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Caledonian Deathwatch Network

Gaming with a Disability

Hi All!

I asked my good friend Jonathan Humphrey to write an article based on the challenges of wargaming with a disability and the additional challenges he faced. I hope you enjoy reading about his experiences!


 

I met Liam last year and we quickly bonded over a shared love of all things Eldar. I walk with a cane, partly because it’s essential to my whole ‘eccentric English gentleman’ shtick, but mostly because I shattered my right knee some years ago and it will never fully heal (and I’m too young to get it replaced). We were talking about the impact this has on 40k for me, especially at tournaments – so much standing! – and I decided to reach out to other disabled players to see if they would share their experiences, which has grown into this article.

Because of the nature of the injury I have limited mobility in my right leg, practically zero balance, and the pain from prolonged standing or walking can be intense. While I can limp short distances without the cane it’s not really safe for me to do so and my heart is in my mouth whenever I have to carry a tray of models at a tournament. Until quite recently stairs were my nemesis as I could only go up or down one step at a time, though thankfully I now have far less of a problem. The first time I attended Scottish Take Over at the Seaforth Club in Elgin, however, I was late starting my first match because it took me so long to get up the stairs!

Ross Hulme from England, one of the people I spoke to, also walks with a cane because of a congenital issue with his hips and similarly struggles with carrying models and with access. Andrew Cheets from Australia has even more of a struggle. A burn survivor who suffered 85% burns in 1996, he has extensive health problems, especially with his legs and feet:

“I get pretty bad swelling in my legs and due to scar breakdowns and have a left foot ulcer that’s pretty big & deep. My right ankle has also been surgically fused so can get sore after extended periods of standing.”

He has only been in the hobby since just after the release of 8e but unfortunately since then his feet have worsened to the point where it is painful to finish a 1500pt game. When I asked him about moving his models, he told me that he always picks the deployment zone closest to him so he has to move them as little as possible. He did however point out that’s not unique to the disabled! Andrew also finds access to be problematic due to his occasional use of a wheelchair, and wishes the community could be more accommodating of his physical needs. As he put it:

“The tournament I went to this year would have been difficult to navigate with a wheel chair and is part of the reason I’m not going next year. I know I don’t think I’d cope standing for 2 days and I don’t think I have any alternatives to get around that other than not going.”

He did however stress that:

“Plus, and purely a personal perspective, I’d hate for a tournament to make changes to accommodate me that might impact on the overall player experience.”

It’s not just accessing venues or carrying models that can be difficult. Playing at least a game a week as a child and teenager I then had a long time away from the hobby and only got back into it a few years ago, after I was injured. Something I only appreciate now that it’s a problem is how much of this ostensibly non-physical hobby requires the use of both hands. Whether it’s extending a tape measure, picking up fistfuls of dice because you’re shooting 10 Swooping Hawks, or myriad other actions, two hands are better than one.

But if I’m going to be on my feet for any length of time, one hand should really be taken up using my cane, especially when we’re talking about 9 hours or more per day at a tournament. It’s fortunate really that I’ve always been a space elf and have relatively few models. I mean, could you imagine how long it would take to move hundreds of orks with one hand? Both Ross and Andrew are also Eldar players, coincidentally.
I said “should” though because it’s all too easy to get swept up in the heat of battle. Pair this with a desire not to slow the game down or inconvenience my opponents (though kicking their ass is just fine) and the cane gets forgotten… until the pain gives me a sharp reminder. This has the knock-on effect that my performance tends to deteriorate as the day wears on and I get increasingly high on opiates!

Moreover, when I’m back home on Sunday night and the adrenaline and endorphins and drugs have worn off, they stop masking the stress I have been putting on my body and it hits me like a train. I generally find I am good for nothing on a Monday while I recover. This is an experience that Andrew could relate to:

“The next day can also be pretty bad pain wise… It’s a bit of a catch 22 where I can take something extra and get through the game relatively ok but because of it I’m not realising I’m probably pushing myself to far and then when the pain killers wear off it hits me.”

So as one might expect, it is problematic for a disabled person to access 40k in a physical sense. However, there are other ways that access can be made difficult, and one that is much harder to overcome is being made to feel unwelcome.
You may be familiar with, and might perhaps have experienced, the phenomenon of “geek gatekeeping.” One of the joys of gaming is finding others like us, who share our loves and interests. However, all group identities are inherently selective. In coming together with people who are like us, we necessarily leave out those who are not. There is of course nothing wrong with this. It’s simply how groups and subcultures are formed. The issue is when “selective” becomes “exclusive” and “leave out” becomes “kept out.” Perhaps because many self-identified geeks have felt, or have been, excluded from more mainstream activities, geeky subcultures seem prone to such gatekeeping, and unfortunately the 40k community is no exception. In one of the largest 40k-related Facebook pages, “40k for grown-ups” there are periodic posts expressing views that are frankly abhorrent.
In the two days prior to writing this, I have seen a post that denied white culpability in the slave trade (on a 40k page), and another claiming that a female Commissar must have “had a mastectomy to fit into her breastplate.” I have also seen posts about the Emperor that made fun of the disabled, and been involved in a conversation (not on that page) in which transphobic views were expressed. I am not trying to equate these things, merely to point out that the 40k community can be an unwelcoming place if one diverges from the (assumed) norm.
I have also experienced a certain amount of prejudice in my day-to-day life – generally when using public transport – because apparently I don’t “look disabled enough”, to quote a conversation that has lodged in my mind.

