Get Well Gamers UK: giving kids a power-up

There might still be just over a month to go until actual the day, but many gamers are already feeling as though it’s Christmas thanks to the arrival of a shiny new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X last week.

So what do you do with that old console which is now going unused? You could pass it on to a family member or friend if you know someone who’s looking to get into gaming over the festival period. There’s also the option to sell it online, although that takes some effort and you may not get the price you’re hoping for. Or you could simply decide to get rid of it, but you’ll have to take the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Recycling regulations into account to make sure it’s disposed of properly.

There’s a much better option I’d like to propose though: how about donating it to charity and doing something positive? Get Well Gamers UK is an organisation that collects both video games and consoles and puts them to good use. The items are taken to over 100 hospitals, hospices, and other healthcare settings across the country where they can help provide much-needed entertainment for young people during long stays or in circumstances in which recreational activities are beneficial.

Video games have been shown to be an effective pain management tool so it makes total sense for consoles to make an appearance in hospitals. A 2011 study entitled Electronic gaming as pain distraction found that participants experienced more enjoyment, less anxiety and a greater reduction in discomfort when they were given an active distraction through gaming. There is also some evidence from a 2014 study that children who play video games are happier and more sociable.

Although I haven’t been caught up in the new console hype, my stepson and other-half certainly have. Ethan has been saving his pocket-money for most of the year and has managed to secure himself an Xbox Series X for Christmas (with the help of gift money from relatives and Pete’s fast mouse-clicking). That means we now have an Xbox One going spare – so donating it to Get Well Gamers UK and giving kids in healthcare settings a power-up is a worthwhile thing to do.

Got a console or video games you’d like to give to them? Here’s what you need to do:

  • Reset the console to its factory settings
  • Make sure all hardware, accessories and video games are clean and in working order
  • Complete this online form to let the charity know what you’ll be sending to them
  • Pop everything into a suitable box, along with a note giving your name and email address
  • Take the box along to your local post office to arrange postage
  • Feel all warm and fuzzy inside

  • Get Well Gamers UK, charity, man, boy, hospital

    Simple! And there are other ways in which you can help if you don’t have anything to donate right now but would still like to show your support. If you live in the Glasgow area, why not consider becoming a volunteer and joining the Get Well Gamers UK vault team; and if you’re a streamer, you can find information on their website about how to raise money and awareness for the charity’s work through your stream. You can also give the Twitter account a follow to stay up-to-date on what’s happening.

    Another charity which believes in the positive power of gaming and one I’d like to give a quick shout-out to is SpecialEffect. Through modified hardware and eye-control software, they put fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games. Pete and I are once again taking part in their annual GameBlast marathon next February and you can find out what we’ve got planned for the event in a post coming up next week.

    Now go put those old consoles and video games to good use!

    MCM Comic Con London 2019: volunteering for SpecialEffect

    SpecialEffect is an amazing UK-based charity which puts the fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by assisting them to play video games. By using technology ranging from modified joypads to eye-control software, they’re finding a way to help everyone play to the best of their abilities and having a profoundly positive impact on therapy, confidence and rehabilitation.

    I’ve been volunteering for the organisation for around six years now, after coming across their stand at the EGX event in September 2013. In that time I’ve had the opportunity to do all sorts of things for them: complete 10K runs through London, host video-game-themed pub quizzes, play FIFA against professional footballers, and looks after raffles at Twitch meetups. Next month I’ll be doing a presentation about the charity before the planning soon starts for the next GameBlast event (more about that later).

    I volunteer for SpecialEffect for several reasons. Over the years I’ve been able to meet some of the people they’ve supported and hearing about the impact of their work first-hand is simply inspiring. Video games aren’t just about entertainment; they can connect people, and everybody deserves to be a part of that experience. On a more personal note, I can become quite anxious in social situations and volunteering is a great way of reminding me that I can manage it. And finally: it’s so much fun.

    Last Friday I attended MCM Comic Con and spent the day at the ExCeL Centre helping on the charity’s stand. This time around we were showing off Trials Rising, a racing game that’s hard when it’s played in the usual manner – but even more so when it’s played with your chin, in a set-up that may be suitable for individuals with spinal injuries for example. I played a few rounds with Mark Saville, SpecialEffect’s Communications Officer, and we managed to reduce our time from 12 minutes to just under four by the end of the event.

    On the other side of the stand was ProtoCorgi, a horizontal shoot-em-up featuring – yes, you guessed it – a corgi protagonist. The controller had been replaced with large buttons and an oversized joystick to show attendees a set-up for someone who may not have fine motor skills in their hands. The title is pretty challenging and only fellow volunteer Erik was able to make it to the end of the level, but it proved to be a popular attraction and several people came back for multiple tries throughout the day.

    One of the best things about volunteering at Comic Con is that you get to see everyone in some fantastic cosplay. We took the chance to get as many photographs as we could with people holding a sign to promote One Special Day, where companies from the gaming industry are invited to donate a day’s revenue from one of their releases. My favourite was the family who came dressed as Fred, Velma and Scooby-Doo, and the young daughter just looked so adorable in her costume.

