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Making Accessible Games with Twine Audio

I’ve written about both Twine and Twine 2 as platforms that are very friendly to completely new developers and those who haven’t previously programmed, but Twine is also a platform that can offer accessibility from the user end. All text-based games build with well-structured HTML have a strong potential to be fairly easily manipulated through adaptive technologies, including screen readers. Whenever we’re thinking about integrating a new technology into teaching and learning, it’s important to consider its accessibility. This can mean considering principles of universal design, as George Williams has discussed several times on ProfHacker in the past, as well as the needs of specific user groups. Games as a whole are all over the place in their accessibility, which can make some games less usable for many users.

Recently I’ve been working with a team of students and faculty specifically building a game for low-vision users. We immediately turned to Twine as a rapid prototyping platform, but Twine does present some interface challenges: Twine uses internal links and often relies on a lot of mouse-based manipulation of specific words as part of gameplay. Given our intended users, we wanted to take advantage of the best aspects of Twine for quick prototyping while switching to audio as the primary way of communicating.

We found an open source project for accomplishing just that: Twine Audio. Twine Audio was developed by DJ White as an extension for Twine that loads in as a normal Twine game file, but with several pre-coded elements that control audio integration and key-based controls. You can see White’s demo of the Twine Audio extension, Grail to the Thief, online. To build a game with Twine Audio, you’ll need a Twine project that’s built in a Choose Your Own Adventure style — each choice should be numbered so that players can use the keyboard to choose what to do next. You’ll also need to record a voice-over narration for each passage, which is also an opportunity to add in sound effects and character acting. (For an example of how sound effects alone can be used to build game environments, check out the audio-only adventure game Blindside.)

After that labor-intensive portion of the process is complete, every sound file gets loaded in on the first passage, and played on the relevant page. The scripting is minimal and overall the process is only a little more complicated than building any Twine game. The AbleGamers charity has a number of resources for developers and gamers interested in accessibility in gaming more generally. Implementing truly accessible design in low or no-budget projects can seem daunting, particularly when large corporations and even universities often fail to achieve universal design principles in big-budget interactive design. However, the thinking behind a tool like Twine Audio can be a way to bridge that gap.

Have you built or taught with a great accessible game? Share your examples in the comments!

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Andrew Kuchling]

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