Besides the physical tampering of your brain, it seems like a game this in tune with your psyche could potentially cause mental and emotional instability. The second sci-fi work this reminds me of is the novel Ready Player One. While the interface doesn’t seem like it would help the accessibility for the blind or deaf, it does seem to solve many of the social and economic accessibility problems that we see today. For instance, the protagonist, Wade Watts, is an overweight, borderline homeless kid who is able to win the game that millions of wealthier people with infinite resources have tried beating and couldn’t. I would definitely be hesitant to try using this interface but I love the creativity and innovation behind the idea.

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  2. After reading your post what came to mind was potentially making different interfaces that work for a universal system. My idea seemed great, but this may also produce inequalities because different controllers will change the game system drastically. I hope there is a way, but we just need more time!

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  3. I too agree that with current technology, we are unable to offer a universally accessible interface system. Since all games are played through the use of sensory information, this excludes, as you mentioned, players that have a sensory disability. The thought of a brain activity related game is very intriguing, and could possibly arrive in the near future, as video games and the developers have been rapidly progressing. While I really like this idea, the only people this interface may exclude are those with mental/brain disabilities. It is possible that those with brain damage or low cognition may be unable to play the game as effectively as others. However, if technology progresses enough, developers may find a way past this problem, and create brain activity related games accessible for all. With this said, it will be interesting to watch how/if/when video game developers attempt to make universal interfaces with the arrival of new technology.

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