Recently, while walking around this year’s MCM Comic Con in London I came across the SpecialEffect booth which was there as part of the Machinima SBOC Experience. The team were giving demos of an eye-tracking technology called Stargaze. Becky Frost, who is a member of the SpecialEffect team explained to me that the software could aid those individuals who are unable to move their body, only their eyes. This technology is being used to allow people a chance to engage in that oh-so-special of pass times, video games.
This technology is one in a number of ways SpecialEffect are striving towards a more accessible and inclusive gaming eco-system. The team cater their approach to each individual, crafting and modifying controllers to suit different needs. The website is full of amazing case studies on particular solutions for people’s needs. One study involves a little girl called Ceyda who suffers from cerebral palsy. Her condition makes it extremely difficult to control her hands so the team at SpecialEffect got to work on a solution. In the video below you can see that by using switches and large buttons, Ceyda is able to play Disney Infinity with ease. Ceyda’s Mother, Kerry, explains the effect that the tech has had on her Daughter saying that “Now she can play with her friends and not be excluded“.
Another example of the excellent work the team are is a young man named Callum. After a BMX accident left him paralysed from the neck down, the team adapted a PlayStation controller, making it possible for him to play. The controller, which is mounted on a tripod, features extended and enlarged analogue sticks which Callum can control with his chin. In the video below you can see how this enables him to play a range of games including his favourite genre, racing games. As is abundantly clear in the video, gaming offers a great way for Callum to socialise and interact with other people.
There’s a great feature on the SpecialEffect website which comprises a wish list of functions for developers to put into their games. These requests range from cognitive related accessibility such as the ease of menu navigation and broader difficulty options to simple input related accessibility involving the ability to map controllers to any scheme. These simple functions are things which we take for granted. It may not be something you think about being necessary but the results are clear, making video games accessible to a broader range of people works wonders for those involved.
SpecialEffect are even happy to loan out equipment to families so they can try it out. As well as offering play sessions at their office, the team are dedicating to getting the tech to anyone who needs it, even those who aren’t mobile so therefore unable to visit them.
You need only browse the testimonials on the website to see the difference which SpecialEffect are making. The quotes range from game developers;
“I am amazed and inspired by the great work that SpecialEffect does every day. I have always believed video games have the power not just to entertain, but really reach and connect. Thanks to SpecialEffect, they are able to connect even more people.” – Tim Schafer, CEO Double Fine Productions
“Your careful, personal approach was absolutely brilliant. I can’t speak highly enough of the whole experience.” – Janice, Occupational Therapist.
To get involved with the great work that SpecialEffect are continuing to do, you can donate on the website or pitch in as a volunteer. One thing’s for sure, video games have the power to inspire and entertain us, so should be accessible to as many people as possible.