Game On For Everyone

Nestling amongst the latest upcoming titles being displayed at the recent Eurogamer expo was a row of monitors belonging to a small charity called SpecialEffect. As excited as I am about the likes of Fable 3, it’s my brief experience on the charity’s games that was the most memorable moment of that weekend for me. I tried a game first that was controlled using two joysticks and the second game, a racer, that was guided using my eyes only. The retina-tracking technology behind this was astounding and something I had never encountered before. After some quick configuration I was steering the car simply by looking in the direction I wanted it to go. Although I crashed and burned too much for my liking (a lot like my standard driving with an Xbox controller to be fair!) it was genuinely fun.

Afterwards I talked to Dr Mick Donegan, founder of SpecialEffect, who seemed delighted by the response their work had received at the expo. Us gamers can be rather passionate about our hobby but it’s also something we can take doing for granted and I believe the thought of an accident or illness leaving us unable to use a controller will strike a chord with most of us.

SpecialEffect help people with disabilities find enjoyment through gaming by developing and modifying cutting-edge technology (whether adapting controllers or utilising the eye-control tech); supporting schools, hospices and hospitals in finding the right technology for youngsters who need it and also loaning this equipment to people who have had a sudden illness or injury. Some software is created especially for youngsters, an example being five year old Lewis who the charity has helped. His body has deteriorated since the age of two due to an undiagnosed condition and leaves him unable to speak or control his movements, however the one thing he still has control over is his eyes.

The charity designed a piece of software using Lewis’ favourite Cbeebies characters which works by using gaze-controlled technology I experienced at Eurogamer. Lewis uses the computer regularly and is sent new games by the SpecialEffect team that allow him to enjoy playing both with his family or independently. The StarGaze Project is an appeal, launched by SpecialEffect and it’s patron Matt Hampson who suffered a spinal injury while training for the England Under-21 rugby team in 2005. This technology is very expensive but they hope to loan out three of these special computers at a time. Being able to borrow the equipment allows somebody to discover how it works and aims to improve their quality of life immediately after an accident. They can then decide if they’d like to fund-raise for themselves or apply for statutory funding to purchase a computer.

It isn’t only self-created games that SpecialEffect can provide but they also hope that developers will be open to helping make their games more accessible to those with disabilities at the “drawing board” stage. Currently they can only adapt more mainstream games once they’ve hit the marketplace, for example, by using large pads or sticks that are easier to control than the numerous triggers, d-pads and buttons that we’re used to. The examples of modified games that were on display at the expo included Forza, F1 2010 and Live For Speed. Often something simple sounding such as allowing buttons to be remapped on a standard controller or slowing down the gameplay could make a huge difference to someone being able to play a game.

The industry is starting to become receptive to making these additions or adjustments. PopCap released Peggle with a colourblind mode, Bayonetta has an option for simplified controls and Star Trigon had a one-button fully accessible menu. Playstation Move and the Xbox’s Kinect system also have the potential to open up gaming to a wider audience, including those with disabilities. SpecialEffect have a specialist occupational therapist who is on hand to give advice to developers on the type of movements that disabled people can make therefore allowing as many as possible to join in with the gaming.  In an ideal world there should be a broad spectrum of games available regardless of a person’s physical capabilities.

A part of the charity’s work includes the GameBase site, a list of more accessible games divided into sections by console type, PC, eye-gaze etc and is a great free resource. It can be found here –

Fundraising enables the charity to continue helping people with disabilities find enjoyment through gaming and has also helped to create and maintain the world’s first fully accessible computer games suite at the Helen and Douglas House Hospice in Oxfordshire. If you’re interested in learning more about SpecialEffect or wish to donate to this fantastic cause then please visit

Last five articles by Kat



  1. Rook says:

    And I thought the tech behind Kinect sounded impressive but sterring a car using just your eyes sounds more so. It also sounds like it would require focus on the driving and not looking at mini maps or speedometers, Possibly it is something that someone will implement into KInect or Move to give more control to the user with less controller input.

