It’s become something of a tradition for us to pick our individual ‘best ofs’ after attending an expo, so first up after EGX 2014 is Kim – and she has picked SpecialEffect’s amazing eye-gaze system.
We first got to know the lovely SpecialEffect team after meeting Gavin Tan (Project Customer Care Coordinator) and Hannah Whittaker (Events Coordinator) at last year’s Eurogamer event. After being so impressed by their passion and dedication to such a worthwhile cause, I set up a monthly donation through their JustGiving page in order to do my bit – and promptly roped in the rest of the 1001-Up.com guys by organising several events including a pub quiz to raise money. We even took part in the Gameblast event back in February; more about that later!
For those who don’t already know about the charity, they are dedicated to using technology to enhance quality of life of people with all kinds of needs, including stroke and road traffic accident patients, individuals with life-limiting conditions and injured soldiers returning from overseas. They are the only UK organisation devoted to helping everyone, whatever their disability, enjoy video games and leisure technology, kickstarting their rehabilitation, self-esteem and inclusion.
When the opportunity arose to volunteer for SpecialEffect on their stand at EGX, Phil and I jumped at the chance! We had the pleasure of working alongside founder Dr Mick Donegan who talked to us about the work the charity does and showed us plenty of photographs from his recent case visits; it was inspiring to see him so passionate about the cause and really made us feel as if we were a part of something special. We also met some other lovely volunteers – hello to Chloe, who you can see in the photograph below.
There were two main reasons for the charity’s stand this year, the first being the chance to show off their amazing eye-gaze system. Imagine being able to control a computer simply by looking it and using the internet or playing games with the flick of an eye; add an artificial voice and you could even talk, perhaps for the first time in your life. The technology that makes this a possibility isn’t new and has been around for over twenty years, already an established tool for marketing companies to track where you’re looking on websites or TV ads. But what makes it exciting is its potential to open up communication, independence, self-esteem and quality of life for people who can’t use a computer effectively in any other way.
SpecialEffect have been working with eye-gaze since 2007, modifying, training, advising and adapting the technology to suit individual needs. They can advise on integrating additional equipment like foot-switches or voice control that can make the crucial difference between success and failure, and can recommend suitable video games – and in some cases even create customised versions. For more information about how the system works, take a look at the video above or check out the dedicated page on their website.
During our time volunteering at EGX 2014 we set attendees up on the eye-gaze equipment so they could have a go for themselves and see what it’s all about, with many coming away impressed. The version of DiRT 3 that it was being used with had been modified so players looked towards the bottom of the screen in order to reverse, and didn’t have to worry about braking when it came to tackling corner or other drivers. We even had a go of the technology ourselves and I managed to beat Phil to first place; what I lack in hand-to-eye coordination when it comes to using a joypad, it seems I make up for in eye-to-screen coordination. The controls feel a little weird at first and it’s a very surreal experience (Ben was convinced he was using the power of his mind when he had a try), but it definitely brought home the effect that the charity can have on the lives of others.
The second reason for SpecialEffect’s stand this year was to promote their next Gameblast event. The charity is challenging everyone to organise their own gaming marathon with friends, colleagues and family during the weekend of 20-22 February 2015, and get sponsored to do so. This February the event raised an incredible £70,000 and every penny went towards levelling the playing field for gamers with disabilities; this time they’re gunning for £100,000 so they need your help!
The 1001-Up.com team took part in the last Gameblast and it was one of the most awesome experiences we’ve had since starting the site. Admittedly it took us a bit of work to arrange and the actual twenty-four hours itself was more of a challenge than we originally expected, but it was absolutely worth it. We managed to raise a total of £535.60 and had plenty of fun along the way – highlights included interviewing Katie Hallahan from Phoenix Online Studios about the fantastic Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, getting kicked out of Trafalgar Square in London, and seeing Ben wearing lipstick and a muscle-man apron.
We’ve already signed up for the next Gameblast event, so keep an eye on the site for details of what we have planned for this time around! In the meantime, please head over to SpecialEffect’s website and take a look at the amazing work they do; this really is a worthwhile cause and one that totally deserves your support.