Virtual gaming is crossing over, as Harvard researchers developed a gaming system for blind individuals to traverse and create maps in obscure territories so they can improve their navigation skills.

"For the blind, finding your way or navigating in a place that is unfamiliar presents a real challenge," said Lotfi Merabet, a clinician-neuroscientist for The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary at Harvard Medical School. "As people with sight, we can capture sensory information through our eyes about our surroundings. For the blind that is a real challenge... the blind will typically use auditory and tactile cues."

While still working the typical keyboard and headphones, the game's only difference is that sound is key to winning. Participants first have to learn to identify sounds to objects, which tell them their relative locations and develop a spatial understanding.  The individuals then undergo the game play in a real physical environment, like a building, where they are told to find gems and carry them out of the location safely without running into monsters that would attempt to take it away.   

"We have developed software called ABES, the Audio Based Environment Simulator that represents the actual physical environment of the Carol Center for the Blind in Newton Massachusetts," Merabet said. "The participants will use the game metaphor to get a sense of the whole building through open discovery, allowing people to learn room layouts more naturally than if they were just following directions."

The scientists are attempting to create the same technology for Wii remote or joystick users. 

Currently, nearly 285 million people in the world are visually impaired, where 90% live in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization.  In the United States, 20 million are living with vision loss while 6 million are completely blind.  

The game would probably be difficult for a sighted person to play.  However, researchers did create a video that breaks down the steps in the Journal of Visualized Experiments