Special Games For Special Players

Video games are now being made more accessible for those with disabilities and everyone else too.

Randy Fitzgerald

Randy “N0m4D” Fitzgerald is one of the more well-known ‘Able Gamers’ around in the world, but he is certainly not alone. Mike Begum is an avid Street Fighter player with Arthrgryposis, a rare congenital condition, who kicks butt as Chun Li almost solely using his mouth. Toby Ott, a gamer born without eyes, regularly beats his friends in Tekken and is also an avid Final Fantasy player. Brandon Cole, another blind gamer writes a blog about gaming without sight. Their goal is not to be a story of inspirational struggle. They just want to play and beat their friends like every other gamer. Game companies are taking notice too. The latest Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, released in 2014  includes a colorblind option and a special “N0M4D” control layout for disabled players. You can check on the site Game Accessibility to see what a developer is offering.


20130718-041669cecdadf62cb2a844e863bc10cd9e9c96df0a912f10737a2a2-1024.pngWhile eye tracking, wireless switches, speech to text, text to speech, and audio signaling have been useful in aiding special needs players, there are other innovations in special needs gaming that are also important to mention. First, the game accessibility guidelines, are helping to make accessibility a core tenant of game design. Also, Ablegamers is an organization that seeks to connect caregivers and people with disabilities to game developers to provide inclusive experiences. Read Ablegamers full inculdification document for more insight. For more opportunities, you can also attend an Abilities Expo which occurs every few months across the United States.

“Every maker of video games knows something that the makers of curriculum don’t seem to understand. You’ll never see a video game being advertised as being easy. Kids who do not like school will tell you it’s not because it’s too hard. It’s because it’s–boring.” -Seymour Papert


young girl on the Wii
Part of the reason I advocate so heavily for game-based learning is that most of my students with disabilities never learn well through traditional teaching methods. For that reason, I seek whatever tools are available to make games and everything else as accessible to as many as possible. I want to raise awareness about the power and effectiveness of using games with special needs students. In my post Shall We Play a Game? I mention Sea Hero Quest and Project Evo as games that are being approved for treating Alzheimer’s and ADHD respectively. Now you can add Posit Science’s BrainHQ to the list of games using neuroscience to create a therapeutic gaming tool. Other kid-friendly games have even improved vision for people with low visual acuity.

Scibblenauts is great for literacy and creative problem-solving. Games like Social Express, webisodes created by the father of autistic twins, have been shown to improve communication and emotional development. Other teachers are using World of Warcraft for that same purpose. Research shows that games teach skills in turn taking, teamwork, communication, and problem-solving.


In my district, we’ve used the XBox Kinect to make play accessible to students without fine motor control. It is useful for improving their gross motor skills. KinectEducation has a number of great resources to help in that effort. One tool I discovered last year for use in inclusive gaming is Pillo. They develop games for people with autism that can be controlled by moving and squeezing a pillow. It’s an effort to help increase focus and relieve stress.

Overall it’s clear that games are a powerful tool in treating and teaching students with disabilities. Now we just need to work harder to make more of the games accessible and available for the players on the outskirts.

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