Massively Uplifting: Shattering mental health and disability stereotypes while increasing gaming inclusivity


Back to school? That quintessential September mantra may not be a given for everyone this year. However, what is still a given is the goodness of so many in the gaming world! No Man’s Sky and Sea of Thieves supported charity initiatives, while gamer Steven Spohn has declared a goal of raising $1 million dollars for Ablegamers so that, as he put it, the charity will outlive him. Others are challenging stereotypes: Industry veteran John Smedley raised awareness of those making and playing games with mental health issues, and streamer Bionicoplay demonstrates incredible — and inspirational — skill while playing with only one arm and his leg, wiping out misconceptions about disabilities while wiping out his foes.

You don’t even have to be a gamer to support gaming. The UK’s Digital Schoolhouse is innovating ways to help bridge the “digital divide” to the UK’s disadvantaged kids, with ideas from teaching game-design courses in an accessible way to repurposing old game development machines to donate to schools.

Challenging stereotypes

Gamers as a whole are used to dealing with stereotypes from the rest of the world. You know that one image we can’t shake: The media likes to just conjure up visages of jobless grown adults living in their parents’ basement, gorging on junk food while mindlessly engrossed in a game, leeching from society and their family – or even just mindless, disrespectful kids glued to their screens ignoring the rest of the world. We know how far from the mark that is! Gamers are a massively diverse group, filled with everything from kids to professionals to families, with all level of skills and abilities. Yes, there can be issues and struggles, but that’s no different than the rest of the world.

Can gamers have mental health issues? Can developers? Yes. And they can still be productive, functioning folks. In fact, many people don’t even know the extent of mental health issues that surround us. John Smedley, once head of SOE and Daybreak and now running Amazon Games, brought more awareness to this exact issue while speaking at The International Games Summit on Mental Health Awareness. He shared his personal experience with being both a gamer and a game maker while battling lifelong depression.

On another front, Spellbreak Director of Community & Player Support Andy Belford highlighted Spellbreak player and streamer Bionicoplay, who helps shatter preconceptions about who can game — and game successfully. Bionicoplay uses only one arm and his leg as he games to entertain viewers, explore virtual worlds, and eradicate in-game enemies.

Increasing inclusivity

Bionicoplay is not the only gamer or streamer out there with disabilities or special needs. And to be able to join in this favorite pastime of gaming, some folks require adaptive equipment. That equipment is almost always built specifically to address individual needs by a number of charities, such as SpecialEffect and Ablegamers. Through these charities, gaming becomes more inclusive.

As highlighted in our last Massively Uplifting, SpecialEffect’s annual One Special Day was held on October 2nd. This initiative invites the gaming industry to come together to support those who need support to game. Among many others, No Man’s Sky answered the call by donating all revenue for the day from both No Man’s Sky and The Last Campfire to the UK gaming charity. Even more heartwarming were the gamers who jumped in to specifically buy the games on that day in support of the charity!

Many gamers fundraise and offer support to AbleGamers, a charity that also provides adaptive set ups so those with different levels of ability can join in the world of gaming. However, one soul has really made an ambitious goal to help the charity. Stephen Spohn, himself a disabled gamer who has defied the life expectancy of his doctors, has decided to celebrate a major life milestone by committing to raise $1M dollars so others will be able to enjoy gaming. In his words: “For my 40th birthday wish, I want to ensure AbleGamers can outlive me.”

“I have poured 15 years of my blood,sweat, and tears into creating an organization for disabled people to combat social isolation,” he continued. “Something all of us can identify with after the year 2020.”

To help Spohn reach his goal, you can donate directly to AbleGamers using his special link. If you are a content creator, he also invites you to participate in his Spawn Together initiative to hold a fundraiser.

Sailing toward a cure for cancer

It seems that fewer and fewer people can say they don’t know someone who has or has had cancer. Cancer strikes so many, and often very close to home. Sea of Thieves recently joined the fight against the insidious disease with a fundraising initiative to support Stand Up to Cancer. A special new sail for players’ ships was introduced, called Sails of the Union. How is it special? It looks lovely by day, but at night it twinkles like starlight! Folks can buy them on Steam or the Microsoft Store for ÂŁ4.99/$5.99 USD. All proceeds (100% of the purchase price, 75% of Steam purchases) will be donated to Cancer Research UK. Support a good cause and look good while doing it!

From studios to schools

You don’t have to even be in the gaming industry to support the gaming industry. That was shown this past month by one director in the industry who suggested that game companies could help bridge the “digital divide” to the UK’s disadvantaged kids and prepare the way for more to enter into the gaming industry by repurposing their old development equipment. While speaking at the Best Places to Work Awards, Digital Schoolhouse Program Director Shahneila Saeed made a simple suggestion to the UK industry: “Instead of recycling your machines, can you donate them instead?

Saeed emphasized how many disadvantaged kids could never even have the opportunity to pursue opportunities in game development because they have no access to the computer equipment needed to learn. Not even schools in disadvantaged areas have enough tech digital hardware to make up the difference. Saeed said,

“I want to use this opportunity to make a plea, to all of you out there,” “Instead of recycling your machines, can you donate them instead, please? “[The games industry] is creating technology for tomorrow. The machines we use in our offices and studios have to be the latest, so we’re constantly upgrading. I believe it’s a cycle of about every three years… that’s about the average. And every time you upgrade, you’re upgrading to another high spec PC.”

Also discussed were other ways of getting around this digital divide by employing learning techniques that don’t rely on technology to bring programming classes to students. For example, Saeed shared about a recent collaboration with Middlesex University and its six-week game design course for disadvantaged children. Since any one student would likely have access to at most one smartphone (neccesary to watch the class via stream), the course was “completely unplugged — as in teaching video games design just using pen and paper.”

We’re all for the pool of ideas and skills to expand in our gaming industry and hope some studios will heed this call to support the next generations of developers!

Never too much heartwarming

Had a rough Monday — or any day — and want a deeper delve into the generosity, and kindness prevalent in the gaming world? Wrap yourself in these other stories from throughout the month and let the warmth settle in your heart.

From happy stories to good deeds within our virtual worlds and the real world around us, there’s so much good in the gaming community. That’s why Massively OP’s MJ Guthrie pens Massively Uplifting: to highlight those generous, inspiring, heart-warming, and uplifting tales that exist throughout the MMOverse. Send your suggested stories along to for our next entry!
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