Game Developers Can Make Dreams Come True

In the last few years, game developers have been increasingly considering accessibility when designing their games. Although developers are now trying to level up to accommodate visual impairment, a motor control issue, or an anxiety disorder we have to ask is enough being done? We caught up with Lisa King OBE, CEO of charity Dreams Come True.


Dreams Come True is a charity that has been established for 30 years. More recently its focus has changed from supporting all children who have serious illnesses, disabilities and life limiting conditions to specifically supporting only those who live in the most deprived areas of the UK.


The recent games industry conference Develop:Brighton gave King a platform for the charity to introduce itself to the gaming world. One in 4 children in our classrooms is living in poverty and with the cost of living crisis it will only get worse. It is predicted that a further 500,000 will fall into poverty by the end of 2023 due to the economic climate. “We have looked at the dreams that are coming to us and increasingly they are gaming focused” said King. “Gaming gives much to many of the children we support. For example it could provide welcome distraction from discomfort, or for a child who may be bedridden the chance to socially interact with peers and like-minded gamers, bringing them much escapism and joy -  not just to the child but to the family too.  It was these insights and the stories of the impact our gaming dreams delivered that made us think that we should be at Develop:Brighton.”


“The UK is categorised in zones 1-10 with the most affluent in zone 10 and zone 1 being the most deprived” said King. “We work in zones 1-3. I joined as CEO just over a year ago. I have worked for charities for over 20 years including with Refuge the domestic abuse charity. I have a strong social compass and joined Dreams Come True because it has a social focus on poverty and deprivation - I also have a child who has autism and global development delay so I get to blend a bit of personal with my professional interests.”


With a team of only 11, they impacted more children than ever before by the close of financial year 22/23 – 3,253 children. “Our work is often small change but very high impact. The most important thing is finding the families who need us the most. A clever change the charity brought about during COVID was to review how we reached families in poverty who might not have heard about our work and the support we can deliver.  During the pandemic the charity set up a referral network of professionals from social services, GPs, Nurses, Occupational Therapists or SEND in schools supporting the children we deliver dreams to.  We need to continue to build our base of referrers, but its proving to be a successful process for the charity to reach families who are in great need.”


“Covid also brought other insights and understanding. The pandemic had a huge effect on us all, forcing us to stay in and adapt to a lack of social contact - many of the children we work with live a life of lockdown. That’s something we can all better relate to now.


“For children who are mostly bed bound we are often asked for tech so they can independently turn on lights and the TV, but increasingly we are being asked for gaming tech too because it augments their lives yet further.  Gaming companies need to recognise how many children there are who are in great need and should, quite literally, up their game when it comes to providing accessible and affordable kit and games that are inclusive, diverse and relatable.”


King found Develop:Brighton inspiring – and hopeful. “I walked the floor at Develop and met a lot of exhibitors very interested in disability and neuro-diversity – there was a lot of passion for Dreams Come True’s work.  Overall I think the gaming industry has a long way to go before it meaningfully supports individuals with additional needs – the prohibitive cost of adapted equipment being one big issue.  Families turn to us for adaptive gaming equipment because it’s so expensive and out of their reach.  We get requests for assisted technology which can cost north of £10k. We try to use augmentative apps and ensure we’re being smart about the choices we make – but sometimes that isn’t possible. And as a charity which doesn’t receive any government funding we have to raise every penny through voluntary channels.”


The future of accessibility may not be altogether clear, but accessibility activists are working hard to bring the world of gaming to diverse individuals with the hope that that the accessibility revolution will one day become the status quo.


PlayStation recently unveiled Project Leonardo, a fully customizable controller built with accessibility in mind. Though many of the studio's games have extensive software accessibility features, more still needs to be done. Research by the charity Scope identified that 66% of gamers with an impairment or condition say that they face barriers or issues related to gaming. The biggest barrier is affordability of suitable adapted technology.  Gamers with a disability would like to see a commitment from developers to have a more frequent representation of disabled characters within games.  Some of these changes will take time and effort but the outcome of such changes, especially for the children being supported by Dreams Come True, can be positively life changing.


“Game developers could assist charities like us through their CSR; through developing more cost effective handsets or funding us to deliver our dreams. The games industry has put a huge focus on mental health, but more needs to be done for children with additional needs. We want to engage more companies to join us and become dream makers. As a small charity we are often overlooked in favour of the bigger charitable players – but in truth we’re at the coal face delivering dreams bespoke to an individual child and the impact we deliver is very powerful, tangible and evidencable.


“There’s often a lot of negative media when it comes to gaming – but for Dreams Come True and the children we support gaming brings a lot of joy, escapism, independence and even friendship. We’ve got so many great stories of lives that have been positively impacted by gaming – I hope that brands reading this article will think about reaching out to Dreams Come True to lend their support to our amazing work.  It could be a win win for all.”


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