Volunteering at Insomnia 62

This past weekend the Birmingham NEC saw gaming take over with the festival Insomnia 62 hitting town. Youtube personalities, Twitch streamers, tournaments, merch and everything you can think of descended on the venue to celebrate gaming culture. It was a sight to behold, and I was able to attend the last day of the event, volunteering to work at the Special Effect booth.

Special Effect is a charity that helps people with disabilities and mobility issues play games. Standard controllers for consoles and even PC are designed with players with full mobility and range of motion, but what happens when that goes away or you want to play games but haven’t ever been able to properly use a standard controller?

Enter Special Effect. They provide assessment and support for people with these issues, allowing them to come to their HQ in Oxfordshire to try out some of the custom controllers available, get advice on how to change settings in games and consoles and where to buy the kit required. They will also, if possible, allow you to borrow a controller setup to test at home and see how things go.

The booth at Insomnia 62 had two demo’s: a multiplayer Forza Motorsport 7 demo and a Kirby Star Allies demo. Forza used a controller setup that saw the left analogue stick mapped to two separate buttons, along with the left and right triggers for accelerate and brake/reverse. One player had the left stick buttons which were smaller, for use by those who found it better to use two fingers only, while the other player had large over sized buttons for the same thing so if they had issues with their fingers they could use the palm or the like for control.

It says a lot about my skill with racing games that I seemed to be better with these controllers than I was with a standard one, but...moving on. The demo’s I gave to people ranged from kids just wanting to play something to families checking out something different and wanting to beat each other. A lot of the adults found it really interesting that the controls could be remapped in such a way, and several said they ran youth groups/clubs and that it might be worth them looking into this more for some of the kids that attended.

The Kirby demo used an over sized joystick and large X/Y/A/B buttons. It was the most familiar setup, because it was just taking what was on the joy-con, splits it out into separate buttons and enlarging everything about four times. There is some comment in here about the size of the joy-con's in general, but it was a great way to play, and the separate buttons could be moved on the Velcro like board underneath so you can rearrange them for what is most comfortable.

It was really great to see such unique controllers at work. The charity does great work helping people figure out ways to play with their unique issues, with the custom controllers but also advice on which settings to change in the game. For example, the Forza demo had auto-braking enabled, so I quickly discovered that steering and keeping your finger on the accelerator was the key, and unless you crash the brake wasn’t really needed.

I had a great time helping out, and everyone who worked for Special Effect were lovely and really made the volunteers feel welcome. It was tiring being stood around all day, but I really enjoyed giving demo’s and letting people know about the work this incredible charity does. If you know anyone who has mobility issues and wants to get into games or has trouble with the games they do play, and are based in the UK, give them a call or email, they will be more than happy to help out.