Moving beyond controllers
Special Effect believes that every person and every disability is different. With that in mind, they work hard to adapt, develop, and create customized technology that allows people with a wide range of disabilities to play and enjoy games with ease. Their StarGaze project allows people with paralysis to control games simply by gazing at specific parts of the screen while their work with systems like Xbox Kinect allow people to play games with little more than hand gestures and voice commands.
Eurogamer’s Johnny Minkley illustrates rather well the breakthroughs Special Effect has made in his article From PM to Players: The Word Is Out On Accessible Gaming. In it, Minkley talks about how recent support from major players such as the U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron helps keep what Special Effect is doing in the spotlight and he goes into detail on the sort of diversity Special Effect is capable of when it comes to helping others.
He talks about Alex, a young man with spinal muscular atrophy who, after mentioning Special Effect to his therapist, can now enjoy games such as Football Manager and Star Wars: The Old Republic thanks to a combination of eye-gaze, voice control, and a simple switch. Alex has even gone a step further and enrolled in a game design course. And then there is Ellie, a young girl whose disability robbed her of the strength to hold a Wii controller. Thanks to Special Effect, she now sports a specially modified controller and is back to doing what she does best: thrashing her friends in Mario Kart and Just Dance. And finally he talks about Gareth, a boy who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy but who can still play games using his chin. These and other examples are just a small glimpse into all the good Special Effect has done both through funding and through cutting edge development.
Bringing down barriers
The benefits that gaming can bring to people with disabilities extend far beyond mere entertainment. While games can certainly help disabled individuals work through uncomfortable and sometimes painful treatment, they can also offer another important dynamic that most people tend to take for granted: a social outlet. In an era where staying connected and sharing data has become a way of life, games offer a way for people with disabilities to stay in touch with friends and family and even share their gaming experiences with them. Games also allow people with disabilities to digitally reassert their identities since online communities will evaluate them solely on their skill in a given game and not by their handicaps or disabilities.
These online social opportunities allow disabled gamers to avoid a lot of the social stigma that they can sometimes feel when in public and the elements of teamwork and cooperation fostered in many online games and communities can have dramatically positive effects on a person who’s confined to a bed or hospital. When you’re in a digital playing space, all that matters is how much you can contribute to the overall goal and this applies just as much to those with disabilities as those without.
One step at a time
Words cannot begin to measure the amount of good that organizations such as Child’s Play and Special Effect do every day but they are still just a small part in an even larger picture. Designing controllers and raising money are a great start but they also give us a glimpse into the possibilities of what the end goal could look like. Could games one day be used as physical or psychological therapy? Could they help military veterans readjust to a civilian lifestyle or recover from injuries sustained in war? The feats and accomplishments of organizations such as Child’s Play and Special Effect are proof enough that sometimes dreaming big can lead to some truly amazing realities, maybe it’s time we all took a page from their book.