Becky Tyler is 15 years old and has severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy. For most of her life, playing games such as Minecraft has been almost impossible because she can’t control the muscles in her body. But some recent tech developments by former AbilityNet Tech4Good (T4G) winner SpecialEffect have changed this.
SpecialEffect, the charity which won the T4G AbilityNet Accessibility Award and Winner of Winners Award in 2014, has developed new software called EyeMine for the hugely popular video game Minecraft. Combined with eye gaze/ eye tracker equipment, it enables people with limited mobility to play the game using just their eyes. Becky has been involved in developing and testing the software (the BBC recorded Becky playing Minecraft with her eyes - the video is here).
The Windows-based EyeMine created as open source software by the charity is free to download for anyone with a Minecraft account. It works with any eye tracker that can control a mouse pointer, including low-cost units like Tobii 4C, says Mick Donegan, CEO and founder of SpecialEffect.
"My eyes become like my computer mouse,” says Becky. “If I stare long enough, that clicks the mouse. It’s changed my life and given me some independence. It has allowed me to develop my creative talents and it has meant I can be totally included in the fun. It has also meant I have more in common with my friends; I think it’s changed the way my friends see me. It makes me feel less disabled.
The software has a number of ability levels. If players are able to use eye gaze to select a square button about a quarter of the height of a monitor, they should be able to walk, fly and attack, says SpecialEffect. More accurate eye control enables players to build, select items from the inventory and chat.
How do eye trackers/ eye gaze work?
Eye-trackers have in-built infrared cameras which track where your eyes are looking, letting a user move the mouse pointer around on the screen. The user can 'click' by dwelling (staring at a screen button for a certain length of time) or by using a switch that’s plugged in to the computer. SpecialEffect’s EyeMine software harnesses this control specifically to play Minecraft. You can watch tutorials here.
EyeMine is a fork of the opensource OptiKey project, which was a finalist in last year's Tech4Good Awards. It has been tested and developed with the help of a number of people with physical disabilities, such as Becky.
Donegan says: “So many young people play Minecraft. We wanted to use all the skills we’ve built up to make such software available open source so that everyone can be included in the fun as an equal player.”
Special Effect has also been working on similar projects, such as making the game Day of the Tentacle eye-gaze accessible.
What you need to play Minecraft with your eyes:
- A Windows PC with Windows 7 or above (see more on the minimum spec for Minecraft). EyeMine software isn't compatible with online or games console versions of Minecraft.
- An eye-tracker device. Any of these eye-trackers mentioned by special Effect will provide full functionality. Any eye tracker with its own software that allows a user to control the mouse will also work, but with more limited functionality.
- A Minecraft account. If you don’t have a Minecraft account, you can try EyeMine to make sure the target sizes are appropriate before purchasing one.