In Sickness and in Health: Video games and the importance of escapism

The two years since Nick’s accident have probably been the longest time in his adult life that he’s gone without gaming

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The Independent Online

In 2014 Rebecca’s husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident

On Friday, Nick scored approximately 19 goals. He also tore around a rally track in the shadow of Battersea Power Station. I’d love to be able to say that he did the former with grass under his feet and the latter with his hands on the wheel; instead, he did it using a games console. 

The two years since Nick’s accident have probably been the longest time in his adult life that he’s gone without gaming. He’s been on first-name terms with Mario, Sonic, Solid, Lara and Link for decades, playing first as a fan and later as a professional.

His collection of consoles, now nesting in the garage, consists of a couple of near-antique Nintendo GameCubes, three generations of Xbox and the same of PlayStations. The handhelds – Nintendo DS, various, and a couple of Game Boys – rub shoulders with two Masterchief helmets, Call of Duty night-vision goggles and an iPad arcade cabinet all of which are patiently waiting for his attentions. When we met, he worked in PR for Xbox. He’d had a job at Electronic Arts and went on to work for Activision. He proudly tells his carers about the companies he’s worked for, and the games that he loved.

I tried to get Nick to play Angry Birds when he was in hospital. The idea didn’t take off. Over Christmas, his eyes lit up every time he saw an ad on television for anything games related, but I didn’t know whether he would – or could – play, nor how I could go about setting up a console for his limited range of movement. Then I received a message from Special Effect, a charity that uses technology and gaming to enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities. Years ago I’d fundraised for it by dressing up as Ms Pacman and running a 10k. More recently, and impressively, the son of some friends raised £16,000  by presenting a 24-hour live-streamed game-a-thon (Will, you’re a hero).

I thought, then, that Special Effect was a force for good – now, after Gillian and Frankie’s visit last week, I know it is. Armed with boxes of tech and a heroic supply of velcro, they set up a PlayStation 3 that Nick could actually use. With the help of a lightweight mat for his lap and a mount for the controller (disclaimer: I had to press the X button on command for Nick to shoot), he was running around a football pitch in no time. His smile was so wide that I thought his face might crack. Although not previously a big fan of the Fifa series, he was thrilled to have a go, and to boast about how he used to work on the game.

So many people write gaming off as the ultimate time-waster, as chewing gum for the brain or as something that turns teenagers slack-jawed at best or ultra violent at worst. But it can delight, and it can give people trapped in their own bodies an escape into a world they can control. Watch the videos on the Special Effect website. They are inspiring. Thank you, Special Effect, for giving Nick an afternoon off from being disabled. And Nick would like to say thank you for lending him that PS3.