Inside Rensselaer
* Students Develop Game Simulations To Improve Lives of Disabled
Students Develop Game Simulations To Improve Lives of Disabled
An interdisciplinary group of Rensselaer student programmers, game designers, character and level artists, electrical engineers, and music composers are working together to create groundbreaking interactive game simulations to help individuals with disabilities develop life skills and obtain increased independence.

Called the CapAbility Games Research Project, the students are led by Associate Professor of Integrated Arts Kathleen Ruiz, and work in collaboration with the Adult Services Division of the Center for Disability Services in Albany to develop games that specifically address the needs of the center’s clients.

The group recently completed its first project, an immersive computer game which simulates a shopping trip at a local grocery store. The prototype uses three computer monitors — one set up directly in front of the user and two angled on either side — to create a mini virtual reality “cave.” It also utilizes a specially designed joystick which lets the player maneuver through a virtual Price Chopper, shopping for ingredients on a shopping list. The simulated store is based on actual blueprints obtained by an area Price Chopper where the center’s clients often shop.

Clients at the center have successfully used the prototype game to practice learning their way around the supermarket, identifying the appropriate aisles in which to find items of their shopping list, and selecting specific items off of shelves. Ruiz attributes the prototype’s success to its ability to “inspire, excite, and challenge handicapped individuals to do the ordinary in extraordinary ways.”

“By creating this simulated learning environment, our students have given individuals with disabilities an engaging way to learn skills directly related to independence in their daily lives. Beyond that, they’ve gotten them excited about engaging with the real world,” said Ruiz. “Simulation enables the disabled to make mistakes in safety and learn from them — and, most of all, have fun in the process.”

Following the success of the prototype, the students have been asked to install the game in the Center for Disability Service’s Adult Services Division so that it may be accessed by individuals at any time. They plan to supplement the virtual simulation by installing with it a physical simulation of a shopping aisle where users can actually practice identifying and selecting items from a shelf.

The CapAbility Games Research Project is currently seeking the funding necessary to purchase updated computer equipment and supplies necessary to install the game in the Center for Disability Services, including a head mouse so that individuals with varying ranges of capabilities can use the simulation.

“It is easy to generalize the game industry as strictly an entertainment medium, but there are many untapped potentials for new genres such as serious games that combine the strengths of interactivity with multimedia to provide engaging simulations in communication, education, training, artistic expression, and systems modeling, among others,” says Ruiz. “Games like these and interdisciplinary groups of student researchers working on the CapAbility Games Research Project — such as Zach Barth, Jennifer Ash, Peter Mueller, Darren Domingos, Ben Esposito, Terry Lucas, Ben Frost, and alumnus Brian Ratta ’04 — play an invaluable role in shaping the future and evolution of game design.”

The group hopes to obtain support and complete the full installation by spring 2008.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 1, Number 7, November 8, 2007
©2007 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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