  2. Iain says:

    The eye control left Kinect in the dust. A massive, multi-billion dollar company can make motion sensing that can just about respond to you waggling your arm around like a prat but a relatively small charity can make a motion sensor that responds purely to the slightest eye movement. Makes you wonder what M$ spent their money on. SpecialEffect are an awesome charity though and everyone representing them at EuroGamer Expo was so passionate about it. Great article as well Kat :)

  3. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    There really aren’t many things that I fear, although those around me tend to put that down to obstinance and stupidity, but I do worry about losing my faculties. The thought of never being able to hear music or Lorna’s voice ever again; the thought of never being able to enjoy art, even though I’ve already got to the point where I can no longer see the stars; and not being able to use my hands to play instruments… all these things bother me.

    I can’t imagine the struggle for people who are physically incapable of playing games yet who crave that feeling of immersion and escapism, and I’m always thinking how games such as Gears Of War are a complete pain in the arse to play because of all the ridiculous button combos to do something relatively simple… so imagine how much of a pain they’d be to someone who can’t hold a controller properly.

    I love the idea of this. I love that motion sensing technology is being used in the gaming industry to improve people’s lives rather than as a tacked on gimmick to sell more consoles. This is something I’d love to see more of, and something I’d quite like us to get behind.

  4. Mark Mark S says:

    I love this stuff.

    Not only is this charity helping people in terrible situations have a tiny bit of joy but they are also pushing the tech boundry faster than huge companies like microsoft and sony, and they are doing it for the right reasons. As a community of gamers we should be doing all we can to support these guys and other gaming charities like childs play.

    It proves to the wider world that gamers are not all anti social lunitics, merely some of us, and that we can do some social good in the world.

  5. Edward Edward says:

    It was one of my favourite things at Eurogamer, and I’m still awestruck as to how amazing it was and as Iain said, how I left it more impressed than I did anything to do with Move and Kinect. I really hope it catches on because it is such an amazing and incredible experience and anyone I’ve told about it finds it such an interesting premise too.
    It’s something the gaming industry really needs and should latch onto and support fully.
    Game on for everyone!

  6. I just wanted to say thank you to Kat and to all of you for your kind comments. As only a very small charity these comments mean one hell of a lot to us! Have also just seen that Kat is doing a 24 halo marathon for the charity, Kat this really is fantastic..thank you!!

    We would just love it if any of you could pass the word on about SpecialEffect to other gamers, links on blogs, facebook, twitter are SO much appreciated! If anybody wants more information about SpecialEffect or would like get involved in the charity please do email me at

    Thanks again!

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    Pix makes a good point about how advanced the eye motion tech is compared to something like the Wii or Kinect and that it begs the question ‘where did the money go?’. It is easy to grumble about the controls in a game without really wondering what they must be like for someone who has a tough time holding a controller properly – it is a very sobering thought to be honest.

    Kinect and Move could have good applications for people with limited ability to interact with games through the traditional control methods, but their limits may be a stumbling block, which is why the great work done by charities such as SpecialEffect are so crucial.

    I remember a few years ago, someone asking on a gaming forum about adapted controllers for a child who had lost several fingers…they were given a few links to help them out by some helpful forumers, but the whole thing gave me pause because I had never considered what effect that something like that would have and if there was anything out there to make life easier, so that people could still game in those sort of circumstances. Just scraping the surface of some of the modded controllers and gadgets is fascinating and the ingenuity is impressive. I hope that more support can be garnered from the industry itself as I believe that gaming has genuine theraputic capabilities, even if on a basic level, it only offers a blissful escape for a few hours.

  8. Ste says:

    Nice article, its always good to raise awareness about things like this. Good luck with Halolzthon!

  9. Dad says:

    Kat, well done, you never cease to surprise me! Great article which I will pass on to the learning disability charities I work for.

  10. [...] doing the marathon for charity are better reads than anything else I can produce on this subject. – Game On For Everyone – 24 Hours In [...]

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