PhD candidate Stephen Vickers and his team at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK are designing software for people with disabilities who use eye-gaze control to be better able to play video games. Here are videos of Stephen demonstrating the software, called Snap Clutch, in World of Warcraft and Second Life:

(World of Warcraft)

(Second Life)

In a paper Vickers co-authored for the 4th Cambridge Workshop on Universal Access and Assistive Technology ("Gaze Interaction with Virtual On-Line Communities: Levelling the Playing Field for Disabled Users"—available in his list of publications), eye gaze was compared to mouse control in the game Second Life. While eye-gaze performed comparably in moving the avatar from place to place and in manipulating objects, it didn't do well for using applications within the game (thanks to the applications' tiny buttons) or communicating in-game via an on-screen keyboard. A particular problem involved reading distracted looking as choices, so that if a player noticed a tree on the screen and looked at it, the avatar would run into the tree. The paper concluded that: "The types of errors found suggest a need for a lightweight clutch mechanism whereby gaze control can be activated and deactivated quickly and effortlessly. A control action can be applied by eye and then gaze control is deactivated to enable the user to…look at the objects nearby" (p. 12).

Snap Clutch is just such a "lightweight clutch mechanism." According to a New Scientist article, the software lets players switch between different actions and choices using eye-gaze, as well as pause the gaze control entirely:

"Glancing momentarily off-screen in a particular direction switches between different functions, for example, to a mode that rotates the avatar or viewpoint, or to call up transparent icons dragged onto game objects to perform a particular action.

  "A 'gaze gesture' is also built in to temporarily turn off the eye-gaze functions altogether, to avoid unintentionally selecting an item while looking around the screen."

FYI: De Montfort University also hosted last year's Communication by Gaze Interaction (COGAIN) conference, where the topic was "Gaze-based Creativity, Interacting with Games and On-line Communities."

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk grew up in a small Nebraska town called Papillion. Although she has a nonverbal learning disability that affects her visual-spatial skills (among other things), she's always loved video games. Her first game system was a Commodore Vic-20, which her mom bought at a garage sale for $20. With this little computer Tera learned to write Mad Libs in BASIC, to play chess and to steal gold from Fort Knox.

But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).

Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.
Tera Kirk

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