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Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative

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Volume 12, No. 2, Spring 2004

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Help! I’ve Got Pac-Man Fever

Marvin Williams, AT Specialist, Kent County ATRC

Okay, I admit it. I enjoy video games, and I am not alone. In 2003, according to NPD Group, the leading marketing information provider, the console, portable, and PC game industry made a reported $11.2 billion in sales. I know I was not responsible for all of those sales! Millions of people around the world enjoy playing video games. The games provide a means of interactive entertainment that can rival some movies. Yet, physical or sensory limitations may prevent some individuals from playing. The controllers that most console and PC games use can be difficult for those with limited dexterity to manipulate. Video games may also limit those with visual impairments, as the games usually rely heavily on the player being able to see and interact with actions or events on the screen. However, there are modifications and adaptations that may make video games more accessible.

I first learned of Ken Yankelevitz and KY Enterprises (KYE),, when I contacted Sony regarding an adapted controller for their PlayStation ® video game system. Sony told me they did not have any immediate plans to pursue adapted video game controllers, but I might want to contact KYE for assistance. Ken Yankelevitz is the owner of KYE, a company that makes adapted video game controllers. He was an aerospace engineer for ten years prior to starting the company in 1981 when Atari ® referred him to a teenager with quadriplegia who wanted to play video games again.

“He was depressed and his family and church were searching for something to spark his interest in living after his accident," Ken said.

After the Atari project, Ken was asked to help one of the foremost rehabilitation hospitals in the country, Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, CA.

"[That's] where I met several rehab specialists," Ken stated. It was also there that he met Kirk Kilgour, a former collegiate athlete and quadriplegic.

"[Kirk] had been trying to get someone to build him a joystick so he could still compete using video games," Ken said. "We got together and designed something that worked for him and the children in the wards in the hospital, and the joy it brought them convinced me to continue this work."

So what do these adapted controllers look like? First, let's start with the standard PlayStation 2 controller (Figure 1). It includes analog and digital controls for motion as well as four action buttons (a triangle, square, x, and circle) that perform various actions depending on what is called for by the game. There are also four "shoulder buttons" which can perform other actions. The controller also has a second analog joystick control that, in some games, can perform the duties of some action buttons. The controller also has a "start" and a "select" button to pause a game and/or change some of its parameters. That brings the function count to 14 buttons for digital control. Managing that many buttons requires a lot of manual dexterity.

Playstation ControllerFigure 1

The flagship for KYE is the PlayStation 2mouth controller. The mouth controller has one mouthpiece that operates as a digital joystick only. The adapted controller does not have an analog joystick that some of the PlayStation 2 games require. However, KYE is currently working on a unit that will allow the player to select either the digital or analog configuration for the mouth controller.

The KYE controller's mouthpiece uses a combination of two lip switches and three "sip and puff" switches for a total of six functions. A second "sip and puff" gives the user access to the "start" and "select" functions. That brings the total function control to 14 with the mouth controller—the same as the PlayStation 2 controller (not counting the analog controls which replace or perform the same functions as the digital controls). The mouth controller comes with a stand that can be mounted to a table or wheelchair tray. The unit sells for $175 and can be ordered from KYE by visiting their web site,, or by calling them at (562) 433-5244. KYE does have adapter cables available for the Xbox ® and for the Nintendo ® GameCube ™ game systems.

Enabling Devices ,, recently unveiled a new product for the portable gamer. The Game Boy ® Adapter (Figure 2) allows you to play your Game Boy Advance SP using switches. The nice thing about this device is it is available "off the shelf." It does not require the user to make modifications to the Game Boy and, hence, does not affect the Game Boy manufacturer's warranty.

Game Boy AdapterFigure 2

The adapter is usable with a variety of switches and retails for $129.95. Switches and the Game Boy are not included. The adapter will ONLY work with the GameBoy Advance SP. The adapter is not compatible with Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Color, or Game Boy Advance.

Recommended games for use with the adapter include:

If that all seems like Greek, don't worry, just ask a gamer for translation.

Currently, there are a number of alternative mice and input devices that already exist for the PC. Joysticks (Figure 3 shows a version by Penny & Giles), trackballs, touch pads, and styli (pens that act like mice) are readily available for the computer. There are also switch interface boxes available from Don Johnston,; Penny & Giles,; and Tash,

Joystick by Penny & Giles Figure 3

Each county's ATRC has some joysticks, switch interface boxes, and switches available for short-term loan. Please take advantage of the DATI's free loan program and take home an alternative controller and try it with a favorite PC game. It is important to try the controller with each game because not every game works with every adapted device. Please note that the ATRCs do not have video games available for loan.

Another resource for information on adapting video game controllers is available online at Mark Bosanquet-Bryant, who is paralyzed from the neck down, has posted information to his site on the adapted controllers he uses. He discusses some of the modifications that have been made to his PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo 64 controllers that allow him to play hands-free. This site offers a wealth of information to individuals who are handy with a soldering iron and willing to risk ruining a spare controller or two (controllers retail for around $10-$30).

Pin Interactive , a Swedish company, has developed the first 3D video game for both sighted and visually impaired video gamers. The game, Terraformers, uses an audio interface as the basis for the game. Everything in the game's virtual environment is represented by a sound. For example, one mission is to find keys to several doors and open each door with its corresponding key. In the game, each key makes a special sound; this special sound is also made by the corresponding door. There are also a sound compass and sonar that help players navigate movements in the virtual world. Pin Interactive released this statement regarding their reasoning for developing this game:

We have seen that sight disabled children and youth have an interest in the computer games that their seeing friends play. But until now, they haven't been able to participate. With Terraformers, blind and seeing children can play the same game with about the same conditions. No longer do the blind have to sit beside and just listen while their friends play.

A free, downloadable demonstration version is available at The full CD-Rom and license key are available for $60.

The need for, and benefits of, meaningful recreation go without saying. For some, recreation is reading a book, while others enjoy riding a bike 20 miles, or playing video games. The important thing is that everyone has some means of relaxing and engaging in recreational pursuits.

With the evolution of the Internet and online technologies, a whole new world has been opened to us. Everyone can win a Super Bowl ring, compete in the NBA Finals, hit one out of the park at the World Series, score a hat trick in the Stanley Cup finals, capture the flag at the NASCAR championship, and sink one at the Masters. We can also storm a medieval castle, take part in a Navy SEAL mission, play a game of chess, or rescue Middle Earth from Sauron's orc army with friends from all over the world. The beauty of this virtual world is that a player’s limitations can be invisible. All that matters is having fun. Game on!
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