Thursday, 16 February 2017

Gaming with a Disability

I remember my very first games console, it was the NES and it came packaged with Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. I must have been about five years old and at this point apart from not being very strong and not being able to jump I was pretty much the same as everybody else. Playing on this console was as easy as pushing a game into it and pressing start. Whilst most of my friends spent a lot of time playing football and other physically demanding games I was able to use my hands which worked perfectly fine and play video games. Even better when I could give one of my friends the second control and play with or against them. At this point these games allowed me to compete with my friends on an equal playing field because physical skills did not matter. I mean they did to some extent but I did not have to use my full body just dexterity of my hands which as I mentioned at this point were fine. Then one Christmas I upgraded to the SNES which I thought was awesome and I could play this no problem. To me the colour, graphics and music was state-of-the-art and my favourite game was Mario kart people were no match for me. That was the last console I was able to play with no difficulty.

Eventually I had to make a choice N64 or the PlayStation. Well, I say I had to make a choice but in actual fact this choice was already made for me. The Nintendo control was absolutely massive and there was no way I could grip it without being in agony after five minutes. As much as I loved Mario I had to go with the PlayStation if only because of the shape of the control. This was the first time my disability had affected my favourite hobby. The shape of the control for PlayStation seemed to fit my needs exactly. It was the right size and the way my hand and fingers had started to get contractures I could reach the shoulder buttons and the rest of the buttons with my thumbs, the only problem I had was start and select but being able to pause the game was not really vital. After I have had this console for a few years I upgraded once for to the PS2 and got my first taste of dual shock style controllers. These were brilliant because at this point my thumbs were starting to get a bit weaker but the sticks meant that I did not have to move my hands a great deal any more but even so playing first person shooters was starting to get difficult.

At this point I had started to transition to PC games, as a reward for getting good grades at school my parents bought me my first ever decent laptop that was mine. I could not manipulate a normal mouse but the touch pad was very good for me and the fact that my left hand just rested over all the important keys for gaming allowed me to play games again with the same dexterity as I enjoyed on the consoles. When I got this laptop I could still type as well and I used it for all my work at college.

When I left college I had enrolled on a computer games programming course at the local university and I used this as an excuse to get my mum and dad to order me the best most state-of-the-art computer for playing games that they could get. This was in 2004 I think and it must have been the best part of £3000. Whilst I was at university which was a four-year course I managed to enjoy about two years of my hands not deteriorating but sadly before the end of the second year things started to go downhill. The lack of strength in my hands practically made programming impossible and I ended up going down to a course with a little bit less programming. This was a computer science course which I managed to pass literally by the skin of my teeth.

By the time I finished university I could only use a trackball mouse and my left hand was practically useless. One of my favourite hobbies was fast becoming an unobtainable pleasure. I was pretty much limited to games that I did not really enjoy all that much. There weren't many good games which only use the mouse apart from RTS games which I am not the best at and to be really good at you still need to be to use a keyboard.

When you have a physical disability that is this extreme it is hard to find a hobby. There are plenty of things you can do but most of the equipment is very expensive, in some cases prohibitively so. That's when I decided that in actual fact the only thing that I can reasonably do is use a computer. There must have been something I could do. I decided to do some research into accessibility software. I was aware of speech recognition as I had used it in college and university with very little success but that was many versions ago so I decided to shell out some money and get the most recent version at the time which I believe was Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9. Fortunately my hunch had paid off and whilst at this time the speech recognition did not really have of a function for games it allowed me to use my computer much more efficiently. All the basic tasks which I actually mentioned in my previous post such as writing letters, sending emails and just generally using the Internet started to slowly become manageable again. Especially when Windows decided to introduce a decent on-screen keyboard.

The combination of an on-screen keyboard, speech recognition and my trackball mouse was that I was gradually being able to play better games at and at this point World of Warcraft had been out a couple of years. In fact Wrath of the Lich King had recently been released and you could play that pretty much entirely with the mouse. I will admit with just a mouse you would never be the best player in the world but you could explore the world do quests and with an understandable guild you could do a few dungeons and raids. My setup was quite simple really. I used the speech recognition to press simple key combinations such as for opening my inventory and I also use it for in game chat. Then I would set the game to be played in a window and I had my on-screen keyboard just to the side of it so that I could initiate auto run and take off with my mount. This system allowed me to play this game to a relatively good standard considering the handicap. I still remember when I was awarded my Violet Proto Drake which was an achievement that took me about three years to do but I did it and I managed to do it with just a mouse and some ingenuity. There were some setbacks such as jumping at the right time was tricky and some of the things I had to do to get the Proto Drake achievement involved playing against other people who no doubt could use a keyboard and mouse. So a bit of luck was involved as well. Nonetheless I had proved to myself that if I put my mind to it I could find a way to play video games once more.

In conclusion, playing video games with severe disabilities is not only something you can do but something you could do well and at a level in competition with other people. You just have to be willing to look for the right hardware and the right software to let you get the job done. In most cases this software is free but obviously hardware is another story altogether. There are charities which can help such as special effect who will let you try hardware and then sort you out with fundraising so that you can afford it. There is also the possibility of you building it yourself which nowadays is not very hard. So remember that you don't have to rule out a very accessible hobby just because you think it might be difficult.

Thank you for reading and I hope in future I can talk more about different disabilities and the hardware and software you can use on your computer to do just about anything.

Bert out.

No comments:

Post a Comment