Cerebral Palsy (CP) is one of the most frequent causes of disability in childhood, with an incidence of 2 per 1,000 live births. In the EU, there are 1.3 million out of 15 million persons with CP in the world. This neurological disorder affects body movement, balance and posture and often is accompanied by cognitive or sensory impairments like mental retardation, deafness and vision problems. The severity of these problems varies widely, from very mild and subtle to very profound. But what most is affected by this disease, from the youngest age, is the ability to play.
Play is probably the main activity for any child. Through play, children start exploring their world, and put the basis of their own system of values, which will be the cornerstone of their adult life. Play in children with CP becomes difficult due to the disability, and this in turn can affect child’s self-esteem1. In addition, the sensory and motor problems experienced by children with CP affect how they interact with their surroundings, including the environment and other people. Youth affected by CP have fewer opportunities to participate in traditional games and exercises such as playing basketball, riding a bike or playing ball with their friends. The lack of exercise contributes to a cycle of deconditioning as youth with CP grow into adulthood, resulting in deteriorating physical functions, which will also negatively impact their opportunities for social interaction. Youth with CP have already been reported2 to have fewer social experiences with peers than youth without abilities, due to the special requirements for their access and transportation.
In this context, video games, and in particular exergames, represent a very promising way to enable youths with CP to perform the exercise they need to break the cycle of deconditioning, while allowing them to socialize with others in fun ways from the comfort of their homes. Exergames are a combination of exercise (or exertion) and video games. In particular, we refer to digital games that require actions of large body parts (like trunk or upper or lower extremity, as compared with finger or hand movements in non-exergames) or the whole body to control gameplay. Reviews of exergames indicate that they have positive effects both on motivation for active participation in rehabilitation and on impaired functions. However, the design of these games can be challenging, if our goal is to help them socialize with others. First of all, limitations in physical abilities of youth with CP make it difficult for them to play many of the existing exergames. Second of all, there are challenges to social play such as establishing player groups and playing with players with different abilities that need special consideration.
Looking at these problems, and taking into account our extensive expertise in the field, we believe we can help.
For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.
AbleGames aims to create the first online video games service for youths with CP, which will be the hosting platform of games (exergames and non-exergames) focused on improving motor skills and visual-motor coordination for youths with CP. These games will leverage the latest advances in Computer Vision and image processing techniques, in order to improve accessibility. The platform will be constructed with social networking in mind, which will allow parents, care givers and patients to socialize in a common environment, to share experiences and advice, in an effort to provide the best care for CP patients. Caregivers would also be able to share best practices and lessons learned among themselves, which will help them provide a better service across Europe and beyond.
AbleGames was born out of the idea that there is little or no help for youths with CP to play games specifically suited for their disability, while motivating them to play more and helping to rehabilitate their motor and motor-visual skills, and at the same time, introducing them to multiplayer/online gaming that would improve their social skills, and by extension, their social inclusion among their peers. Looking at the research done into these problems, we have seen that only baby steps have been made in an attempt to solve them. Several isolated demonstrations, in a research environment, have shown that there is great potential in exergames to be used as rehabilitation tools3,4,5, while others have shown that multiplayer can bring about social interaction leading to an improvement of social skills for disabled patients.
What AbleGames wants to do is to create the first online platform for games for patients with CP, where they, and their care givers and parents, can have instant access to games, join a community of peers, and share their knowledge in order to provide the best possible help for all youth with CP.
The platform will be built around the idea that online or multiplayer games take advantage of the motivational aspects of group activity, and can provide additional motivation and stimulate compared to single payer games. They are inherently promising for people with disabilities that are confined to their homes or care centres, so they have the potential to reach the widest audience. Online video games offer possibilities to reach out to people, as players have reportedly felt “more themselves” because they are not judged by their appearance, gender, age or, in this case, their disability7. The study shows that almost half of the players have met with online friends in real life, suggesting that online gaming is a social activity, or facilitates a social activity, and that many of them have developed long-lasting relationships with people they met online. The same behaviour has been seen in people with disabilities, where the freedom given by multiplayer/online games helped in developing meaningful relationships and builds a community outside the home.
We see no reason why the same concepts cannot be applied to youths with CP, albeit in a way that will be particular for them, taking into account the physical disabilities associated with CP.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme under grant agreement Nº 958637