Gaming - Disability Bytes


For Video Games Day, Kneel Downe looks at how gaming changed his...and our...lives...

Ok, I hold up my hands. I’m a Gamer. Always have been and always will. When something in my life goes right I may hear the sound of Sonic’s rings. When visiting the countryside I may possibly scan the area for cover from a prospective sniper and when walking the busy streets of England my eyes may be searching for a vantage point from which I can take down the Joker’s hired thugs. A Gamer. My love affair started with begged and borrowed ten pence’s for the space invaders machines and blossomed into a true romance over Quake and Quake 2.

I braved the terrors of Mars, in Doom and I giggled at the antics of Earthworm Jim but all the while it was just a hobby. Another facet of my life, sharing its time with friends, the pub and band practice. In 1999 something happened to change all that. In the space of just one week I went from being an outgoing physical guy into one that could barely make his way out of bed and downstairs to the couch.

A particularly nasty auto-immune and neurological condition proceeded to rob me of my career, friends and eventually my house. My world was, quite violently, broken. What followed was the usual anger, bewilderment and the slow descent into the grip of depression. I filled my days with films, books, comics and whatever I could lay my hands upon. But it is hard to read when your mind is muddy and it is hard to invest in a movie when even just staying still fills you with unbearable pain. I drifted and wasted days, weeks and months until one fateful day, whilst retrieving my email, I saw the familiar icon for Quake 2. Thinking what the hell, I booted up my once favourite game and attempted to replay this Sci-Fi epic. My hands were useless, mouse control was no longer a warm friend but an irritating bitch. I persevered and gradually regained control. I ran and shot those pesky Strogg. I traversed the industrial corridors and retrieved the colour coded keys until, to my surprise, it was dark outside.

Hours had passed. Hours that had seen me uncaring of the usual debilitating muscle pain and the blanket of despair I had become accustomed to. The blasted wasteland of Stroggos had never felt so real: my rehabilitation had begun. When I sent out the plea for other people's stories about how gaming had helped them to cope with the darkness and pain of being disabled and virtually housebound, I was quite unprepared by the deluge of mail I received. Some things I recognised. Others I didn’t but here, for sure, was an article that demanded to be written. I hope you enjoy and possibly rethink your views of both gaming and the needs and requirements of those less mobile than yourselves. The first thing that struck me about preparing this article was that, although willing and eager to help, many people wanted to do so anonymously. The fear that ‘they’ would be watching and find another way to reduce payments, fling yet more mud and hold the disabled up to public scrutiny as time wasting, lazy, benefit frauds, runs deep. The perceived view of the gamer as a hoodie clad, friendless fantasist is now just a tired and lazy cliché. Check out your favourite authors, comedians and musicians on twitter and you will find many of them talk about their gaming exploits.

Doctors, policemen and businessmen regularly sit down with their console of choice. Like I said, tired, lazy journalism and in our current economic climate it would seem that is becoming tired, lazy and dangerous politics too. My first surprise in researching this piece was just how few people had been gamers prior to their illness. For some it was the advice of friends or a present of a console that began their journey. As Lon’AiteWalker puts it:

“It's a strange life, really; I never really got into gaming as over ten years ago I was more into bodybuilding than sitting around gaming. I wrote and did artwork, but preferred to get my inspiration from the outside world rather than someone else's. However, as auto-immune arthritis and fibromyalgia made life more and more difficult for me, I found my computer was one of my few social outlets.”

For Marie it was the present of a Wii that got her interested in the genre and bowling and golf soon gave way to more in-depth games; currently she is lost in the mysterious world of Skyrim. Nearly everyone reported an initial clumsiness and frustration at the use of controllers and yet, like myself, they soon found that perseverance paid off, many noticing an improvement in hand, eye coordination that their illness had previously damaged. I was struck by just how many people reported using gaming as a self medicating form of pain relief. Watching television and reading are by their very nature, sedentary pursuits whilst gaming can often be a visceral thrill.

The body needs the release of adrenaline and endorphins to keep itself healthy and vital. Depression can be alleviated by the release of such necessary chemicals. It would seem that screaming at a pixelated dragon can actually be quite good for you. The obvious feature concerned the escapism and adventure that gaming provided. We all curse the daily slog and long to be at home relaxing, yet have any of you actually endured a month of not being able to leave the house? A year? How wonderful it is to be able to escape for a few hours into worlds both vast and dangerous. Worlds that place no boundaries or judgment upon your physical abilities or appearance. Nowhere is this freedom more evident than the interactive joy of online gaming. With the advent of newer consoles the online community became a playground for all. No longer was a computer needed to play and interact with other people. Clans could be formed, communities could grow. For every abusive teenager in a headset and dirty vest you can find likeminded people and prospective friends. Nearly everyone reported becoming a part of some kind of online community; gaming together and then spending time chatting became as natural as picking up the phone. For some, this community led on to building their own websites. Posting blogs. Writing fiction or creating art. Providing a much needed purpose and rebuilding previously lost self confidence. A few years ago I got to finally meet an old online nemesis from my Quake 3 days.

Paul had been seriously injured in a driving accident and spent much of his time running and gunning in futuristic vistas. He went on to form an extremely popular and respected website. When I met him he had just been hired as a game tester for an international company. It seems that this ‘threat to our youth’ had rather more positive effects for some. This nurturing and unlocking of creative impulse was repeated time and again. I heard from people who have taken up painting. Others took the plunge into writing and many of them have gone on to become self employed and self sufficient. The ‘benefit scrounger’ is another cliché that needs to be smashed. With support, understanding and an appropriate outlet for their boredom, then anyone is capable of anything. One thing I had not considered was the use of gaming as a viewing experience. Jenny has M.E and as such, she finds most everyday tasks exhausting and yet, a previously suffering relationship with her daughter has been repaired by a shared joy of complex role playing games. When she is fit they play together and when not she watches and helps; providing suggestions and solving puzzles. Likewise David and David Jnr have fought each and every Halo campaign together and share a bond that the watching of multiple soap operas and reality TV would never have forged. These are chaotic and potentially dangerous economic times. Stripped, by political correctness, of its usual scapegoats it seems that society is picking upon newer, weaker targets.

The lazy Gamer. The scrounging disabled. When society breaks it will not be down to political and financial mismanagement but rather those amongst us that we don’t understand. This is a lie that must and will be broken. Positive publicity is a weapon you can never be punished for wielding. Use it. We spend our days dreaming about more immersive media such as 3D and virtual reality, yet the truth is that it is already here and has been for over a decade. A pastime and hobby for some. An escape and a tiny little glimmer of Narnia for others. As Lon’AiteWalker so succinctly put it to me

“I am certainly not saying that gaming should or is a perfect substitute for interaction but it's certainly better than complete isolation.”

Image - Tactical Gaming.
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