Putting the 'we' in Wii for blind gamers

Video game research project at the University of Nevada makes games modeled on the Wii more accessible for people with visual impairments.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

VI Fit, a video game research project at the University of Nevada, Reno, could help people who are visually impaired stay fit with active games modeled on the Wii that do not require vision (of the literal variety, that is) to play. They do require Wii remote controllers and a Windows PC with Bluetooth support or a USB Bluetooth dongle, but the games can be downloaded for free at vifit.org.

VI Fit

"Lack of vision forms a significant barrier to participation in physical activity, and consequently children with visual impairments have much higher obesity rates and obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes," says Eelke Folmer, an assistant professor in the computer science and engineering department who led the project.

Folmer says the two new games, VI Tennis and VI Bowling, are the first of several to come, and that while they are adaptations of Wii exercise games, VI Fit is in no way endorsed by or associated with Nintendo.

VI Tennis uses Wii tennis but with audio and vibrotactile cues to instruct the players when to serve and return the ball, and it can be played against other players with remotes, or against the computer.

The group says the 13 blind children who tested the game at Camp Abilities in New York engaged in "levels of active energy expenditure that were high enough to be considered healthy," which is a scientist's way of saying they got the kids off the couch.

VI Bowling uses Wii bowling but with a novel motor-learning feature, where vibrotactile feedback gives players clues on where to throw the ball. The six adults who were evaluated playing the game exerted about as much energy as if they had spent that amount of time walking.

Folmer's research team includes: Tony Morelli, a doctoral candidate at the University of Nevada, Reno; John Foley, a faculty member in the physical education department and expert in movement studies in disability at State University of New York, Cortland; and Lauren Lieberman, a researcher in the Department of Kinesiology, Sports Studies, and Physical Education at SUNY, Brockport, who specializes in adapted physical education, especially children with sensory impairments.