Friday, March 18, 2011

Gaming By Mouth

I'm quadriplegic (C4/C5 complete) due to a swimming accident in 2005. Before my injury, one of my favorite hobbies was playing video games. I'm thirty, and have been a gamer practically my entire life. The first gaming system I ever owned was a color computer, that hooked up to the TV and used huge eight track like cartridges. This was back around my kindergarten days, and I can remember using a simple joystick to play the Sesame Street educational games and a face maker game that I had for the system. My dad's a computer programmer. He had built his own hard drive at the time (1985), as well as owning an Amiga computer. I can remember being one of the only kids with a computer at home, in those days. We even had a color printer, with the old fashioned style paper, that had the holes down both sides & the perforated edges.

I remember learning "Basic" language in school, and using actual floppy (6 inch, skinny, floppy & square) disks to store our information. My second computer was a Comodore 64, which my brother handed down to me. TheComodore used floppy disks and Basic commands to "run" each game. It used simple joysticks to play the games, with one button. Some of my favorite games were: Quix, Friday the 13, Mission Impossible, B.C. Quest for Tires, Up & Down and Apple Cider Spider. At the time, my brother had the original NES. Both systems had hundreds of eight bit titles. Between the two of us we had dozens of games for each system. I can remember my best friend and I playing video games for hours! Growing up my friends and I also played outside a lot, played board games and with toys. Although we liked video games, our time glued in front of the television was more well balanced than it is for most kids today.

By the time my brother gave me his NES (around 1990), most of friends had one too. I fell in love with many of the Nintendo characters (Mario Bros., Yoshi, Toad, Princess Toadstool, Kirby & Zelda), and have been a loyal customer and fan ever since. When Super Nintento came out, my parents refused to buy it. I saved up my two dollar a week allowance and bought it for myself. I remember being so proud going to ToysRUs and handing over my huge wad of singles! SNES was a 16 bit console with a four button controller. It's funny, looking back, at how amazed I was by the graphics. I can actually remember saying how "real"' the graphics looked, which seems silly, compared to today's graphics. SNES remains to be my favorite console of all time, with some of my most loved games: Earthbound, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Super Mario RPG, Tetris vs. Dr. Mario, Mario Kart, Bubsy and Donkey Kong Country. I've owned almost every Nintendo gaming system and/or handheld, with the exception of the most current system, the Wii.

At the time of my accident I had the three most current gaming systems at my apartment (I owned Gamecube & Xbox and my ex-boyfriend owned Playstation 2). I enjoyed playing games by myself and with friends in my spare time. In fact, the night of my accident I had been playing my Gameboy Advanced SP, just hours before I was injured. Gaming has been a favorite pastime practically my entire life. Despite my disability, I continue to enjoy gaming, by playing games with a mouth-stick.

Last year, I read about an amazing paralyzed professional gamer, named Randy that plays with his chin and mouth. Like me, Randy has been a gamer almost his entire life. Unlike me, Randy was born with his disability, and has only ever played by chin & mouth. Being a fellow gamer, and having had the experience of gaming with two hands, versus playing by mouth, I'm completely blown away by Randy's level of skill and the complexity of the controllers he uses. I consider myself to be a pretty good gamer, but certainly not good enough to go toe to toe, or in mine & Randy's case, mouth to hand, versus professional gamers. I'm in total awe of his amazing skill! "I'm not worthy" *bows head* LOL!

Personally, not being able to use my hands limits me to certain type of games. Given the fact that I can't hit multiple buttons at once (using a mouth-stick), I can no longer play most console games. The modern controllers have way too buttons and the games rely on complicated combinations. The way Randy plays is a bit too much work for me. I'm satisfied with the balance and selection of games I've found. The mouth-stick I use to type and use the computer is about twelve inches in length, with a plastic mouth piece and rubber tip (like a pencil eraser). Most of the PC games I play rely solely on the mouse (I use a trackball style mouse. The rubber tip of my stick makes rolling the ball easy). I use built in short cuts, like "sticky keys" and "click lock" in the control panel settings, to allow me to be able to drop, drag and highlight.

I started using a mouth-stick to play video games during my stay in a nursing home (2005-2007). A buddy of mine turned me on to a MMORPG (Massivly Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game- other examples include: World of Warcraft, EverQuest & Guild Wars) called Maple Story. For those of you not familiar with MMORPGs, they are games in which you create a character/avatar, usually a specific class within the game, in which you play with other people, in real time. They are like virtual worlds, where you can explore, form guilds, complete quests, chat, and play with friends, or people you meet within the game. They usually have loose story lines, that allow you to have freedom to play the game how you want. In fact, quite often people end up meeting up in the game just to chat & socialize with fellow players. I've met a lot of nice people, over the years playing Maple Story and even met a few of them in person (My friend Naama-aka Jane-stayed with me and went to one of my exhibits, back in 2009, traveling all the way from Israel).

