In order to encourage better physical activity and health among the visually challenged, a new video game research project, called VI Fit, has been developed by the University of Nevada, Reno.
The human-computer interaction research team has developed a motion-sensing-based tennis and bowling exergame that can be downloaded for free at www.vifit.org.
"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," said Eelke Folmer, research team leader.
Exergames are a new type of video game that use physical activity as input and are considered powerful weapons in the fight against obesity.
Unfortunately, exergames have not yet been accessible to children with visual impairments, although it is evident they could benefit from them the most.
"Our games are adaptations of the popular Nintendo Wii Sports exercise games that have been modified so they can be played without visual feedback," said Folmer.
VI Tennis and VI Bowling are the first of several games to be made available.
VI Tennis implements the gameplay of Wii sports tennis providing audio and vibrotactile cues that indicate when to serve and when to return the ball.
It can be played against the computer or against a friend using two Wii remotes.
"VI Tennis was evaluated at Camp Abilities in New York with 13 children who were blind. We found our game to engage children into levels of active energy expenditure that were high enough to be considered healthy, which shows the feasibility of using video games as a health-intervention method," said Folmer.
The gameplay of Wii sports bowling is implemented through VI Bowling with a novel motor-learning feature that allows players to find the direction in which to throw their ball using vibrotactile feedback.
Audio and speech effects are used to indicate the result of each throw. VI Bowling was evaluated with six adults and was found to yield levels of active energy expenditure that are comparable to walking.
Compared to the general population, individuals with visual impairments have even fewer opportunities to engage in physical activities that provide the amounts and kinds of stimulation needed to maintain adequate fitness and support a healthy standard of living.
The researchers are exploring alternative forms of interaction that allow individuals with visual impairments to play exercise games and to increase their participation in physical activity.