    After the summer I’ll start preparing for next year’s GameBlast, the UK’s biggest charity gaming weekend. Hundreds of gamers across the country will be taking part in a marathon video game session while raising funds and awareness for SpecialEffect. Over £800,000 has been raised through these events since 2014, and this amount has enabled the charity to continue their fantastic work and help change the lives of many more people with physical disabilities.

    GameBlast20 is due to take place from 21-23 February 2020 and more details will be announced soon. If you fancy taking part or even signing up as a volunteer yourself, get in touch with the awesome Becky Frost using the contact details on the organisation’s website. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a commitment of time and effort, but trust me: it really is a lot of fun and gives the greatest sense of fulfilment. You’ll be walking around for the next week feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

    Twitch LDN 2018: volunteering for SpecialEffect

    I‘ve supported SpecialEffect since 2013 and try to volunteer for the charity at events across London several times a year. Unfortunately though, family birthdays and work projects had caused date clashes in 2018 so I hadn’t done anything before September.

    But I’ve made up for it during the past couple of months by helping out at the ESI Super Forum and Comic Con, and then again at the Twitch LDN community meetup at the Bloomsbury Big Top on 17 November 2018.

    It was the first Twitch event I’d ever been to so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, and it was indeed different from the other occasions I’ve volunteered. Usually the focus is on the adapted controls at the SpecialEffect stand and the games they’re being used to play; but this time around, the volunteers’ presence was spread throughout the venue and we were also involved in set-up and entry. It was great to see a few people I’ve met before including the gorgeous Kat who’d joined me previously at the ESI Super Forum.

    I ended up looking after the raffle for the evening – and it wasn’t hard to persuade attendees to part with a couple of quid for the chance to win a 500 Million Limited Edition PlayStation 4 Pro. We must have got through around 200 tickets so that meant £400 raised for the charity which was simply awesome! I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of lovely streamers who either wanted to find out more about SpecialEffect or already supported them: props to the guy who gave me a cat sticker, and the girl who showed me her GameBlast logo tattoo.

    The event itself was basically one big party. Rooms around the outside held bars and free candy-floss (I spent most of the night on a sugar-high), and in the centre hall was a dancefloor and DJ for those who wanted to get their groove on. Sea of Thieves was one of the major sponsors so it wasn’t a surprise to find several consoles dotted around where the title could be played, and a pirate-y photo-booth for anyone looking for the perfect selfie. There were a lot of hyped-up attendees wearing eye-patches by the time I left.

    I spoke to more people than ever before who had already heard of SpecialEffect’s amazing work and each of them had a story to tell about the ways in which they’ve shown their support. Most were planning to participate in GameBlast19 next year and Later Levels is no exception: my other-half and I will be joining forces with Tim and Jake from GeekOut South-West to stay live on Twitch for 24-hours from 08:00 on Saturday, 23 February 2019.

    We’re asking everyone to help us decide on the games to play during our stream, and you can get in on the action by voting for your favourite titles in these polls. There’ll be another update on our progress towards the event later in December and in the meantime, why not check out our photographs from Twitch LDN below?

    Twitch LDN 2018 photo gallery

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    MCM Comic Con London 2018: volunteering for SpecialEffect

    After volunteering for SpecialEffect at the ESI Super Forum, I signed up again to help out on the charity’s stand at the MCM Comic Con in London last month. It was a totally different environment: gone were the serious business-people in suits, and they were replaced by attendees of all ages wearing some of the most creative costumes I’ve ever seen.

    I always get nervous before volunteering despite having helped out at numerous expos. It’s because you never know who you’re going to meet at the stand or what questions you’re going to be asked so there’s that trepidation which comes with the unexpected. It’s something I’ve learned to throw myself into over the years however because it has a very positive effect: not only does it take me outside my comfort zone and give me the opportunity to learn how to better deal with group situations, it’s to support an absolutely fantastic cause.

    After approaching the entrance to the ExCeL centre on Friday morning, I bumped into Ted with whom I volunteered last year. This time he was joined by his friend Tim and the pair of them came dressed as Walter Sobchak and The Dude from The Big Lebowski – they totally nailed it! A few minutes later we were accompanied by Tugsy, who regularly streams on Twitch and will be joining in with GameBlast in February; and our crew was rounded off by Becky and Nomi who kindly looked after us throughout the day.

    The thing Ted and I both noticed was that there seemed to be more stands dedicated to gaming scattered among the halls this year. Although I didn’t have a lot of spare time to visit them, in my brief walks I noticed areas for PlayStation VR, Spiderman and Red Dead Redemption 2 with fairly long queues at each. I found Tony from NFTS Games at a stand in the indie area to promote the work produced by the school’s students for the first time at the event, and promised to next catch up with him when we see each other at Rezzed in April.

    Along with more gaming displays came more people who had already heard of SpecialEffect, which was really heartening to see. There were still those however who had never come across the charity before and so it was necessary for the volunteers to get to work. The fact that they took the time to talk to us (most of them in wonderful costume), were up for trying out eye-controlled Minecraft and then totally understood that it’s not just about ‘playing video games’ made my day, and reinforced exactly why it is I support this awesome organisation.

