Gaming while injured or impaired

Recently I hurt my back pretty badly and was in constant pain. Thankfully I’m on the mend now. This made work a struggle, and gaming a nightmare; and the WoW time suffered (along with everyone around me, a heartfelt sorry and thanks to my girlfriend who put up with my bitching).

The experience got me wondering how folks with long term conditions or acute conditions might be able to maintain PC gaming hobbies and also be comfortable and effective.

A. Ortho chairs and equipment? Or just head to bed?

My partner swears that a proper ortho chair is a must have, and while I’m still hurting I really have to agree. Normally I use a crappy kitchen chair with no support, which is not working at the moment. The posture I adopt and how much movement and muscle use is directly proportional to the pain; so keeping it solid, upright, and efficient is a huge comfort. Out with the crappy chair, and in with a complex rig of silly devices (see “What I did” below).

I assume that most folks can access wrist protection, keyboard raisers, monitors at proper heights, etc. All the normal OH&S equipment should be used by everyone who wishes to avoid discomfort. Likewise I think devices like the Nostromo, G15, etc are all great devices, but not the type of dedicated gear you’d see for folks with a high degree of impairment.

Many years ago I worked for a quadriplegic man who’s interface to his computer was a wooden stick that attached to his arm using velcro, and a trackball. His computer setup was nothing different from what you’d get at the corner store, and the way he was able to navigate through the web was strikingly fast. Shortcuts in commands were based around the gestures his arms were able to make, and everythig in the computer room was rigged for efficiency. eg. He had a notepad fixed to the desk so that it could not slip off, and the pen was attached by elastic to an overhaning arm. Fast notetaking made easy.

Another note here is really that you can’t spend your entire life in bed, and some mobility is mandatory for a healthy life (Southpark WoW bucket aside). I spend 1.5 days stuck in or close to the bed, and was pretty sore and very bored. My past employer would spend the absolute minimum time in bed each day, and hated the thought of sleeping in, or lounging when he could be doing something. Getting bed sores from lack of movement, or even bad posture leading to injury is something that most folks avoid naturally, and I really feel for those folks who do not have the same freedom of movement. I got the message very quickly.

B. Does a screen reader or speech software ever get used? How many of these systems are compatible with popular games? Banable?

I saw a video of a multi-boxer using speech software to issue commands to his system, which would then initiate key-presses within WoW. This might be viewed as a slight hack, but really there is no difference between pressing the keyboard, and speaking the command (except that speaking might be more unreliable and slower). So this software seems perfectly legit to me (Blizzard has also stated this is ok in the past), and even looks worth of investigating.

I don’t know about the support for screen readers or even if there is support for the visually impaired player. I could play without sound pretty well, but without capacity to interpret the graphics I think you’d really struggle in wow.

Worth saying that if you’re intending to use these tools to do something against terms of service, then you’re mad; as I think there are more devs working on ways to ensure this is legit, than there are hacker types creating apps to game the game. Go digging on YouTube for multiboxers if you’d like to see more in ways it currently used. Its quite striking. And if you know a free voice application for Macs, drop me a line.

C. Are there groups or forum for this type of thing?

Googling for this game a huge number of hits and honestly I don’t understand enough about the industries involved to separate the good from the spam. The disability area is huge (much bigger than I’d first assumed), and there seems to be a massive population of suppliers and people in the broad community. I think it would be wonderful if the sub-set of skills, perspectives, experiences, and attitudes were to be more publicly expressed.

D. What I did in the end…

In my case it meant the relaxation area had to allow for almost no arm or upper body movement, seating for long periods of time without getting sore, and staying warm. This was hard to establish without some tricks and re-jig of the house. I used the laptop, grabbed a steady table thingy, and slid into bed with the gadgets and devices all spread around me.

The laptop keyboard was ok, but mouse surface needed to be created by a stack of books to the right level. Then I found that the bed was not designed to have all sorts of wires and power cables running across it, and that while a firm matress makes for good sleeping, it makes for bad sitting. The bed had no back and spine support, so more stuff was squished into the bed to allow for that. Then I took to task the position of my head, and moved the lights in the room so that no direct light hit the screen.

Plates, cups, etc all got placed on the bed side table, which was moved closer so it was reachable. By the time I’d finished setting up it took so long that I needed a bathroom break before playing, which was complicated by the hassle and time to get “unbolted” from the crater of junk-devices I’d setup around me.

Damn frustrating, especially when movement causes pain.

E. Lastly this got me thinking that maybe gaming is a preferred hobby for those folks with poor mobility or a permanent disability. So while I viewed the experience as limiting and objectionable, and found way to make it tollerable, other folks may have the perspective that gaming grants freedom. If your capacity to interact is otherwise degraded, does an interface bound by strict rules and fixed controls present an opportunity to express yourself; particularly as that expression would be on a “level field” with the other players? Do these people develop ad-hoc methods of interfacing to the PCs which make the way I’d normally play seem silly or inefficient? Surely interface designers do consider these things, but where is the end point in large commercial applications like Warcraft? Like a game design offer an optional subset of visual clues which repeats the audio information.

Odd googling found an ok article about it, and was a good read but a few years old. Ping loudly if you have experience with wow and disability, I’d love to know.

The question of how much pain is worth suffering to continue to game might be covered in a future post.


2 thoughts on “Gaming while injured or impaired

  1. On back problems. Man, oh man, does my heart go out to you. My back went out several years ago, (two herniated disks and two more ready to go) and I ended up spending an entire year in bed. Nothing helped. Even surgery was ruled out. Then I started working with a massage therapist and a personal trainer. I had to find the right people, of course. But once I did, it was like a miracle. Within four months, not only was I pain free, but I actually started running. I have had relapses since then, but they are getting less and less severe and less and less frequent. Today when I get a twinge in my back, I can usually work it out in a matter of minutes.

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