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GameBlast23 update: putting spare time to positive use

SpecialEffect, EGX, van, volunteering
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Everyone deserves to be included in the joy of video games.

This is the belief of SpecialEffect, a UK-based charity. The organisation puts fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games, by using a range of technology including modified controllers and eye-controlled software.

I’ve been involved with SpecialEffect since 2013 after meeting the team at the EGX expo. I’ve helped on their stands at events across London, hosted presentations on their work and have also taken part in the GameBlast marathon every February. Having the opportunity to meet some of the people they’ve helped has made me understand that video games can be more than simply entertainment.

Most recently, I attended this year’s EGX event and spent a day volunteering on the charity’s stand. It has been a few years since I’ve been able to do this due to the COVID-19 lockdowns here in the UK. This explains why I was a little anxious upon arriving at the ExCeL in the morning, but the nerves quickly melted away and it was lovely being able to raise awareness of the organisation’s work in person again.

There were two games on display at the event. First up was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, played with large buttons and a wrist controller. This was the kind of setup which could be suitable for someone with limited dexterity in their hands. Next to it was a version of Minecraft called EyeMine which uses an eye-tracker. This means the game can be controlled by moving your eyes alone, something which could be suitable for individuals with severe physical disabilities.

Meeting some of the individuals that SpecialEffect has supported and hearing about the impact of their work first-hand is so inspiring.

Seeing attendees’ reactions to the display, particularly EyeMine, is always priceless. Younger children get excited after their experience and want to tell you about how it made them feel like a Jedi, while adults see the possibilities of the equipment and appreciate how technology can help everyone to be involved. One of the highlights of the day was meeting more people than ever before who had already heard about SpecialEffect, and it’s wonderful to see the awareness of the charity’s work growing.

It’s experiences like these which keep me volunteering but the reasons why I do it run deeper. Video games are still given a 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 promote this positivity and make a difference to the lives of others, then I can’t think of a better way to use it.

On a more personal level, volunteering has boosted my confidence. Meeting some of the individuals that SpecialEffect has supported and hearing about the impact of their work first-hand is so inspiring and encourages you to do things outside of your comfort zone. Volunteering reminds me that I’m able to handle social situations despite feeling quite anxious in groups and has allowed me to work on my public-speaking skills, something which is going to be handy during my data apprenticeship.

It also lets you meet so many lovely people. Thanks to Liam, Jacob and Maddy from SpecialEffect for looking after us throughout the day, and to fellow volunteers Jonathan and Omar (who kindly allowed me to use his photographs below) for making it fun. And hello to Tom from Godolphin Games who was on a nearby stand for Unknown Number, and to Charles from Comfortably Adventurous who stopped by to find out more about the BubbleBlasters project.

The next event I’m taking part in for the charity is GameBlast23, the perfect way to do what we love and have a positive effect on the lives of others at the same time. On a dedicated weekend at the event of February every year, hundreds of gamers and developers from all over the UK come together online to take part in extended gaming sessions. The aim is to raise funds and as much awareness as possible for SpecialEffect so the team can continue their amazing work free of charge.

Since the first event in 2014, we’ve done all sorts of things for the marathon: 24-hour and more streams, video games every day for 50 days, embarrassing dares on Twitch and Pokémon costumes (which Pete vows never to repeat). This time around though we need to come up with something extra special for GameBlast’s tenth anniversary on 24 to 26 February 2023. The good news is that we’ve recently started working on an idea, and will reveal more details in the next update towards the end of November.

If you’d like to find out more about becoming a volunteer for SpecialEffect, head over to this page on the website for information. And if GameBlast sounds like something you’d be interested in taking part in, you can sign up via JustGiving or Tiltify and receive regular updates by following the official Twitter account. It’s time to help everybody get back in the game.

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