Here at Continue Play we are of the opinion that anyone doing anything to broaden the accessibility of videogames is an absolute hero. Some companies strive to give the LGBT community a voice, like Bioware often do with games like Dragon Age 2, and Vagabond Dog’s upcoming title, Always Sometimes Monsters will do; some companies strive to make videogames accessible for to those who want to play, but simply cannot. We have covered a number of charities at Continue Play, but Special Effect has always been one of our personal favorites.
Imagine, if you will, that you have played videogames with your brother or sister for as long as you can remember. One day, they have a terrible accident which leaves them paralyzed and unable to use a controller; your days of playing FIFA together seem to be at an end. Fortunately, they’re not: Special Effect has you covered.
Imagine, if you will, that you have a rare genetic disease which has slowly robbed you of your control over your body. You love racing games, but all you can move is your face and a finger on your right hand. You don’t have to stop playing the videogames you love; Special Effect can help you.
Both myself and Dale, our esteemed leader [Editor’s Note – should that not be “exhausted leader”?] were at EGX Rezzed this past weekend (March 28-30), and the nice people at Special Effect had a booth set up, inviting gamers to try a racing game named Soap, which Codemasters were generous enough to provide.
Soap is a basically a modification of DiRT. Created during a 3-day Game Jam, it aims to help those going through physiotherapy. Soap is a game about a soapbox racer, instead of the usual cars you see in the games that Codemasters are famous for. The most curious thing about it, however, is not the soapbox car – players are able to control their soapbox in one of two ways; you can either use a giant yellow button to control your car, or you can use your eyes.
Naturally, we tried both. I want to tell you about this experience because it had a massive impact on me, and watching the other gamers have exactly the same reaction, be they kids or grandparents, was simply incredible.
The first version of Soap that I tried was the giant yellow button version, simply because the queue for the hands-free version was massive. I sat in front of the screen, and was told that my soapbox car is at the top of a hill and I had to get it to the bottom as quickly as possible, while crashing as little as possible. Gravity would pull the car downhill making it accelerate – but there were no brakes. There were ramps to speed the car up, and bars of soap to crash into which would slow the car down – useful to regain control, but a hindrance to high scores. The last thing you’re told before you start is that your car will always pull to the right. To correct your course and avoid crashing, you need to hit the giant yellow button to to steer left.
That’s it; it’s a beautifully simple game that has the potential to provide an escape for a lot of people who are otherwise trapped. The only problem is that many people still don’t know about Special Effect; the people who need it most can’t get access to it.
We all know that as a rule of thumb, the simpler a game is, the more addictive it gets. Case in point: Flappy Bird, Fruit Ninja and even Farmville. Those games have caught hundreds of thousands of people in their iron grip, and provided hours of simple entertainment. Just like them, Soap also has just one button – and disabled or not, it’s equally fun to play. You can easily get lost for hours playing it; I even spotted a developer from another game come and spend half an hour challenging the high score. That developer – who I shan’t name – makes games far more complicated than Soap, but he was enthralled. Sadly, he was also much better than me, thrashing my high score of 2 minutes 34 seconds, by a solid 32 seconds.
The other build on display was controlled using just your eyes. It was exactly the same level, but this time, if you wanted to steer left or right, you kept your body perfectly still and simply looked left or right; you didn’t turn your head – you just looked to the side of the screen and the car responded. People who have experienced the Microsoft Kinect will remember their first experience of it – they waved their arm through the air and their character on screen responded in kind; for me, it was waving my arms in the air to Fruit Ninja in a manner befitting of YouTube. This was better. I kept my entire body still, and looked at where I wanted to go. My car steered left and right, and while I was worse on this build than I was on the giant yellow button, I felt like a Jedi. I wasn’t Nic Bunce who writes for Continue Play; I was psychic.
I play a lot of videogames. Some of them are junk, and some of them I remember fondly. This experience is one I will never forget, because that is what it was – an experience; it is an experience that I want to share with the people who can no longer hold a controller to play the games they love.
The charity who make this possible are Special Effect. They visit people with disabilities and modify game controllers to fit each specific person’s needs. Special Effect are worthy of the highest level of praise for what they do; they bring light into people’s lives which they would otherwise never have. So far they haven’t had to turn people away, but because of the way the charity works, funding is not the easiest thing to secure; government funding generally goes to those who can help the most people for the money provided, but because Special Effect’s needs and costs vary depending on on the person they are helping they face a completely different set of challenges to most other charities.
If you like the sound of this charity and what they do, you can visit their YouTube channel here.
To donate your time or money, or to seek help for a family member or friend, you can visit their site here.