Project Gameface has arrived: A new tool makes gaming accessible to me

Google's new AI-based program is a game changer, columnist Brianna Albers says

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by Brianna Albers |

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The banner for Brianna Albers' column depicts a wolf howling against a background of mountains and trees, with the words

I woke up to a text from my friend Sherry: “Babe, you should try this new accessibility tool that just came out. It might help you game!”

When it comes to video games, Sherry is the smartest person I know. She freelances as a journalist in the gaming industry and has several big-ticket bylines to her name. If anyone knows how to game with SMA, it’s Sherry.

Throughout our friendship, Sherry has tried numerous times to troubleshoot my gaming problems. We have the same disease, and thus encounter similar obstacles when it comes to working with — not against — our bodies. While Sherry has made do with a specific kind of gaming mouse, I haven’t been able to find something accessible to me.

Enter the accessibility tool that Sherry mentioned: Project Gameface.

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A free, open-source tool, Project Gameface uses artificial intelligence technology to map an individual’s facial features. Users can program the tool to recognize certain expressions as a keyboard command. An open mouth becomes the letter W, while a raised eyebrow becomes the letter X or Y or virtually any other key. You can even control your mouse cursor. And the best part? It requires nothing but a working webcam.

Project Gameface isn’t the first of its kind. I’ve tried a variety of tools over the years, from eye-tracking technology to speech-to-text programs that were supposed to help me write a million words a minute. So I wasn’t getting my hopes up. While Project Gameface sounded cool, I knew better than to pin everything on a so-called accessibility tool.

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to perform the necessary facial expressions, but Sherry encouraged me to try, so I installed the program. Controlling the mouse cursor with my face was tricky, to say the least, but I was more interested in the keyboard shortcuts. On a whim, I booted up one of my favorite games, “Stars Wars Jedi: Fallen Order,” to test things out.

It took me a good hour to fine-tune the settings. Even then, I wasn’t playing the game so much as running around in circles and face-diving off cliffs. But it was something. And it was more than I ever thought possible. Despite being one of my favorite games, I’d never actually played “Fallen Order” — I was always watching other people play.

It wasn’t lost on me that, for the first time ever, I could do whatever I wanted. I wasn’t beholden to anyone.

By the end of the night, I was platforming with ease, having combined Project Gameface with my on-screen keyboard (OSK). I wasn’t great by any means, but I was playing independently. It was a dream come true.

While playing “Fallen Order” was a joy, what I really wanted was to play the sequel, “Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.” It had everything I wanted from a “Star Wars” story, and with over 40 hours of gameplay, it was the perfect title for me to lose myself in. I could only assume I’d be able to play, given my success with “Fallen Order,” but there was only one way to find out.

Downloading the game was torturous. But finally, after hours of waiting, I booted the game and realized …

I could play.

Project Gameface won’t address all my problems. Games still have to be OSK-compatible for me to play them. Fortunately, more and more developers are recognizing the importance of accessibility. “Survivor,” released on April 28, is far more accessible than its predecessor, allowing users to customize the game in accordance with their needs. It might not be much, but it’s a place to start.

I don’t pretend to understand the gaming industry. That’s more Sherry’s wheelhouse. But I do know that Project Gameface is a game changer — not only for me, but for people like me, told from the outset that gaming simply wasn’t for them.

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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