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The GamePad Helped My Daughter Play Her First Game (and She's Almost Blind)

Well, it has finally happened.  My daughter has been BEGGING me to let her play videogames for quite awhile now, but even I couldn't figure out a way for her to really enjoy the games because of a few "issues".  You see, my daughter is pretty close to blind and can only focus within a few inches of her face, even with very thick glasses, and has an anoxic brain injury from birth.  

Jennifer kept yelling "I'm Doing It!" (she's on the right)Since her birth we have always been told many things she can't do.  The list is almost a cliche now, but still worth noting in my opinion.  She was 13.6 oz at birth (for reference, a single pound is only 16oz itself) and we were told she would not live, she would not walk, run, talk, learn, read, etc...and she has done every one.  She has her challenges for sure, but she is the happiest kid I have ever seen and more of a morning person than I think is legally allowed.  

But with gaming I originally thought she just had no interest in it but that changed as she would want to hang out with us playing more and more until she finally started directly asking "Daddy...I want to play a game too!".  I had played with some ideas while reading about games like "Real Sound: Regrets in the Wind" from WARP in Japan on the Dreamcast back when she was younger and was thankful there were ideas being used to allow for games without the visuals which would at least let her experience gaming in a way, but I was still frustrated on what to do about "normal" gaming that she watched me and the family do on the big living room TV.  

She was getting better at watching movies without having to literally have her nose against the TV to focus with us, but she still preferred to have her smaller TV in the bedroom where she watches her Muppet Show again and again.  I had tried some games on that little TV, but she wanted us all to play like she would see which lead to the issue of us having to try and see the tiny screen that was not blocked almost 100% by her.  She needed her own display and we needed a larger TV.  I was frustrated as hell.  

Back when the Wii U was launched, I had hoped for things like Netflix allowing us to stream a movie to the TV as well as display it on the GamePad simultaneously so Jen could have her own display and sit on the couch with the rest of us to enjoy a movie.  This ended up not being the case, but the seed was planted for the GamePad being a display that could move with her.  

I looked through the library of Wii U games as they were released to find something we could play together in this way but could not find anything that would work.  New Super Mario Bros U had the feature, but she would die pretty quick and became frustrated.  It wasn't what we wanted.  But when I got home last Sunday with my new boxed copy of New Super Luigi U in hand, I had an epiphany about the new character that Nintendo decided to replace its signature plumber Mario with...Nabbit.  

Nabbit is different because this character is basically invulnerable.  I'm talking you can run about the screen and you will just pass around enemies without being "bumped" or "tossed" anywhere so you are free to move about.  This lead to a character Jennifer could play and run with, but without the frustrations that plagued her before.  She still can fall into a hole, but then Nabbit is tossed into a bubble and she gets to "shake" the remote to let us pop it which she thought was hilarious.  I was amazed at how quickly she picked up the mechanics and started jumping gaps and running about.  I would smile as she got her face so close to the screen that a platform would pop up when her nose tapped it from time to time before she figured out it was a touch screen too.  

 People complain and argue that the GamePad is an unnecessary accessory on a system that is failing to launch fast enough.  They complained that the Wii Remote was too simple and could not allow for "proper" gaming.  Yet here I sit able to say that the Nintendo Wii U...with it's GamePad and ability to use the Wii's Remotes has led to me playing a game with my daughter directly for the first time. Where at night when my wife goes to work at the hospital me and the boys could join into a 3 player game while my daughter would watch a movie finally have a 4th player.  We are together and my daughter has broken another "she can't".

The Wii U may have just become my favorite system in history.  

EDIT: In case you are wondering, Jennifer has what is called "Retinopathy of Prematurity Stage 4" and has had two surgeries to reattach her retina as best they could.

EDIT 2: Got some video tonight of all four of us playing together. Enjoy!

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Reader Comments (8)

That's a pretty huge milestone, congrats! Have you ever considered letting her try some games on a handheld with a bigger screen like the DSi XL?

August 27, 2013 | Registered Commenternobody

I have, but she gets frustrated with the controls sometimes and wants to play along with us directly. Nothing really worked out until this perfect storm of an invincible character (Nabbit), her having her own screen (GamePad), a simple control scheme she can grasp (Wii Mote), and she gets to play with me and the boys like she always asks to do. I'm just glad we can finally include her with us! Once she gets more comfortable with it, I will start to work her into playing the original NES Super Mario Bros on her own. I think she will be able to play that some eventually.

August 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterJeremy Powers

Your daughter has a wonderful smile!

Don't know if it was created correctly, but hey! It can't hurt! Here's for more smiles for her and others!


August 28, 2013 | Registered Commentersir roman

Thank you so much Sir Roman! I signed the petition as well. Never thought about doing it, but couldn't say no when it was there! lol

August 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterJeremy Powers

I'm glad this article received so much positive press! It's wonderful that you're able to include your daughter into the family games now. I hope this goes all the way to Good Morning America!

Reading about this has made me want to develop some sort of game she could play that incorporates some elementary platforming and collection quests. I think we could do some non-lethal playing fields to practice roaming in. In other words, no falling to your death, or getting hit by a hammer- in essence, nothing that resets her player visually from one place to another.