As cheesy as it might sound, playing Maple Story contributed greatly to me being able to survive my stay in the nursing home, and keep my sanity. For starters, the style of the game is a classic side scroller, that uses the keyboard for controls. Allowing for customization of commands, let me arrange my keyboard so that I can hit the "jump" & arrow keys at the same time. The graphics are very animesc (I just invented that word) and reminiscent of many of my favorite Nintendo games. The whole look and feel of Maple Story fit right in with my tastes and playing gave me a much needed escape from the harsh realities of my life. Being able to socialize, and vent to real people, also helped to keep me distracted and helped keep me from becoming totally withdrawn and depressed. In the Maple Story universe, I don't look any different, from anyone else. When I meet people in the game, they have no clue that I'm playing by mouth, unless I tell them. As insignificant as that might seem, the fact that I could blend in and feel "normal" again, helped give me a confidence boost to be more social, and interact with people. Having been able bodied for the first twenty four years of my life, my disability brings with it a huge amount of body image issues, and I struggle a lot with how different I look in appearance, since my accident. To have the luxury of not standing out, actually made it easier to break the ice and talk about my injury, and my disability (in the article about Randy, it mentions him having similar feelings and about the sense of freedom that he feels, while gaming). It makes me feel good to be able to keep up and compete with my able bodied peers, within the game. Everyone I meet is always stunned and surprised when I tell them I'm paralyzed. It's hard for the average person to imagine how it is that I can type so fast, and how well I play the game. I usually jokingly say, "you should've seen me when I could use my hands!" I can only imagine how amazing a gifted player like Randy would be, if it were not for his disability.

Like I said earlier, for the most part, on the PC I stick to games that only require a mouse to play. There are tons of games that fall into this category, including many of the popular social networking connected games, likeFarmville, Bejeweled and SPP Super Poke Pets. My favorite genres include, hidden object (like Huntsville Mysteries), match three (like Jewel Quest), and simulation (like The Sims). Many of the games I play are for free, with optional features for purchase. Another great invention (besides the trackball mouse- which stays stationary, and requires you to move just the ball, instead of the entire mouse) that has widened the selection of games I can play, has been the touch screen. There are two types of touch screens, pressure and capacitive. I have games for both. The Nintendo DS uses a pressure based touchscreen, on which I use a knitting needle, attached to the end of a traditional mouth-stick. The hand held system comes with a small plastic stylus, however it's way too short & thin for me to use. The knitting needle tip, mimics the stylus tip and gives me the same amount of accuracy. I have over thirty games for my DS, that for the most part, rely totally on the stylus and don't require pushing any buttons (some have annoying microphone or button requirements, that I basically ignore, or get help with, if I can't, but that don't hinder overall game play).

The iPad uses a capacitive touchscreen, which uses the electricity in our bodies (literal touch) to work. Given the fact that my hands no longer work, I use a special stylus (called a Pogo) attached to the end of a mouth stick, which mimics touch. The capacitive fibers wear down over time, and need to be replaced, depending on how much you use them. There are tons of games available for purchase (many have "lite" version for free, to test games out) in the Apple apps store. As an artist, I also use my iPad to create digital art, in addition to using it for writing, reading and gaming. My iPad is almost as versatile as my PC, and I love the fact that I can sketch and create art on it. As far as the games go, the graphics and sound on the iPad are superior to that of the DS, and uses a much larger touch screen surface.

Below I've listed some of my favorite game titles/gaming websites, for each platform:

1. Maple Story MMORPG-
2. Farmville-
3. SPP SuperPoke Pets!
4. Big Fish Games- You can download & pay per game, or pay a subscription for full games. I enjoy playing "match 3" games & "hidden object" games. I enjoy: Huntsville Mysteries, Bookworm, Asami's Sushi Shop, Fishdom, Puzzle Quest 2 & 7 Wonders. All the titles I listed are mouse driven.
5. The Sims Series-
6. Spore-

Nintendo DS-
1. Animal Crossing: Wild World-
2. Mario vs. Donkey Kong series-,
3. Final Fantasy IV-
4. Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light-
5. The Cooking with Mama series-,,
6. Disney Princess: Magical Jewels-
7. The Professor Layton Mystery series-,,
8. Chrono Trigger-
9. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon-
10. Wario's Warehouse series-,
11. Brain Age series-,
12. Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky-
13. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hour Glass (was very disappointed that Zelda: Spirit Tracks uses a button/stylus combo)-
14. Pokemon Diamond (have to use buttons, but it is a turned based RPG, which makes that doable)-
15. Yoshi Touch & Go-
16. Age of Empires Mythologies-
17. Harvest Moon DS Cute-
18. Ninjatown-
19. Gardening Mama-

1. Final Fantasy-
2. Crystal Defenders-
3. Chaos Rings-
4. Puzzle Quest-
5. Color Cross HD-
6. Jewel Quest Mysteries: Curse of the Emerald Tear-
7. Chop Chop Ninja-
8. Angry Birds series-
9. Smiles HD-

Related Info:
1. Article about Randy-
2. Randy's YouTube channel-
3. Video demo of me using my iPad (with Pogo stylus)-


  1. ty for sharing your story and short life bio. i am total game head. i will have to check out some of your suggestions :)
    i do have 1 ?, for digital u use a certain program? (I don't have an iPad btw)
    poor me lol

  2. Yes, the app I used for drawing is called Sketchbook Pro.