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Back in the hazy days of my childhood, I remember a letter from an enthusiastic Mario fan in Nintendo Power. His thumb muscle had been severed, so he learned how to play Super Mario Bros. 3 with his feet. That was a dedication to gaming that was on a level which I could barely comprehend. My thoughts returned to that incident as I looked over AbleGamers.com, a website devoted to helping disabled gamers. How much dedication, I wondered, does it take to overcome a disability to play games? Could some of them be the most hardcore gamers I could find?
The exact definition of a hardcore gamer is up for debate, but I believe that every definition has this criteria: How much trouble are you willing to go through in order to play a game? Whether it's honing your skills for hours or learning the game mechanics' formulae, dedication and perseverance are the mark of a hardcore gamer. And what requires more dedication than overcoming a physical limitation in order to play a game?
Mark C. Barlet is dedicated to helping the disabled play games. He founded AbleGamers not for himself, but for Stephanie, a long-time friend and gamer diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. "I was mad. I was mad at her and I was mad at Everquest and I was mad at Google," he said. "I wanted answers and no one had any ... I turned that anger towards building AbleGamers.com and we want to make sure that as many people that want to play, can."
Among AbleGamers' offerings are reviews on the latest games, including Dragon Age, Bayonetta, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Its game reviews differ from other sites because they contain additional information on accessibility. With a large spectrum of disabilities to account for, reviewers have to check quite a few things. Mike Myers, a reviewer for the site, listed many of the things he considers: "Colorblind issues, deaf issues, can it be played one-handed? Would someone who has trouble with large movements have problems? What about small, quick and precise ones?" Mike, who has underdeveloped hands from tetrophocomelia, was very familiar with the issues that disabled gamers face. "My right 'hand' is more developed than my left. The left hand looks kind of like a manatee head, and the right has a few useless fleshy nubs and a random knuckle. I basically have only two usable fingers."
Steve Spohn, Associate Editor of AbleGamers, has a similar problem, but his hardship comes from a lack of strength, not digits. He has muscular dystrophy, which slowly deteriorates his muscles as he ages. "I started playing videogames on the Nintendo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be exact. At first, I could use the controller just like anyone else but, as time marched on, it became increasingly difficult to hold the controller. Sega came along around the same time, with its 3-button controller, which made things even more difficult. I quickly learned that I could make small adaptations to continue playing.
"First, I would put the controller down on the table and use it like a pianist plays the piano. Later, I would invest in controllers that would give me easier ways of playing, like turbo functions. I loved games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat but it took a lot of work to play those. Nevertheless, I continued to play until I would get tired."