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SpecialEffect News

15 Apr 2015

Not just for fun - accessible gaming days in Leeds

“You’re wasting ammunition again!”

Nathan’s rolling his eyes in mock frustration at Colin. The two of them are taking out a boss in Borderlands 2 together, but they’re controlling the same character cooperatively. Nathan, who has the use of one hand, is controlling the character's movement and aim. Colin, who can’t use his hands, is firing bullets via a headswitch that he’s using as a trigger. Next to them, Sam and (another) Nathan, two other gamers with disabilities, are getting to grips with each other onscreen in a brutal round of Tekken.

They’re part of a gaming group that’s emerged from the hard work of the William Merritt Centre in Leeds, a charity that advises on a huge range of equipment to help people live independently. Over the last few years the Centre has been working alongside SpecialEffect, not only to spread the word that disabilities needn’t necessarily be a barrier to enjoying video games, but to emphasise the positive benefits that can result from inclusion in video gaming.

I dropped in to one of their Accessible Gaming Days, which are afternoon sessions where anyone with a disability can try out equipment that might help them to make the most of video games. I could hear the laughter as soon as I entered the building, and the room they’d temporarily turned into a gaming room was full of young people, therapists, parents and carers - talking, playing games, drinking coffee, relaxing.

Below: (Bottom to top) Nathan, Nathan, Colin, Sam and Maxine gaming to the max at the William Merritt Centre 

Speaking to Colin and his sister Maxine, two of the driving forces behind the group, it’s immediately clear that playing games means much more than simply having fun. Colin has a metabolic disorder that means he can only use his head to control technology, but it’s not stopping him from evangelising about the power of games.

“Games mean everything to me,” he said, “they give me the same power as everyone else, and it’s something we can all do. They mean I can socialise.”

Colin comes from a large family. “For years he was restricted to just watching the rest of us having fun playing video games,” said Maxine. “That’s how it was until we found out about SpecialEffect and being able to play using switches. And suddenly he was playing with us, rather than watching.”

The relationship between Colin and the William Merritt Centre first started years ago. Paula Spencer, an occupational therapist at the Centre, explains. “We were showing people about switch operated toys, but then teenagers came along who weren’t interested in toys and wanted to access video games. So we did a bit of research and contacted Barrie (who now works at SpecialEffect) for advice, bought our first piece of adapted gaming access equipment and got more involved with SpecialEffect.”

The relationship reached a different level in February this year, when Colin and the staff signed up to take part in a 24 hour gaming marathon to raise money for SpecialEffect. Their efforts were part of SpecialEffect’s GameBlast15 weekend, the UK’s biggest charity gaming marathon event.

“Paula originally mentioned it last year and I was like ‘definitely, what do we need to do?’,” said Maxine. “We had no idea what to expect. It kept getting bigger - we had to get food in, t-shirts, facilities, everything. There were loads of people that wanted to be involved with it. Our original target was £250 and we had to keep upping it. Eventually we raised nearly £1000!”

“Colin roped a lot of the people into playing, including Sam. GameBlast was his first time on a games console, and now he’s looking for funds to be able to buy his own equipment that lets him play with switches, rather than a standard controller.”

And it wasn’t just gamers that were having fun. “Sam brought his younger brother and his reluctant mum with him, but by the end his mum was saying what a fantastic time she’d had watching the two siblings play together,” said Paula. “Sam didn’t want to leave. None of them did really.”

Below: Colin and Maxine, plus a plug for a certain gaming event happening in ten months time...

As the four gamers are absorbed in their battles, I notice the parents, carers and staff sitting behind them deep in discussion, sharing experiences and ideas on housing, local care provision and other issues that are common to all of them. It’s another of the many benefits that are emerging from the group. 

Paula agrees. “Their gaming sessions have given the boys more confidence to talk with other young people and ourselves about things they have in common and what they want to be able to do, not just about gaming, but all sorts of things. Now they’re more knowledgeable about the technology, they’re keen to get others involved as well.”

“And Colin now volunteers for the Centre. I’ll explain about the equipment, and Colin will demonstrate it. It’s a very powerful way of showing what can be achieved.”

It’s yet more evidence of the wider impact that helping people with disabilities to access video games can have. Through our work we've seen that they have the potential to give parents and carers some much-needed respite time, as well as bring families and friends together. And we’ve also seen they can also bring a work/life balance to disabled people in employment, or bring fun and engagement into therapy.

In an article for Five out of Ten magazine last year, Alan Williamson described this as ‘taking that innate equality of games and extending it to those who aren't used to having it in other aspects of their lives.’ In other words - and this is what it comes down to in the end - it’s all about raising the quality of life. 

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The William Merritt Centre is a disabled living centre providing advice and support for children and adults looking for equipment that enables them to be independent. Their expertise ranges from wheelchairs and stairlifts, to equipment for leisure and driving. WMC is a registered charity.

www.wmdlc.org

For more information about the following accessible gaming sessions, contact the centre on 0113 350 8989 or email: info@wmdlc.org

  • 27th May 2015 from 1pm - 4pm
  • 29th July 2015 from 1pm - 4pm
  • 2nd September 2015 from 1pm - 4pm
  • 28th October 2015 from 1pm - 4pm
  • 21st December 2015 from 1pm - 4pm

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