People's technology: video games for the disabled
A UK charity modifies computer game consoles so that disabled people can stay in the game
Maija Palmer, Carlos Homer, Richard Topping, Rajesh Hirani
Video games are a fun way to spend a couple of hours. They're a way to relax, to connect with friends, and some even say they're good for your brain. But what happens when you can't use a conventional game's controller, or a joystick?
I started playing games when I was a child. I remember having played consoles like the Sega Mega Drive, or the Sega Master System, which I used to play when I was a kid. Unfortunately, my disability got worse as I got older. So when I turned 16, my movement in my hands were completely reduced. So I wasn't able to use a control paddle, press the buttons anymore, so I couldn't play games.
So, I was looking on the internet to see if there were any kind of changes that may have been made by game developers, or even console manufacturers, to see if they had made anything to make it easier for people with impairments to play. And unfortunately, I couldn't find anything. All these big companies hadn't done enough to make it more inclusive for many disabled people to play games.
And while I was searching, I came across Special Effect, who, basically said they were able to adapt controls for you to play regular mainstream games and consoles.
Special Effect is a UK charity that modifies games' consoles so that they can be used by disabled gamers. It started with helping children play games. But now it includes any age.
As a teacher at a special school I realised how difficult it was, for children with severe physical disabilities, to be able to play independently, which is something so important for their psychological development, physical development, motivation, and a way to make friends. And they were really missing out on that.
The people, whether of any age, their any disability, they are at any stage of that disability, and they want to do any one of a range of-- play any one of a range of games, or do any one of a range of creative things. So once you add up all those variables, it comes into the millions. So, where we start is with that individual, say, what do you want, and what do you need? What can you do?
Modifications can involve anything from installing eye gaze tracking, to replacing the springs in a game's controller, to make it easier to move with a lip or a chin.
Here, we're trying different switches, tried some games, and they managed to find a solution that worked for me, like a kid in a candy shop again, wanting to play. Again, because it had been like I said, like, 20 years, 25 years since I played anything, or actually got really excited. Now I'm going to be able to do something different.
The general idea of video games is oh, it's not very important, it's trivial, it's superficial. And in some cases, they'll argue, it's harmful. Well actually, we've only seen the benefits of those. You do see, sometimes, quite an instant impact on that first visit.
I play games to actually get away from the real world and get away from problems, and the things you have to deal with in life, and just play games and just enjoy yourself, and just completely forget about everything. There's also a social aspect to it. I have some friends that play console games, and so you're able to talk to them online and maybe even play games with them.
For those people who can't get out of the house, or in hospitals, it's another way to be sociable, another other way to interact and compete with people, in a way that's very, very difficult without it.
Special Effect is also working to raise awareness in the games industry about how they could make games more accessible for disabled people.
Game companies and game developers are not aware of our situation, that disabled people are faced with, not being included and being able to play these video games.
Over time, more and more people from the games industry have begun to approach us for advice on how to make the games more easily playable.
Projects like this are a good reminder that, unlike some of the big technology companies, it's not always a case of one-size-fits-all. Technology is especially powerful when it's about the individual.