If you were told of three 15-year-olds – one of them with a visually-challenged sibling – designing and building a multi-sensory game for those with visual impairments, you might think it’s all too ‘filmy.’
For Yashovardhan Kothari, Dev Kapashi and Dhruv Jhaveri from Mumbai in Maharashtra, it was more of an emotional need than the desire to do anything extraordinary.
Moksha, Dhruv’s visually-challenged younger brother, had to stay out of all their board games. “We so wanted to bring the joy and excitement of playing board games to Moksha,” say the trio. ‘Vision Beyond,’ a tactile and sensory board-game that caters to children with visual impairments, has earned a thumbs-up from Moksha and is geared to go out into the market.
It all started about a year ago when, during a casual meet up, the friends were disturbed by the fact that they had no choice but to leave Moksha out when they sat down for a round of board games. Moksha’s family had tried buying some games for him and had done quite a bit of research into what’s available in the market. By then, it was evident that most of these Braille-supported and tactile games were not available in India and were expensive. They were not easy to use and Moksha didn’t seem particularly keen on playing them.
“What if we could build a game for him?” – that was a moment of brainwave that set them off on a passionate journey. Yashovardhan says, “We wanted to build a game that could be easily played by the visually challenged. There was no point in giving a very complex game that they would need assistance with. The main thing is that it had to be interesting.”
Yashovardhan adds that once the actual work started, they had to take other factors into consideration. “Besides being user-friendly, we wanted it to be portable and reasonably priced. The game had to help in their interaction with society; if they could buy it at a reasonable price and carry it with them, they would be able to play with everyone and not feel isolated.”
Now that the picture was gaining in clarity, they drew up a plan of action. Says Dev, “we decided to work on three things. One was the size, the other was the price and the third was simplicity. We decided to create a very interesting game without too many buttons or too many notifications.”
The next step was to play as many games as possible and find out the pros and cons of the available variations. “We were playing games like crazy,” says Yashovardhan. “I also looked at their operating system and decided that there should be a game that can be played ‘physically,’ sans multiple buttons and complicated mechanism. Then we decided to make an ‘electronic-base computer game.’ We planned the general structure on the lines of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’- super-hit quiz format that is also charmingly simple and interactive. We created a general knowledge-based game using the programming language Python.”
In order to get a better grasp of the difficulties and challenges faced by visually challenged children, the teenagers went to schools for the differently-abled, held discussions with visually challenged children, and understood what problems they faced while playing games. Then, they started designing the game, piece by little piece. Work began on building a table-size electronically run game. For at least a year-and-a-half, the young programmers worked on the game as if possessed. There were hurdles to overcome. Building the database, coding and running trials and re-trials were on constant repeat mode until they were certain they had a sound and fail-safe system. Gruelling as it was, there was not a dull moment, vouch the dedicated team. At the end of it all, they had a prototype in hand which they named ‘Vision Beyond.’
Ask how they managed this while doing their regular study and Yashovardhan is all smiles. "It is one thing to come up with an idea, but translating it into reality is not an easy task. The three of us were obsessed with the idea of building this game." He adds that building the product of their imagination was not easy. "Sketching, learning a coding language, creating 3D modules, importing voice, constant trial and error were all challenging. I now understand what it means when people say that though an idea seems simple, realising it could be a very interesting and challenging journey. It was just so for us too.”
Dev adds, “During this time we brainstormed so much, read a lot, talked to each other about our ideas. We also studied market surveys, what people want, what is available in the market today, what is not, what is needed. We brainstormed on it again and again. And at the same time, we enjoyed the work and understood how to tackle challenges.”
The trio points out what they consider to the biggest USP of 'Vision Beyond' - it is not dependent on Braille. "Not all the visually challenged people know Braille in our country. Therefore, this game has been made interactive so that even those who do not know Braille can play this game," they say. The team is now working on making the game available to visually challenged children.
Game is ready, what next?
Yash, Dev, and Dhruv say, “We want this game to reach as many children as possible, we want that they should have fun playing it. The game should go into manufacturing or mass production now. It should be available in the market. We are also considering donating this game to the organisations working for the visually challenged. We will also work hard to ensure that this game reached as many visually challenged friends as possible.”
• ‘Vision Beyond’ is a quiz game for visually challenged.
• Four, two or even one person can play this game at a time.
• Every next level becomes competitive and points are scored.
• Not all the visually challenged people know Braille. Therefore, this game has been made interactive so that even those who do not know Braille can play this game.
• For more information on this 3D printed game, please visit: http://visionbeyond.org.in/