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ESI Super Forum 2018: volunteering for SpecialEffect

Regular Later Levels visitors will likely have heard me talk about SpecialEffect in the past. Using technology ranging from modified joypads to eye-control software, this UK-based charity aims to put fun and inclusion back into the lives of those with physical disabilities by helping them play video games. They don’t just do this for fun however: levelling the playing field in this way has a profoundly positive impact on therapy, confidence and rehabilitation – and what’s more, they do all of this amazing work free of charge.

I’ve supported SpecialEffect for five years now and in that time I’ve done all sorts of things to raise funds and awareness for the organisation. I’ve given presentations at meetup groups; organised pub quizzes with rounds dedicated to the subject of video games; and even made it across the finish line of the British 10K twice. I’ve also had the opportunity to volunteer on their stand at events around the UK a number of times, where I’ve had the chance to witness their work close up.

On Wednesday I headed off for volunteering duty once again, this time at the ESI Super Forum at the Olympia in London. I’m always slightly nervous before such events because you never quite know what you’re going to face on the stand or the questions you’re going to be asked by the public; but there was added pressure this time because it was a new show for me and I don’t know an awful lot about eSports. I needn’t have worried though, because Events Coordinator Tom was on hand to help and fellow volunteer Kat was lovely!

The game on display this time was a demo of the upcoming FIFA 19 on PC, played with a joystick and one large button using the Xbox Adaptive Controller. It attracted a lot of attention as a novelty among the more corporate-looking stands but it took some effort to persuade attendees to play. The crowd at the ESI Super Forum was far different from that at other events such as Rezzed or MCM Comic Con, you see: instead of gamers willing to give anything a try, these businessmen needed a little more coaxing.

Once we’d explained the reason for the set-up and work of SpecialEffect, most were happy to sit down and find out what playing the game was like for themselves. We spent some time with Telmo Silva from Grow uP eSports, an organisation which created the GIRLGAMER Esports Festival as a way to support female inclusion. Then Kat had the opportunity to play FIFA against professional footballer Christian Fuchs: I won’t say who came out on top but things got rather competitive!

It’s experiences like this which keep me volunteering but the reasons why I do it run far deeper. Video game are given an awful lot of negative attention and the good they can achieve is often overlooked: they give players a way to express themselves, bring people together, create friendships and encourage inclusion. If I can do something with my spare time to help spread that awareness and make a difference to the lives of others, then I can’t think of a better way to use it.

I’ve recently been accepted to help again at the end of October at MCM Comic Con in London (possibly in cosplay!), so if you’re going along to the event please do stop by the stand and check out what’s happening. If you fancy doing something similar yourself and giving SpecialEffect a hand, why not sign up to become a volunteer? Head over this page on their website and leave your details in this form so one of their lovely team members will get in touch.

If volunteering isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to get involved and support the charity. In fact, I’ll be talking about one of these on Monday so keep your eyes open for details…

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