Developing Serious Games for Accessible Music Making

Alexander Horowitz, MSc Serious Games & Virtual Reality

Runner-up, GSA’s Sustainability in Action Group (SiAG) inaugural DDS Sustainability Degree Show Prize, 2016


Alexander Horowitz has developed an interesting, accessible game, working good partnership working, and is close to having a prototype application. The project has good social links to engaging a group that often finds communication with others difficult.

This research project explores the potential for serious games to be used to facilitate music making with nonprofessional
participants with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. The thesis aims to uncover the potential
barriers to accessibility that exist within existing software and hardware packages, as well as laying out the
necessary considerations when developing interactive digital experiences which allow users to perform, create,
manipulate, and playback music.

In addition to drawing from the fields of mainstream entertainment games and specially-designed
technologies, this research details the findings from working with the staff and participants of Drake Music
Scotland, a leading disability music-making charity based in Edinburgh, Scotland.


As a game developer with an academic background rooted in music and sound design, and with professional
experience of working as a workshop leader and facilitator for numerous community arts organisations, the
focus of this research project arose from my desire to amalgamate these fields to produce a piece of software
which could offer value to such an organisation, whilst exploring the needs of a specific user-base.

My first encounter with the work of Edinburgh-based disability music making charity Drake Music Scotland
came as a composition student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, with the outing of their
Technophonia project in 2012. Led by composer and conductor Dr Oliver Searle, the resulting performance
featured RCS musicians playing equally alongside Drake musicians, many of whom mitigated the effects of
physical and/or intellectual disabilities with the use of mainstream, adapted, or specially designed
technologies, with which Drake were keen to continue to explore in their work.

A screenshot from the completed iPad game, FigureFlight. Players press keys at
the bottom of the screen to play melodies at the top.

The initial aims of my practice-based research were to assess both the desires and requirements of the Drake
participants and workshop leaders, with the results of these assessments informing the design considerations
of a serious game to facilitate music making. Alongside my literature review and theoretical investigation, this
research has helped to inform the development of an accessible music game for the Apple iPad, a frequently
used device in Drake sessions.

A period of testing to assess this work by both Drake participants and staff as well as independent testers has
allowed me to gain useful insights from this practical research, emphasising both the strengths of this
development as well as the scope for further exploration. This report considers literature from the fields of
commercial video games, disability art and music making, serious game design, and user interface design, and
has greatly informed my practical development.


An accessible music game for the iPad has been developed for use with participants with Drake Music Scotland.
In observation sessions with players with a range of physical, sensory, and intellectual disabilities, FigureFlight
was evidenced to be an engaging, encouraging experience, with a well-structured series of challenges. The final
application was well understood by all of its players, and these individuals found the difficulty of the gameplay
to be at a suitable level. The design of FigureFlight and its implementation on the iPad were deemed to be
accessible to a great degree, with players interacting with confidence.

The resulting game has seen interest from a number of education providers, and further efforts are sure to be
made towards this development in the future. FigureFlight has recently been made a winner at the Curiosity
Awards, which are an incentive by Creative Scotland to pair game developers and artists with established
companies. This means Drake Music Scotland and myself have some funding available to continue to explore
iPad music games with the type of participants they have in their studio.

More on Alex’s work