Audio Computer Games Could Help Blind People

By playing audio-based computer games focusing on virtual navigation, individuals who are blind may be able to improve real-world navigation skills, according to a new report published in AER Journal: Research and Practice in Visual Impairment and Blindness.

The report's authors question the classically held assumption that individuals who are blind must have difficulty rendering spatial environments because of lack of visual cues. The authors investigated this idea through audio-based virtual navigation in the form of computer gaming.

The investigation centered around the use of two computer games and the trial of a third. AudioDoom and AudioMetro aim to develop a gamer's ability to navigate a labyrinth and a subway system, respectively, based on audio cues. In this study, a gamer played one of the two games, then used blocks to attempt to re-create the route taken in the game. The gamers demonstrated a high level of success in faithfully re-creating the paths, suggesting that they were also successful in creating cognitive spatial maps.

The third game was Audio-Based Environment Stimulator, which can generate almost any type of physical space desired, including furniture and obstacles. One test subject's pilot data indicated a strong ability to transfer cognitive spatial knowledge to real-world navigation by finding objects in a physical building.

Coupled with this research was the use of neuroimaging. The Audio-Based Environment Stimulator was adapted to be played within an MRI scanner. Initial tests showed that when an individual was expected to navigate to a particular target, brain activity was associated not only with the expected auditory and sensory-motor regions, but also with the visual, frontal, and parietal cortexes and the hippocampus.

The authors do not view audio-based computer games as a replacement for current rehabilitative techniques. They hope this research will provide a complementary technique for more controlled, risk-free scenarios.

To read more about this study, "Audio-Based Navigation Using Virtual Environments: Combining Technology and Neuroscience," visit http://allenpress.com/system/files/pdfs/emails/2009/08/aerj-02-03-128-137.pdf

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