Today’s video games serve a multitude of functions ranging from entertainment to exercise and even education. Now, three graduates from Rensselaer’s Class of 2008 have created a game with an even more important purpose to foster independence among disabled individuals.
Graduating seniors Jennifer Ash, Zach Barth, and Peter Mueller have led an interdisciplinary student team made up of programmers, game designers, character and level artists, electrical engineers, and music composers to create a groundbreaking interactive game simulation to help individuals with disabilities develop life skills and obtain increased autonomy.
Called the CapAbility Games Research Project, the students worked in collaboration with the Adult Services Division of the Center for Disability Services in Albany to develop a game that specifically addresses the needs of the center’s consumers.
The game, called “Capable Shopper,” simulates a shopping trip at a local Price Chopper. Players maneuver through the virtual grocery store which is based on actual blueprints obtained from an area Price Chopper where the center’s consumers often shopusing a specially designed joystick or a head mouse, depending on their individual mobility.
“The most difficult and most rewarding part of the game development process was creating something that was accessible to a large group of people who had varying abilities,” says Barth, a dual computer systems engineering and computer science major. “Beyond that we created countless iterations of the game until we achieved something educational that was still really fun to play.”
A computer monitor set up directly in front of the user simulates the layout of the store, and a second monitor to the left displays a virtual shopping list. Users start the game by selecting a meal they’d like to make such as a spaghetti dinner, a holiday ham, or even rotini with alfredo lobster sauceand complete it when they’ve found all the items on their list.
A player selecting mac ’n’ cheese casserole, for example, is charged with finding ham, cheese, pasta, biscuits, and frozen vegetables to complete the meal.
“The most difficult and most rewarding part of the game development process was creating something that was accessible to a large group of people who had varying abilities.”
Consumers at the center have successfully used the “Capable Shopper” game to practice learning their way around the supermarket, identifying the appropriate aisles in which to find items on their shopping list, and selecting specific items off of shelves.
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