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Games a 'healthy escape,' say disabled readers

Should game developers do more to make their products more accessible?  For readers, that’s a no-brainer.

Last week, I asked you to tell me if games had helped you  — or someone you know — contend with a disability. My column profiled one particular gamer, Nissa Ludwig, who asserted that games helped her stay connected to the outside world. 

What I heard from you, overwhelmingly, was that games keep you feeling vital, connected, intellectually engaged and occupied.

Mike, who was nearly killed in a car accident in 1974, bought a computer in 1989 because he was “going crazy with boredom and lack of people outside of work. That’s when I started gaming.”

Michael Hicks, of Quinlan, Texas, had a stroke four years ago, when he was 38. He’s now in a wheelchair most of the time, but has “refused the state’s offer for domestic assistance, doing my own cooking, housework, grocery shopping, etc.” But many of his old hobbies, he wrote, were out of reach — except the massively multiplayer online game “EverQuest,” which he’d played before his stroke.

“Playing an online fantasy game again has helped keep me sane,” he said. “Social activity, the ability to walk and run as my valiant knight character and even the freedom to ride my mighty white horse over a virtual world again takes on such new meaning.”

Matt Comfort, 35, who has arthritis, back problems and eye problems, also turns to video games for a “healthy escape.” 

“The hardest thing about being disabled is when people look at you as only a partial human being,” he wrote. “The games help us forget about that part of ourselves and be victorious.”

For Rebecca Fortelka, who has cerebral palsy, games helped her improve her hand-eye coordination. “I have been playing video games since I was very young. It was a good way for me to have fun while improving my motor skills,” she wrote. “I did not even know I was doing therapy.”

Blanche Gifford, of Cincinnati, pointed out that video games weren’t just great for folks with disabilities, but for retired people, too. “Sleeping becomes a problem for many seniors, and family-friendly games can be played without sound.”

Teresa, of Annapolis, Md., wrote that her mother played “Ultima Online” for the last 10 years of her life. “She passed away last year at the age of 73 and often said, ‘with my computer, I will never be lonely again.’ ”

Jenni Kirkuff, of Eugene, Ore., said that gaming can also help take your mind off your physical pain.  Her husband, Ryan, was a soccer player before a degenerative disc disease made sports activities too painful. Gaming let her husband access people on the outside world, she wrote, but also “(let) him go for longer periods of time without having to take the pain medication that he is on.”

One reader wrote that his wife, who had been an avid outdoorswoman before becoming disabled, played “Guild Wars” and “Oblivion” to give her the sense of being outside again. But he said that his beef regarding accessibility stemmed not from the game controls, but from the players themselves.

“Since (my wife) has slow response times, she frequently is subjected to abuse when playing online. If online games could set up meeting areas for their challenged players so they could play with those that are sensitive to disadvantaged players, it would go a long way toward making their products more enjoyable,” he wrote.

Computer games have been a primary part of reader B. Hamilton’s life “since they first came into existence.” Hamilton, of Seattle, has had muscular dystrophy since birth, and wrote that she’s “pretty much home-bound.”

“I am on the old side for gamers, at 50, but still participate joyfully, daily, both in (MMOs) … and casually with community on the Big Fish Games forums.”

Hamilton said that the biggest issue for her is the timed element in casual games, where tasks must be completed quickly to be successful. “My hands cannot keep up with that, and I am not alone in this,” she said.

“I’m not saying remove timers altogether, just make them optional. It is a simple shift in thinking that will result in dollars and happy customers.”

John, from East Greenwich, R.I., wrote that despite being disabled, he is an independent person who drives, works and lives a very full life.

“My friends and I find it so frustrating (that) I can drive a vehicle, but I can’t play a video game because the controllers are not accessible,” he said. “Yes, game developers should do more.”

Or should they? A reader identifying him/herself only as “Nolie603” wrote that while being a firm supporter of the disabled-gamers movement, “there are those who use games as a way to be ‘normal’ again … so much so that they totally give up on who they really are in place of their avatar.”

Still, player Hicks, who had a stroke before his 39th birthday, reminds that anyone, at any time, could become disabled literally in a blink of an eye.

“Remembering just what it means to live again is a skill we all carry inside of us. Life goes on for those who choose to.”