At Eurogamer Expo 2010, we saw hundreds of games and companies being shown off. We had the latest 3D tech, the biggest and best games for 2011 and much much more. However, for me, the clear winner of the event was a little stand, in the far left corner of the hall. It would have been easy to miss, if I had not been shown it at a preview the day before. This little stand was for a charitable group called SpecialEffect. There they had a strange array of input devices, but not the latest Microsoft Kinect sensor, or yet another Wiimote rip off. These were specifically designed for people with disabilities.
At the preview, I had the great privilege to meet a young man called Matt Hampson. Once an England under 21’s rugby player, Matt was now confined to a wheelchair after an accident left him paralysed from the neck down. Yet here he was racing against Radio 1’s games expert, Johnny Minkley, using nothing but head movements. I may just add here that just as interestingly, Johnny was playing using nothing but eye movements!
I listened intently as Matt told his story.
After his accident, Matt was left unable to speak or move. He was effectively a brain trapped inside a body that would no longer do his bidding. However, he did have control of his eye movement. While he was still in hospital , his old rugby team, the Leicester Tigers, started raising funds to buy Matt a computer. Matt’s mother then got in contact with Dr Mick Donegan, a specialist in assistive technology, who stepped in to help. They set him up with a system that allowed him to type, using the movement he had in his eyes. Suddenly he was able to communicate with the world again. He was able to begin to use a computer, surf the internet, and use Facebook. All things that we take for granted every day. It began to give him a life outside of his own body. As he grew stronger and gained more control of his head, he was set up with a ‘head mouse’. This device allowed him to control a computer with head movements, requiring much less concentration!
Now Mick is the Director of SpecialEffect and Matt is their patron. Together they are now providing assistive technology to enable people with disabilities to do more than just communicate. There are giving them the ability to play games.
This may sound like a daft thing to be excited about, but if you are reading this, I imagine you are a gamer. Think about never being able to play games again. Games help us to let off steam, build friendships with people, escape and relax. This is something that SpecialEffect have understood and are now trying to bring back to people with disabilities.
It is hard to say what impressed me most. Matt was amazing. I loved the fact he was very interested in how the technology could be used for able-bodied games lovers.
“Imagine are playing Call of Duty on your PS3”, he enthused. “You have the Move controller set up as your gun and you can move about using the analogue add on. How cool would it be if when you moved your eyes or your head, your view in the game followed you? Well this technology could do that!”
But I think the person who really sold it for me was Mick. His enthusiasm is boundless and really quite infectious.
For me SpecialEffect are truly amazing. These people are helping others to enjoy something that I love, but take for granted every day. That is why I think they are my winners from the Eurogamer Expo 2010.
Look out for more stuff about SpecialEffect soon, including a Q and A session with the team.