    The next event I’m getting involved with is GameBlast19, an annual gaming marathon where gamers from all over the UK come together to raise funds and awareness for SpecialEffect. Now in its fifth year, over £700,000 has been raised from these events so far and this amount has helped to change the lives of hundreds of people with disabilities. Using technology ranging from modified joypads to eye-control software, the charity aims to put fun and inclusion back into the lives of those who could previously only watch others have all the fun.

    Can you think of a video game perfect for a stream because it supports cooperative play or encourages plenty of discussion in Twitch chat? Whether it’s an action title that multiple players can join in with or a puzzler where everybody can help figure out the solutions in chat, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Help shape our GameBlast19 stream: this is your chance to see us play your favourite release, work our way through something we’ve never heard of or suffer something difficult after almost an entire day without sleep..

    ESI Super Forum 2018: volunteering for SpecialEffect

    Regular Later Levels visitors will know about SpecialEffect. Using technology ranging from modified joypads to eye-control software, this UK-based charity aims to put fun and inclusion back into the lives of those with physical disabilities by helping them play video games.

    I’ve supported SpecialEffect for five years now and in that time I’ve done all sorts of things to raise funds and awareness for the organisation. I’ve given presentations at meetup groups; organised pub quizzes with rounds dedicated to the subject of video games; and even made it across the finish line of the British 10K twice. I’ve also had the opportunity to volunteer on their stand at events around the UK a number of times, where I’ve had the chance to witness their work close up.

    On Wednesday I headed off for volunteering duty once again, this time at the ESI Super Forum at the Olympia in London. I’m always slightly nervous before such events because you never quite know what you’re going to face on the stand or the questions you’re going to be asked by the public; but there was added pressure this time because it was a new show for me and I don’t know an awful lot about eSports. I needn’t have worried though, because Events Coordinator Tom was on hand to help and fellow volunteer Kat was lovely!

    The game on display this time was a demo of the upcoming FIFA 19 on PC, played with a joystick and one large button using the Xbox Adaptive Controller. It attracted a lot of attention as a novelty among the more corporate-looking stands but it took some effort to persuade attendees to play. The crowd at the ESI Super Forum was far different from that at other events such as Rezzed or MCM Comic Con, you see: instead of gamers willing to give anything a try, these businessmen needed a little more coaxing.

    Once we’d explained the reason for the set-up and work of SpecialEffect, most were happy to sit down and find out what playing the game was like for themselves. We spent some time with Telmo Silva from Grow uP eSports, an organisation which created the GIRLGAMER Esports Festival as a way to support female inclusion. Then Kat had the opportunity to play FIFA against professional footballer Christian Fuchs: I won’t say who came out on top but things got rather competitive!

    It’s experiences like this which keep me volunteering but the reasons why I do it run far deeper. Video game are given an awful lot of negative attention and the good they can achieve is often overlooked: they give players a way to express themselves, bring people together, create friendships and encourage inclusion. If I can do something with my spare time to help spread that awareness and make a difference to the lives of others, then I can’t think of a better way to use it.

    I’ve recently been accepted to help again at the end of October at MCM Comic Con in London (possibly in cosplay!), so if you’re going along to the event please do stop by the stand and check out what’s happening. If you fancy doing something similar yourself and giving SpecialEffect a hand, why not sign up to become a volunteer? Head over this page on their website and leave your details in this form so one of their lovely team members will get in touch.

    If volunteering isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to get involved and support the charity. In fact, I’ll be talking about one of these on Monday so keep your eyes open for details…

    MCM Comic Con London 2017: a round-up

    MCM Comic Con events bring together a broad scope of popular culture categories including gaming, movies, anime, comics and more. We took my stepson to his first at the ExCeL centre in London last year and he absolutely loved it: the happy atmosphere, the huge number of friendly people, the amazing costumes and the sheer mayhem of the place.

    This time was no exception and we had an excellent time on Saturday. As can be seen from the tweet opposite, the boys decided to go with a Bill and Ted theme for their costumes and spent most of the day telling everyone to ‘be excellent to each other’ and ‘party on’. We took photographs with some excellent cosplayers; pulled faces in the Marvel photo-booth; shopped until we dropped in the merchandise area; and then headed home, exhausted.

    Before that however, I spent the day volunteering with the SpecialEffect team on their stand on Friday. Attendees were given demonstrations of a version of Mario Kart 8 played with a chin-controlled joystick, and an indie game called Fruits of a Feather controlled using only your eyes. These are just two great example’s of the charity’s work towards levelling the playing field and helping people with disabilities play video games. A big thank you to Becky, Tom, Alex and Ted for making me feel so welcome and keeping me laughing throughout the day.

    That’s all the events we had planned for 2017 so my camera can finally take a well-deserved break. Next will be Rezzed in April 2018 and we’ve already got our tickets for my favourite event in the calendar. It’ll be extra special next year because the show is actually taking place around the same time as my birthday – so if you’re going to be there, let me know so we can meet up for some birthday games!

    London Comic Con 2017 photo gallery

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