“Our mission is to help everybody with physical disabilities to be able to game… we’re doing that, one person at a time.”
Special Effect is the perfect example to illustrate how gaming really can change lives. Working hard to explore, modify and adapt gaming equipment and games development, the Special Effect charity work with disabled gamers to include them in the world of gaming. Mark Saville from Special Effect told Forge Press about the work of the charity and how they hope to change the gaming landscape, one player at a time.
Special Effect works directly with each gamer who approaches them, and Saville feels this the most effective way to do their work. When contacted by an individual, Saville describes that they look at “individual physical abilities, and then work on matching those abilities to the games they want to play”. Adaptive controllers do exist for purchase externally, but creating an adaptive controller can only be effective for so many disabled gamers; different conditions can affect fine-motor abilities in different ways. As described by Saville, the charity has been approached by gamers with conditions varying from cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy in their teens, to people who have hypersensitivity in their fingertips or recovering from a stroke. The one-to-one interaction and free service at delivery which Special Effect is built upon make their services unique in gaming.
Looking beyond the adaptive controllers, Special Effect’s work doesn’t only change the way we view games, it’s also potentially industry-changing. The gaming industry caters very little to people with disabilities, it largely doesn’t consider that the audience may not be able bodied, and accessibility options are only really beginning to surface. Yet the first-hand experience the charity gains from working with disabled gamers has meant that they are also able to assist developers in prioritising the accessibility of their products.
“There’s quite a range [of companies] who have asked for our help in various degrees” Saville explains, “whether that’s a quick phone call in terms of our top 3 priorities for accessibility, or actually working over a period of several months and years and really getting involved in the development process.” The charity is also becoming increasingly involved at the development stage of games, as Saville describes. “If we can get that built in early, it means so many more people can be helped across the world once that product is sold.”
As gaming evolves, keeping up with technology changes poses both a challenge and an opportunity for the charity. Virtual reality is opening up new ways that people with disabilities can use technology to have immersive experiences, but Special Effect are always thinking of ways in which the technology can be pushed further to reach a wider level of accessibility; “we’re looking at the integration of eye control within VR so you can give people a lot more control within that environment, so even in such a wonderful new environment there’s still steps we can take”.
It is this mentality that could generate massive cultural change in gaming. As part the growing movement for representation in entertainment platforms, charities like Special Effect highlight the need to include disability in these conversations; not only for consideration in representation, but also in accessibility and participation.
The industry needs to be held accountable for the community it creates and should actively explore opportunities to widen accessibility. Saville remarks that “the advent of courses in gaming at universities has the potential to be a great vehicle for introducing the awareness for these kinds of considerations really early”.
Any gamer knows about the effect of escapism that games can bring: the secret which keeps the industry alive and fans enthralled. Yet in this lies further opportunity to help change lives. Special Effect is a vehicle for disabled gamers to be invited into the world of gaming and especially for some, have directly provided great levels of solace and enjoyment otherwise thought impossible or limited due to their disabling conditions.
“Some of the people we work with, who have very severe disabilities, really have very little quality of life” says Saville, “and more importantly they have very little quality of inclusion”. He highlights that giving people the ability to play games independently can give back self-esteem and confidence, and also change the dynamic of their family life; “It’s also the effect on the people around them, the families and the friends. Brothers and sisters are now able to play against each other and play together. It gives parents a bit of respite!”
The importance of this level of inclusion and the life changing work that Special Effect does is evident in the feedback they receive. “We helped a little lad with cerebral palsy play FIFA for the first time” Saville recalled, “and at the end of that session, totally unprompted, he stopped and said ‘thank you for making my dream come true’. I’ve had a father say to me, ‘thank you for making me feel so much better that my daughter can be independent through games’. It’s an honour. It really is an honour to work with these people”.
Accessible Gaming Wishlist
Special Effect want developers to consider integrating options to create more accessible games. We really recommend checking out their 20 recommendations at https://www.specialeffect.org.uk/accessible-gaming-wish-list
It opened our eyes to the issues of accessibility in gaming and how special games can be for everyone, if they are made correctly.