Gareth Garratt is curled up in his wheelchair, his body secured in a bucket seat while his hands clutch at the side of a desktop. His chin is pressed down onto a Toshiba mouse and he's using that to control a virtual Marty McFly, clambering around the back of a police van. Gareth's chin is the only part of his body that seems to have fine motor control, due to the cerebral palsy he was born with.
Gareth sprang to prominence earlier in the week after a frustrated series of posts on the Overclockers UK forum, as he struggled with EA's Dead Space 2; through this, he's managed to raise the profile of disabled gamers and persuade EA to patch in support to Dead Space 2. We've come to his family home in Leicester, UK to talk to him about the campaign, the difficulties he has with gaming, and the wide variety of support he's received. Due to his palsy it’s very hard for Gareth to talk, so his answers are short and sometimes his mother and full-time carer, Jacqueline Garratt, has to interpret for me.
PC Gamer: The set-up you have here is amazing. There are two huge screens, more DVDs, CDs and hard drives than I’ve ever seen, a good surround sound system, and a top-end custom PC; have you installed this all yourself?
Jacqueline: "I'm his hands. He tells me what to do, and it goes in one ear... he knows what he’s doing though.”
PC Gamer: What games do you play?
Gareth: “I mainly play FPSes and racing games; I’ve been trying to play Dead Space; Dirt 2 was great, and I’ve been trying F1 2010 recently as well. I like Fallout 3 - New Vegas as well. I can play most genres, but it all depends on what options it gives. It's hard. I like to play multiplayer games with friends from Overclockers.”
PC Gamer: You play these with the mouse, and you use your chin to control the mouse. Using custom configurations, you assign walk forward to the right-mouse button, is that correct?
Gareth: Yes, and the fire button on the middle button. I play racing games on the Xbox controller, over there.
PC Gamer: How do you play reaction based games like that?
Gareth: I can use the sticks one at a time. On most driving games there are some buttons that you can’t customise. The Codemasters games are okay. Grand Theft Auto; I can’t change the controls, so it’s impossible to play because you have to use two keys at the same time.
PC Gamer: How did you get into PC Gaming?
Jacqueline: “When he was small, dad started him off on them.
Gareth: “I’ve grown with them; at school, I used a lot of computers there, that's how it started off really.
PC Gamer: What was the first one you played?
Gareth: I think it could have been Sega Rally or something like that. Or perhaps Golden Axe
PC Gamer: That had multiple simultaneous inputs though; is there anything else you’d say, apart from single inputs and key configuration options, that would make it easier for you to play?
Jacqueline: “Add more buttons on the mouse, on the top, not the side”
Gareth: “It's very hard to find a mouse with buttons on the top. All the customisable mice focus on the sides.
Jacqueline: “They’re really for people who can use their hands.”
PC Gamer: Do you have any specialised bits of kit that help you game?
Gareth: Nothing: Everything's off the shelf. We have to fight for it at we get. Nobody helps, or advises us. Since I posted this on Overclockers UKforum, the OCUK community have been giving me good advice and some have offered to help.
PC Gamer: Have you ever tried contacting Special Effect (the UK’s disabled gaming charity)?
Jacqueline: “No, I’ve never phoned Special Effect.
Gareth: “The things are so expensive; the head-tracking hardware is so expensive. It's hard to afford that kind of money?”
PC Gamer: What do developers do that makes it easier for you to play games?
Gareth: Not much. What annoys me is that they should have it on the back of the box.
PC Gamer: Do you feel that this is something government should be legislating about? A bit like the Age ratings?
Jacqueline: Yes. You pay out for the game, but when you get it back home you can't play it; it's not on the back saying whether it's got customised controls options.
Gareth: And then you can't take it back, because of the no-returns policy. It should be on the back, and it should state if it can be customised or not.
PC Gamer: You’ve paid for all this yourself? If it’s not rude to ask, how much did it cost?
Gareth: Yes. £1,800; no help from government.
Jacqueline: He’s got two monitors. Sky and Freeview. It’s taken a lot of time to get up to this standard. It used to be his dad helped him, but he passed away two years ago and I’m still learning.
PC Gamer: This Dead Space 2 campaign has taken up a lot of your time; were you expecting a response?
Gareth: No. (laughs) I had an email from the Dead Space developers saying they are working on a patch to enable customised controls in the game and they will send me out some goodies. About a year go, I sent an email to Rockstar about GTA IV again; I didn't get any reply back.
PC Gamer: Will you be carrying on your campaign?
Gareth: I’ve only contacted those two before, just those two for now. Yeah, I'll be contacting a lot more people. I’m getting fed up of wasting money every time.
PC Gamer: Do you go to the shops to buy them together? What do you do if you want to return a game?
Jacqueline: Yes, we do, but if you can't play it, you can't take it back. You've wasted the money. Four times we’ve had unplayable games we can do nothing with. It makes you angry, really angry.
PC Gamer: That’s British trading law; who do you blame for this?
Jacqueline: “It's the got to be down to the developer; it's not the shops fault; they're only sellling it. You've got to go to the source of it.
PC Gamer: Do you try before you buy?
Gareth: “A lot of games are not on demos. It's like FIFA 11; I can't play that, but FIFA 10 I can. They removed mouse controls on FIFA 11; I can't understand why they removed it. If it's already in FIFA 10, why take it out? I don't know. It happens frequently. Codemasters is very good at customised controls. EA is reasonably good but just lately they've gone downhill. Rockstar; the second GTA was okay, San Andreas, but GTA IV was bad. Rockstar: Get your arse into gear. (laughs).
PC Gamer: Do you use remapping programs?
Gareth: People say to you remapping programs and all that, but I shouldn't need to; it should be in the game itself. It would benefit everyone. With remapping programs I can get three buttons working, but I can't get the other buttons working. This Toshiba mouse has two mouse buttons, three extras on the top, and two buttons on the side but I can't use them.
PC Gamer: What would you do without games?
Gareth: I'd be bored out of my head. (laughs)
PC Gamer: Do you get any therapeutic benefits from games?
Gareth: No. It’s purely entertainment.
PC Gamer: Do you think it would be difficult for smaller companies to implement all the different supports needed for all the different types of disabilities?
Gareth: They could include options in the game menu to make it easier for all kinds of disabilities. If the small companies start doing that, then more people will buy their product and then they will grow into bigger companies!
PC Gamer: Have you received any messages of support for the campaign?
Gareth: We’ve been overwhelmed by the support; we’ve had messages from Thailand, Poland, America, and Russia... Lots of people have signed the petition. Another guy (AskACapper - quadraplegic Comedian Chuck Bittner) started the campaign - he did the petition first and then I joined in later. I helped him to get to 40,000 signatures - he’s going to see someone important about it, and now he's got something to take. I think he’s going to meet all of the developers for consoles and PC. At first he was focusing on consoles, at first, now he sees the PC side of it.
PC Gamer: What will you focus on next?
Gareth: I just want all the new releases that are coming out to include the option for customised controls; I'm not asking much. I'm not asking to change the whole game or anything; it's something simple to do, if you do it at an early stage. Everyone will benefit from it instead of using the mapping software.