Video games can get a pretty raw deal in the news. At worst, we see stories claiming links between playing violent games and some of the worst aspects of humanity, or that games are robbing children of time spent in nature. At best, we hear news stories where games are regarded with a certain distain; something to be smirked at, and not taken seriously. But these sorts of stories completely miss the varied, rich and nuanced experiences that playing games can afford.
But playing video games isn’t always a trivial endeavour. For many children and adults with disabilities, simply being able to pick up a controller and coordinate fine motor movements can be a difficult, even impossible task. SpecialEffect is a charity based in Oxfordshire that tries to help people get back into the game.
‘I’m a parent of a young child who’s been helped by the charity. I know as a parent there are situations where you can’t play real games with your kids, but you can play video games, so confidence, self-esteem, all those kinds of things are really helped’ says Nick Streeter. Nick is part of the team that’s on a massive fundraising push for the charity today. One Special Day sees the likes of mobile developers like Rovio and Super Cell, and other games houses like EA and Sega donating 100% of their UK profits today to SpecialEffect. The charity’s hope is to raise over £100,000 to go towards the costs of sending specialist healthcare professionals across the country to assess gamers for their needs.
‘The money raised is to keep our services going and recruit more people,’ explains Nick. ‘It puts petrol in our cars to go out and visit people – say, a gamer in Cumbria with a spinal injury. It keeps the door open for them.’ The kinds of equipment that SpecialEffect supply can be anything from a simple switch, to a full eye-tracking system that can cost thousands of pounds. The equipment allows people to manipulate games controllers through ways other than using their hands – it might mean a chin-operated joystick controller, or action buttons that can be pressed using shoulder movements. A key aspect about the charity is that it isn’t about just dropping kit off for people and leaving them to it – instead, the team provides lifelong support. ‘The kit is given out on a long-term loan, and we support people for as long as they need’ explains Nick.
One Special Day is now in its second year. The idea originally came about through conversations with a mobile developer. ‘He said, “I’ve seen what ICAP [a hedge fund] do – on one day a year, they donate all of their worldwide profits to charity. You know what, why can’t the games industry do the same?”’ says Nick. The games development community has been amazingly supportive – over 30 companies are donating their UK profits today, the association for UK interactive entertainment (UKIE) are organising bake sales and Marioke events, and Twitch is hosting a livestream from 2pm, where some of the gamers will be using the technology that SpecialEffect supply to showcase how it works, and how easy it is to use.
SpecialEffect isn’t a campaigning charity – they’re simply acknowledging that gaming is a big part of culture and people’s lives, and trying to help people who want to play get back into it. ‘For kids who can’t go and have a kickaround with a ball outside, it means they can play FIFA and do really well,’ says Nick. ‘It’s a really positive thing, it’s about quality of life.’
So for today only, any in-game purchases made in games supporting the event will go straight to the charity. You can find a list of the supporting developers here. I asked Nick what the plans were for the future of One Special Day. ‘We’re going to take stock afterwards, and see how things went,’ he explains. ‘But for me, we need to find a way to thank people properly – gamers, livestreamers, developers – and show them what actual difference their money is making.’