The New York City Marathon will have a new videogame on display this weekend that will enable people, including those in wheelchairs, to race one another in place using a Dance Dance Revolution-like touchpad.
The interactive game, which will be set-up near the finish line in Manhattan’s Central Park, was created by NYC Marathon sponsor TCS, which is behind a number of new NYC Marathon app upgrades this year, including behind-the-scenes prediction software for race winners.
Called Marathon City, the game will match up two players at a time, who will be able to pick from a selection of avatars, including avatars in wheelchairs. They’ll race through a digital rendering of the final 200 meters of the NYC Marathon course in Central Park.
On the screen, runners will use controller pads at their feet and will run in place to propel their characters. This is similar to the way a gamer might have used the Nintendo Power Pad in the 1990’s to race avatars on the original Nintendo, or the way dancers might compete in arcades.
There’s also a mechanism for people in wheelchairs that acts as a sort-of bike trainer, allowing them to spin in place. TCS engineers adjusted the calibrations so that a person in a wheelchair will moves more slowly than they would in real life, allowing those on their feet to compete.
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Michelle Taylor, head of sports sponsorships at TCS, said the game will likely find its way to New York Road Runners’ youth programs as part of a broader effort to promote health and fitness. The wheelchair accessibility is also part of both organizations’ efforts to promote inclusiveness, especially since the marathon already has a wheelchair division.
“It’s really opened up a conversation about inclusion in gaming,” Taylor said. “We wanted it to be inclusive, so we created wheeler avatars, and we wanted to have a way for them to participate in the game in an authentic way.”
When TCS began developing Marathon City, it found few other games, especially active games, that accommodated people of different abilities. Though the game was tricky and expensive to build out, Taylor said TCS and the marathon believe it was well-worth the investment.
“From what we can tell, it’s one of the first games that have been adapted for wheelchair input,” she said. “We’re excited to test it out, to get some kids on it, and hopefully get some pro-athlete wheelers into the game and have fun with it.”