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Kristina Veasey plays Wheels of Glory at the launch of Gaming! at Pinewood Studios / 15 August 2010

promotional image for computer game

Wheels of Glory - available on the CCC website

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On 13th July I was invited to the launch of Wheels Of Glory, a new computer game based around the Paralympics. Before attending, I knew very little about how this project had progressed and was curious to see what had been created, how and by whom. The launch was held at the Pinewood Studios and involved a chance to meet those involved and to play the game itself.

Gaming! is an Accentuate project run in partnership with Creative Junction that aims to engage young people in the production of a new interactive computer game celebrating the inspirational story of Stoke Mandeville and the Paralympics. As well as involving disabled and non-disabled young people in its creation it’s wider engagement with people of all ages and abilities who play the game will spread the positive image of participation by disabled people in the mainstream.

The project began in January and has included 18 students from Chalfonts Community College in Buckinghamshire who were studying for a Creative and Media Learning Diploma (examined by AQA-City & Guilds). These students were joined by game designer Tom Scutt who also worked on Tomb Raider and he worked with them to develop their ideas into a tangible reality.

I enjoyed hearing first hand from the students what their brief had been, what ideas they’d had and the decisions they’d made along the way. They talked a lot about team work and opportunity and gave the sense that they had valued and enjoyed the experience.

The students had worked in groups to come up with themes around Paralympic sports and what it takes to be a Paralympian. There were ideas around wheelchair racing and marathons, passing iconic landmarks and avoiding barriers but the idea that was chosen and developed into the final game was around Wheelchair Basketball. This idea may have been inspired by a session the students enjoyed with a local wheelchair basketball team and the enigmatic Ade Adepitan!

The game itself is great! I am of course a little biased as it is based on my former sport but as the students themselves said, they wanted to create something simple and addictive. Reports back from those I have sent a link to have confirmed that it is certainly addictive! Whilst I can’t get off level one I have friends desperate to get beyond level 7.

The premise is that you collect gems as they appear on the court and build up levels of ‘paralympic qualities’ like determination or inspiration or respect etc. You also collect medals and facts about the Paralympics. You are introduced to another player that you compete against and need to avoid crashing in to on higher levels and it is all set within a time limit.

What happens at the end? If I ever get there I will let you know! I have been told that there is still time for feedback and suggestions for any tweaking are welcome. For myself I would like to see the names of the GB Wheelchair Basketball Squads up there (perhaps with their classification points and a little biog as well) and have the opportunity to select one of them to be my named player. I quite fancy putting some of my old team mates through their paces!

The launch event allowed me the opportunity to meet and chat with some of the parents of the students as well as the students themselves. One quite engaging conversation about possible ways people with more restricted upper body mobility might be able to play the game led on to all the amazing and clever types of IT equipment that can be used to aid learning for students with dyslexia. This in turn developed into a wider discussion around the levels of support that many of our children need in order to navigate the style of learning we present in our schools (don’t get me started!). Mulling this over after the event has again raised for me bigger questions around equality and access to education and to opportunity generally.

Surely there is inherent disadvantage and inequality in a system that requires need for and a dependence on parental money, support, energy, time and know-how of ‘the system’ just to get disabled children to the starting line, let alone enabling them to start playing on an (un)even playing field?

There is an assumption that these things are all in place and are in never ending supply. I hear these same things again and again in conversations with parents of disabled children. I know parents who have had to stop working in order to have the time to support their child and fight for statements that cover their child’s needs effectively. Navigating these systems, attending tribunals, meetings with schools, teachers, therapists, doctors, psychologists etc as well as the care, support and nurturing of a child (and probably other siblings) hardly leaves room to hold down a job and deal with the emotional and mental drain and frustration that comes with it all.

How independent and empowered can disabled children feel as they grow into adults if they are witness this scale of upheaval for their parents, other family members and of course themselves? By the time a lot of children get the support they need they have fallen so far behind and established patterns of behaviour in response to not having their needs met that are then very difficult to unlearn.

Opportunity should be a given for all children, not just something for those who have an army of able challengers fighting to get them through. And these opportunities should not be one-off and tick-box either. They need to be sustainable.

Anyway, I digress. The parents and students I met at the launch were charming, engaging and full of enthusiasm for this project and what they had achieved. One student I was introduced to was Jenny Sands who is to be the Our View ambassador for Gaming! Using the skills she is learning in her course she will be making a film to help promote the game and give an introduction to how it was made.

She is at the beginning of this process and will be interviewing the students who created the game about their experiences to inform her work. I look forward to seeing it! If you would like to play the game you can access it through the Create Compete Collaborate website. Good luck and enjoy!

Keywords: 2012 olympics,access issues,computer games