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Adaptive Gaming Puts Patients Back in the Game

May 05, 2018

At Craig Hospital, one of our key goals is getting people back to doing the things they love so they can live active and fulfilling lives. That’s why our Occupational Therapy (OT) program at Craig is so important – we focus on not only helping patients learn the skills needed for daily living, but also how to do the things they enjoy on a daily basis.  

For many of our patients, especially among teens and young adults, video gaming is an activity that has played a significant role in their lives. It’s how they connect with their friends and family, and like any other activity people are passionate about, it can be devastating when a spinal cord or brain injury seems to have taken this activity away.   

Seeing that gaming was an important recreation activity for many patients, staff from our Assistive Technology, Rehabilitation Engineering and Therapeutic Recreation departments came together to modify existing controllers, trial commercially available adaptive controllers, and use some of the built in accessibility features of game systems – including sip and puff devices, voice controls and modified buttons – and other resources to give patients the ability to get back in the game.

Once they saw the impact that gaming had on patients’ self esteem and social interaction, they realized that adaptive gaming could also be an important tool for their therapy as well. Modifications to the controllers can help patients increase strength, balance, dexterity and endurance. Building upper body strength in this way can help patients become stronger when it comes to daily activities they are learning to tackle, such as eating, dressing and bathing as well. 

Today, our Therapeutic Recreation department, along with peers and volunteers, hosts a weekly Game Night at Craig that is centered around the social component of gaming and is a place for patients to use controllers modified for them in the Assistive Technology Lab or adaptive controllers that have been introduced to them in the Adaptive Gaming Clinic.

“The adaptive gaming program has proven to be incredibly beneficial in helping patients who have sustained a spinal cord and/or brain injury develop not only upper body strength and coordination, but hand/eye coordination as well,” said Erin Muston-Firsch, Assistive Technology Specialist at Craig – and one of the pioneers of the gaming program. “Not only that, but we see patients’ outlook change significantly when they realize that they can get back to doing something they love.” 

Eirrace Snead is a Craig patient who participated in Game Night. Eirrace, 19, has been an avid gamer since childhood – it’s how she and her brothers and sisters connect and compete with each other as well. “You had to get good enough to not lose, because if you lose, you have to give up the controller. I didn’t want to have to give up the controller, so I got really good,” said Eirrace. One of her favorite games is Call of Duty, and while her mothers don’t necessarily love her game of choice, Eirrace insists she’s “just out saving the world!”

After sustaining a spinal cord injury in February that left her paralyzed from the neck down, Eirrace wasn’t sure if she’d be able to game with her family again. But she has regained some movement in her upper body, and earlier this month, she worked with Erin to modify a controller and was able to complete an entire level of Call of Duty on her first try. “It was the first time in 60 days – since my accident – that I felt like I could get back to doing something normal,” said Eirrace. “It was just the best.”

Later that day, several of her brothers and sisters joined Eirrace at Game Night and challenged her to a game of Call of Duty.

As gaming is likely to remain a favorite activity among our patients, our staff remains dedicated to working with gaming manufacturers and engineers to ensure that patients have access to these meaningful recreational and therapeutic tools.