Imagine this-
Shortly before reaching a ledge, the controller will rumble three times, like little speed bumps. The bumps will be accompanied by a tone that has three seperate tones: a tone to represent the height of the platform you're on, a tone to describe the lowest platform below you, and a third tone to describe the distance between. A short tone drop means you've got a platform right under you. A short tone rise means you'll need to jump upwards just a little. A series of tones that are really far spread apart would denote you're approaching a huge drop.
You can also use tones when jumping. For example, say you decide to jump straight up in the air. In a directional sense, you're jumping along a 90° axis. Now say you're jumping from one ledge to another. and you launch out at a 45° angle. These two different angles would possess different tones. There could even be a different tone that changes every angle. Might want to wrap that into a vector of the angle by considering the velocity of the jump. The mind is amazing in its ability to decode patterns.
And then simple things could also help- perhaps in the future nintendo would see the wisdom of creating high-contrast versions of the game for people with poor eyesight. Bright platforms, minimalist backgrounds, possible even nerfed mobility (a cloud that carries you over gaps?) You could incorporate proximity alerts for your enemies, letting her "see" how far away an enemy is. She could even find out what kind of enemy it is with a little animal sound that fires off as soon as she's within 200px of the enemy. It would sorta be like the little combat thingy from Windwaker, where you had to wait for the green spark and little tone.
Anyhow, let me know what you think! I would love to work on something like this.

Oh yeah, I wonder how she'd manage with an Oculous Rift! It has tons of settings, it might be just the ticket.

August 29, 2013 | Registered Commenterhaven rocket

Good article and a touching story about your daughter.

I noticed how you said you were hoping for a way to simultaneously stream video to the Gamepad and the TV screen. There's a little program for mac and windows called Vidiiu Streamer that lets you stream movie files over a wi-fi network from a computer to your WiiU. The video streams simultaneously on the TV and Gamepad. You just use your WiiU internet browser to navigate to your computer's IP address and you can watch all video files in a certain folder.

My wife and I use it a lot to watch movies, and I always thought it was a little annoying that it streams to BOTH the TV and the Gamepad. But it sounds like that might be a feature that would be very nice in your situation.

The website for VidiiU Streamer is here:

The download link is like the 7th tweet down. But here's the Windows download link he posted if you don't wanna bother looking for it

The program itself is pretty good at walking you through the process of getting it set up. Of course you'd only be able to do this with video files on your computer, so that rules out netflix. But I thought it might still be useful to you.

All the best.

August 29, 2013 | Registered CommenterL J

LJ, I will check it out for sure. Thanks!

August 29, 2013 | Registered CommenterJeremy Powers

Hi Jeremy, my name is Nate Ramsey.

I'm an avid gamer, a fellow Nintendo geek, and I was born without my left hand. I started playing on the Atari 2600, and have figured out adapted ways to operate every controller since then. I play pretty well too, and complete most games on the highest difficulty (you can check out my Xbox Live tag "npramsey" if you're curious about my achievements). Needless to say, I can relate to your daughter!

Incidentally, I also recently graduated from the University at Buffalo with a master's degree in occupational therapy and an advanced graduate certificate in assistive and rehabilitation technology. I did a 3 month fieldwork affiliation with the UB Center for Assistive Technology, and I have had the privilege of working with widely-renowned service providers and researchers. One of my missions in life to advocate for better accessibility of video games. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of professionals in the healthcare, assistive technology, or video game industries who are working toward this goal. I'm feeling a little alone here.

It's great that you have adapted the technology of the WiiU to help your daughter play, and you have done another amazing thing by raising awareness about the issue. If you're interested, there's two things I can do with you:

1. I'd like to work collaboratively with you as an advocate for video game accessibility, if you're interested. You have already done a great job of capturing public attention and interest. Media outlets have picked up on your story, and the video game industry is paying attention to what you have to say. You could help other people like your daughter by continuing to raise awareness. I've always wanted to organize a conference about video game accessibility - something that could be attended by people who work in the video game industry, assistive technology, software, hardware, healthcare, and the media. We might have keynote speakers, round-table discussions, hands-on demos of technology, and educational pamphlets. In addition to all that, I'd like to tell the personal stories of people who use adapted methods to play games, which is where you might want to come in. An event like this might be integrated into something like E3 or PAX, if there was enough support for the project. I'm still in the very, VERY early stages of planning, but if you'd ever be interested in getting involved, please let me know! I feel way out of my league, so I need to put a team together, composed of people from every stakeholder group.

2. With my experience and education, I can also offer a few suggestions about technologies that might improve access for your daughter, expand the range of games that she can play, and perhaps help improve her abilities. I can also offer advice about positioning that would help her with function and ergonomics (especially posture, to protect her lower back). In addition to my work with assistive technology and occupational therapy, I have also spent my entire life coming up with my own adaptations to play games one-handed. Out of pure necessity, I have gotten pretty good at some of this stuff.

Sorry for the length of this message, but your post and videos really spoke to me on a personal level. If you aren't interested in either of my offers, then please accept a sincere THANK YOU for sharing this! You can email me at npramsey@yahoo.com if you'd like to speak more.

August 31, 2013 | Registered CommenterNathan Ramsey
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