Gaming with a disability

I’ve had an interesting history with gaming, and my cerebral palsy has always played a part.

My first console ever was the Sega Megadrive. I still get huge amounts of nostalgia whenever I hear the little “Sega” song that used to accompany the logo. I found an arcade joypad for it, a form of controller that I’d stick to for the next decade.

I perfected my approach to the joypad with the PS1. I have one good arm and fairly controllable legs, so I’d kneel next to the joypad and use my left knee to move the directional stick while I worked the buttons with my right hand. The system was good enough, the only drawbacks being it was harder to pull the directional stick to the left with my knee and I wasn’t very good at fast action games that involved a lot of jumping to the left (holding the stick back while getting the timing right).

Jumping to the PS2 I hit a problem. I’d bought a game only to find I couldn’t make my character move. You needed a controller with analog sticks. For months I avoided games that relied heavily upon the analog sticks, so I was delighted when I eventually stumbled upon a joypad with a little switch that turned the joystick from functioning as a direction pad to an analog stick.

The trouble with using arcade joypads when you have cerebral palsy is that you go through a hell of a lot of them. It was always the stick that broke. When I became invested in certain games or I was advancing through an intense level, my knee could sometimes be a little too aggressive on the stick and soon enough my character would stop moving, along with all the menus.

My analog joypad had become essential with most games utilising the analog sticks, but after my backup one broke I couldn’t find any more available. All the game shops seemed to have dropped the company. I was overjoyed when I found the controller had a website. I emailed the seller and ordered no less than five joypads, which were delivered to the local Game store. That joypad was a true lifesaver.

Then the PS3 came out and finally, after growing up on consoles and years of twisting and adapting to their numerous innovations, I felt defeated. Reading the console previews I found out about the new six-axis controller and knew it was game over for me. From now on you’d have to physically lift up your controller and swing it around like a Wii remote. As much as I love technology, sometimes I think “fuck advancement”. If it works don’t change it.

I could’ve bought an Xbox 360 but there was something dodgy about their controls too – something about triggers and the fact that the only adaptable joypad I could find for it was a special edition one which cost way too much for a wooden box with nice artwork. I couldn’t be bothered anymore anyway. I said bye bye to next-gen graphics and massive new worlds and took to internet flash games instead.

After a few months of mourning over my lost console days I began to feel a little better. I suddenly had a vast amount of free time to actually be productive for a change. My life wasn’t over.

It took me a long time to get an iPad and when I did receive one for Christmas I just thought it was a bit of a waste of time. Well it did waste time, lots of time – gaming. I started with Angry Birds just at the time it was blowing up.

For the first time I could play a popular game just as well if not better than the average player. The simplicity of touch control is great, I just tap the screen with my toe and thumb. Certain games require you to lift up the device, but it’s not an overly popular control option amongst developers.

I moved from the simple and slightly repetitive to full blown games with actual story. I cannot be grateful enough for the rise of serious long-term games being created and adapted for the iPad. I recently completed Bastion, one of the many games I’d avoid reading about a couple of years ago because I felt I’d never be able to play it. Apart from a downgrade in graphics, it’s the full game.

XCOM, This War of Mine, Ace Attorney. Once again I have so many interesting and varied games to play, and it no longer feels like such a physical workout playing them (most require just one finger/toe).

There’s also hope for me yet, it would seem, with modern consoles. I’ve noticed a few charities and clever individuals offer a control system which is specifically built around a disabled user’s needs.

To be honest, though, I kind of dread getting back into Playstation nowadays. Things just seem so much more expensive and complicated to an outsider like me. Like what’s all this stuff about needing premium Wifi accounts to play a game, and having to wait ten hours for a new game to load? And then you have games where you have to pay for extra content, which sounds a bit like the crap topping the AppStore chart that use psychological tricks to make you keep paying to pay. I am adamantly against such tactics and will pay higher prices for games which offer the full package.

So that’s my gaming history up to the present day. I was starting to get a bit excited about the emergence of virtual reality but from the footage I’ve seen and articles I’ve read you need two independent hands to use it. Hopefully they can change or add accessibility options in the future because some of the experiences on offer seem very impressive.


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