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Learning To Use Your Hands: Surgeon Simulator & Disability

Javy Gwaltney | 20 Sep 2013 12:00
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I was diagnosed with Dysgraphia shortly after I turned eleven years old. Dysgraphia is a collection of writing deficiencies that can mean anything from the physical act of writing by hand to comprehending the meaning of written text. My brand of Dysgraphia affects my fine motor skills and also comes with a side of ADHD, a commonality for those with the disability.

The diagnosis came after five years of well-intentioned teachers taking it upon themselves to help me learn to write legibly. The note I received from the doctor put an end to all that, but it didn't keep my peers from mocking my "kindergartner" hand script. I learned to half-heartedly accept my condition for what it wasn't: a more debilitating condition. My Dysgraphia faded into the background of my life, only to surface whenever I had to sign my name on a receipt or write on a dry erase board while teaching. At least, this is the story I've created for myself.

The inability to perform a simple action-like twisting your hand to grasp a syringe-struck a different chord with me

I found myself reflecting on my disability shortly after sitting down to review Bossa Studios' Surgeon Simulator 2013. Despite its rather serious name, SS13 is an absurd game with a deliberately awkward control scheme that makes pulling off the simplest actions ridiculously difficult. Controlling the titular surgeon's fingers means using the letter keys that correspond to each finger while the mouse controls the movement of the doctor's stiff hand. Without practice, picking up and using surgical tools is an almost insurmountable task.

Surgeon Simulator's humor serves as a unique justification of just how hard the game is. It's different from Dark Souls' difficulty, which is designed to make the player feel that each triumph is one they've truly earned. Surgeon Simulator is there to give the player a challenge and serve them up a laugh at their own expense. However, the inability to perform a simple action-like twisting your hand to grasp a syringe-struck a different chord with me, one that made me queasier than the cartoonish gore could.

I was curious enough about my experience that I contacted Bossa studios and was given the opportunity to chat with Luke Williams, Bossa's junior designer, about the game's control scheme:

Luke: Well, we took part in the Global Game Jam 2013....The control scheme came about when we were looking through certain "points" you could get for including things in your game that the Global Game Jam team set out. One of these bonus points was to use more than 10 keys. We figured if we had a key for each finger then that equals 10, but as we tried to figure it out we realized we'd lose the ability to move around the space. We kept the key for each finger but only on one hand, while the mouse was used to move the hand around. We ended up not hitting the 10 key target, but it made us reach our final control scheme-more or less. All the tilting and pitching the hand with the mouse was just further refinement on how to get some degree of movement from the hand....It was designed primarily to amuse us; we never imagined it would go much further than even our team. The whole premise of the game was to create something fun and amusing for us as we suffered from sleep deprivation. Everything came from making us laugh, so the act of having to relearn how to use your hand was funny, but then we made you perform probably one of the most complex tasks you could do with your hands in the real world.

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