Following the exploits of the vast number of professional and scholastic sports teams has always been a big part of my family life while living and working in the Philly/NY Metro area. I grew up with a pool in our backyard and so became a competent swimmer, but apart from that I never really participated in much athletically. A portion of my seasonal calendar has always revolved around the perennial beginning-to-end of the four major Philadlephia professional sports franchises, plus a lot more attention lately devoted to watching MLS soccer, and, of course, the Rutgers University sports.
During the last few decades, a couple big sports trends and how they’ve become intertwined with one another should generate a lot of excitement and social good in years to come: namely, digital technology, as exemplified by video sports games, fantasy sports and innovative hi-tech fitness equipment; and, also, the growing populartiy of adaptive sports for athletes with disabilities. Technologically speaking, I’ve always been impressed by the life-like features of the big game titles like Madden NFL, NHL ’12, NBA ’12, FIFA by EASports etc. but their steep learning curve pushed me towards the more arcade-like colorful titles available through iTunes for the iPhone/iPad.
Currently gearing up for the London Summer Olympics, and, Paralympics happening soon after at the very same site, I got curious about the availability of video game titles focusing on adaptive sports/simulation. In additon to taking in all the world news about South African track star Oscar Pistorius, I also have friends who have enjoyed success with wheelchair archery, road course handcycling, and adaptive kayaking. The film documentary Murderball about quad rugby was a big hit a few years ago and those of us who frequent NBA games have probably taken in a wheelchair basketball halftime demonstration at some point (sled hockey would be the NHL style equivalent of wheelchair ‘ballin).
Figuring there’s lots of subject matter for game developers to work with, I typed in the word “wheelchair” into the iTunes search field expecting to see at least a couple titles relating to wheelchair basketball and other sports/adaptitve technology things. Much of what I found related to medical supply company sponsored apps designed to help wheelchair-assisted folks with various life activities. Coloplast has a crowd sourcing app that helps users compile information about accessible places like ramps, ADA compliant restrooms, etc. There are some apps designed for assisting people who plan to travel to this year’s events at the London Olympics, especially if they intend to use the public transit system there.
However, the arcade-style game Wheels of Glory comes closest to what I had been looking for. It’s a relatively simple game involving finger tapping/sliding motions to maneuver a wheelchair athlete through various obstacles (i.e. a wheelchair-assisted computer oppontent, bouncing orange basketballs that bump into you) while retrieving gems for bonus points to eventually earn “medals”. Though initiailly disappointed that the game doesn’t specifically involve playing wheelchair basketball in any way (it’s a free download after all) I found the website associated with this game to emerge as the more compelling story. The game itself is a product designed by community college students from the UK to promote the efforts of an organization called Accentuate and their 1000 day run up campaign to commemorate the London Paralympics with an impressive array of cultural events involving sports, the arts, film, community education, etc. The organization is based in the region where the Paralympic movement started in 1948, originally called the Stoke Mandeville Games, named for the hospital that started it all and remains at the forefront of the work of Accentuate. In fact, the game itself features scrolling factoids during gameplay explaining the history of the games.
I do wish someday some game developer would do more with this type of theme for a sports video title. For instance, while playing the game it feels like the player is “pulling” the chair through the obstacles rather than utilizing a double-thumbed push-pull manuever to simulate manipulating the left and right wheels to turn an actual sports chair. And to have a game where you can actually shoot a basket would be awesome, and, given what I’ve played on other titles, very doable for a capable programmer. But as I’ve mentioned, the game is free and is a nice effort for a student project to promote an organization that is doing great things. So get out and play, download the game and check out the people across the Atlantic at Accentuate!