Before you start reading this blog, I just want to say that this was an article that I had in the County Down Spectator last week, and I have been given permission to publish it on here, to showcase more of the articles I’ve done.
THE Commonwealth Games will run from July 28th – August 8th in Birmingham, making it the fourth time that England has hosted the games. Having first been held in 1930, the Games has changed its name over the years, reflecting the change from Empire to Commonwealth.
Its format has also changed a lot as well, with 2002 marking the first year disabled sport was included.
But since the beginning of this year, there have been discussions around the possibility of E-sports being added into the Commonwealth Games — which has also been discussed as a possibility for other sporting tournaments as well, such as the Olympics.
I would like to add my voice into the debate, suggesting how it might be a good idea to consider adding the platform into disabled sports.
While there are many points around the debate concerning whether or not video games should be included in the Commonwealth Games, the one point people against it would make is that it isn’t actually a sport. However, for people like myself who are very severely disabled (I am paralysed from the neck down, meaning I can’t move anything other than my head) you could make a case for Para Sports in general to include them, if we consider how many disabled people could take part if the right technology was provided, but can’t at the minute because their disability is too high.
The UK has the biggest video game market in all of Europe (though let’s admit it, our relationship with Europe is set at the ‘it’s complicated’ status), and we are also the sixth-largest gaming market worldwide. In recent years, gaming has become an increasingly enjoyable pastime — especially for the 16-45 age bracket — and was known for being a big mental health helper throughout the pandemic, when we all had to find ways of communicating with each other through remote means.
AbleGaming has also become a massive phenomenon in the last few years — with releases such as the Xbox Adaptive Controller and the Hori Flex for the Nintendo Switch and PCs — meaning disabled people can now play games with their peers.
So how could all of these technological advances apply to disabled sport, and why would some argue that e-games should at least be considered as a way of including more disabled people?
There are 14.6 million disabled people in the UK, and although representation has got a lot better for disabled people across the media — thanks to the nearly 10 years since the 2012 Paralympics coverage — there are still problems that will need to be overcome by the gaming and disabled sports industry before any decision is made.
One of the sports that this applies to is racing, but also the likes of wheelchair basketball, wheelchair football and wheelchair rugby, where the disabled person in question has to move around a lot. But what about disabled people with higher level disabilities — some who are unable to move their hands and legs, and others unable to breathe without the help of a ventilator and tracheotomy tube, which would raise a health risk for anyone who wanted to take part in the sport.
Electric / Powered wheelchair technology also isn’t fast enough, so disabled people taking part in any of these games would still be disadvantaged, without even adding in the fact that they might have to pull over every time their ventilator comes off, and might require their carers coming round with them.
There may, however, be a solution for more severely disabled people to take part in a version of disabled sports if the concept of e-gaming was adopted.
Yes, video game developers and designers would have to brainstorm ways to create games that let you play all the games that I’ve previously mentioned, and whether or not they should include options for what they can choose their avatar to be, even to the point of adding in accessories such as a tracheostomy tube and ventilator.
This would also apply to other sports such as wheelchair archery and others, where it wouldn’t realistically be safe enough for someone to fire an arrow using their mouth, but with the use of accessible technology and game design, there would be a way for people with higher level disabilities to take part in such a sport, even through the likes of touch screens and AI.
So overall, the technology does exist that will allow severely disabled people to get involved with the Commonwealth Games and other famous sporting tournaments, but there needs to be massive discussions about how things will be run as well. We’ll need to discuss how sporting tournaments find out if an actual person with a severe disability is behind an avatar, as well as ways that different disabilities are showcased in avatar form, and how this should translate to the actual sport.
But I wholeheartedly believe that if e-games are to be considered to be part of any sport in the near future, disabled sports are a good starting point, so that disabled people of even higher injuries can still feel like they are part of the wider superhuman message in sport that continues to go on.