Playing it by ear: serious gaming for better hearing

To improve the hearing quality of hearing impaired individuals, regular training is important. Unfortunately, patients (especially children) are quickly bored by traditional training programs. Additionally, their social and communicative skills, including cognitive control of emotion and motivation, are often less developed. The aim of this project is to explore the potential benefit of gamification to make (computer-based) training applications for hearing impaired children more appealing, and therefore more effective. Mechanisms that will be investigated include fantasy (e.g., using role play), rewards (e.g., the possibility to obtain points or items), and challenge (e.g., controlling the difficulty level).

Despite the most sophisticated hearing aids, hearing impaired people experience difficulties in speech understanding, particularly in difficult hearing situations like noisy environments. Especially in the trajectory of rehabilitation, training is important. However, after years of being tested, (young) patients are quickly bored by traditional training programs. To make training applications more appealing and, therefore more effective, gamification can be an adequate method. However, with hearing impaired children showing less engagement than their normal hearing peers, it is an open question if and how gamification of speech perception training can be of added value for this target group.
The project Playing it by ear made some important steps towards answering this question. In particular, a prototype has been developed of a serious game for speech perception training. The game consists of three mini-games that use existing methods from audiology testing, as they focus on discrimination and identification of minimal pairs of phonemes in non-words and words, and the understanding of words both in isolation and in sentences. Using an adaptive mechanism, stimuli are presented in different noise levels depending on the performance of the gamer, using different types of noise. This all takes place in the scenery of an appealing setting for children: space. An initial version of the game has been presented as a poster presentation at the opening of the Language and Hearing Centre Amsterdam. In addition to the game, an experiment has been designed enabling future researchers to evaluate the usability as well as the effectiveness of the game in comparison to several baseline conditions.