Accessibility, Technology

Veterans Avoid Isolation and Find Community Through Adaptive Gaming

 August 19, 2020

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

One too many video gamers has probably thought of himself as an actual soldier while playing any number of first-person shooters. While we can debate the merits of that aspect of gaming, it is a whole lot easier to imagine the need for relief and escape needed by actual soldiers stationed all over the world. It is also easy to imagine that this pastime may continue to bring joy for veterans. Well, a partnership between the Veteran Affairs Department and Microsoft has gone one step further by opening video games and e-sports up to vets with limited mobility.

veteran in wheelchair

The aim of this initiative is to trigger more inclusivity, connectivity and engagement among veterans with severe disabilities and life-altering injuries. For the first time in VA’s history, vets with limited mobility will enjoy unprecedented access to adaptive esports on a national level. You have probably heard of video games but may be familiar with e-sports.

E-sports is a form of competition, using video games, that takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, individually or as teams. These sorts of competitions have always been popular between amateurs, but the 2000s have seen a surge in popularity, complete with professional gamers and spectatorship. As a result, a professional e-sports subculture now exists. The most common genres are multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), first-person shooter (FPS), fighting, digital collectible card games, battle royale games and real-time strategy (RTS).

Microsoft donated up to 170 Xbox Adaptive controllers and other gaming equipment to 22 VA medical centers across the United States. The controllers are customizable devices specifically designed for gamers with disabilities. The centers were specially picked because they use some form of gaming for vet rehabilitation. Events hosted by VA’s Office of National veterans Sports Programs and the National Veterans Wheelchair Games will host events where these devices and other equipment will also be available. Their eventual goal is to eventually integrate adaptive e-sports into national competitions.

Adaptive gaming opens pathways to communication, interaction and engagement that are a tremendous benefit to veterans, who are individuals that are at higher risk for isolation and higher risk to be withdrawn. The controllers have different mechanisms and a variety of switches and buttons that make gaming more accessible. Medical professionals will be able to use the devices for rehabilitative and recreational activities. Community building will be encouraged. Muscle activation and eye-hand coordination in individuals with spinal cord injuries, amputations and neurological injuries will be challenged and stimulated.

Microsoft and VA have been partners for more than 20 years. Even before the controller’s market release, the company tested it at last year’s National Wheelchair Games in Orlando. Veterans lined up to try the new tech out. Microsoft’s future work on adaptive technology will be informed by feedback from VA. As for the veteran’s organization, their hope is that veterans will be inspired to form local gaming communities and that, eventually, adaptive e-sports will be introduced into national competitions.

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