It is therefore heartening that my experience as a disabled player of 40k, and that of the people with whom I spoke, has been completely the reverse of this. When I spoke to Ross he told me:

“I’ve found the community to be very supportive with individuals going out of their way to find extra seating or even give up their own seating. I’ve never been on the receiving end of any snarky or ignorant comments with about the only thing ever being said to me regarding my disability is that I should carve notches into my walking cane to record my victories.”

And Andrew said that:

“Overall though my experience with the community whether locally or online has been overwhelmingly positive.”

For my part; people freely offer to carry my models for me, go to get me stools, get me some water so I can take painkillers… I can honestly say that it’s a level of accommodation and welcome that I don’t receive in any other walk of life.

Even though I’m a dirty Eldar.

The interview with Andrew Cheets is reproduced below as his story is too arresting not be shared.

Andrew: Hey just a PM in response to your Eldar message about playing 40k with a disability. What would you like to know?

Jonathan: Anything you’d like to share tbh. The more information I have to work with the better.

Andrew: No worries. What I’ll do is my best to explain my disability, 40k experience and how it’s affected by my disability and if there’s anything missing or specific information you need you feel free to ask? Would you like me to just message it here or email it to you?

Jonathan: If you message me I can engage with it/you a bit more but if it’s easier for you to email then by all means do that

Andrew: Just a heads up I’m writing from Australia too so if I go non responsive I may have fallen asleep Anyway, regarding my disability I sum it up as a mobility issue. Long story short, I’m a burn survivor who survived 85% burns back in 1996. As it’s 85% most of my body is affected but the areas that give me the most trouble in day to day life are my feet and legs. I get pretty bad swelling in my legs and due to scar breakdowns have a left foot ulcer that’s pretty big & deep. My right ankle has also been surgically fused so can get sore after extended periods of standing.
I have only been in the hobby about 18mths. I started at the beginning of 8th Edition after being introduced by a friend, who I incidentally met when our kids were in hospital together after their birth. I had always been interested in the Warhammer Lore and would dip a row in but my interest was more Fantasy than 40k. With the new edition and under my friends guidance I started collecting Harlequins and then Craftworld.
Unfortunately since I started collecting to now my feet have gotten worse to the point it can be painful to finish a 1500pt game. There is a tournament next March in Melbourne called Arc 40k that I was really excited to attend but realistically know there’s no way I could physically cope with standing through 2 days worth of games. It’s also not very wheel chair friendly but that’s a separate issue and not one I’m upset about, but it has crossed my mind about the accessibility of some tournaments.
So with my growing physical restrictions I’m finding myself in a bit of a hobby funk. Gaming is easily my favourite part but as that’s getting harder I’m finding myself less motivated to do other parts of the hobby (building & painting) as I’m not playing as much. I still really enjoy the Lore though and reading hobby discussions on forums etc.

Jonathan: Thank you so much for that extensive reply and I’m so sorry to hear about what happened to you. I’m going to be busy for the next couple of hours but I shall reply more fully after that. And if you’ve gone to bed perhaps we can pick it up tomorrow?
I can’t imagine how difficult aspects of your life must be. I find things hard enough at tournaments as it is. I don’t want to get your hopes up but the guy I write for has some really good contacts in Australia and we’re going to see what we can do.
I totally understand where you’re coming from re: hobbying. For me, building and painting are taxes I have to pay in order to play the game. I take no real pleasure in them.
I know you said you understand the issue with wheelchair accessibility but given that in so many other walks of life it’s mandatory, do you think the community could be more accommodating?
And either way, is there anything else you’d like to see change?
(I’m going to go with one question at a time. I don’t want to bombard you while you’re offline)

Andrew: First off I just want to stress I’ve got limited experience in attending tournaments. Also I’ve not been in the hobby long so I really don’t want to come across as someone who has been in the hobby 5mins dictating what should be done. Regarding if the community should be more accommodating I would say yes.The tournament I went to this year would have been difficult to navigate with a wheel chair and is part of the reason I’m not going next year. I know I don’t think I’d cope standing for 2 days and I don’t think I have any alternatives to get around that other than not going.
Part of that is also on me which I take responsibility for as it’s not something I’ve asked the TO. I do think though it shows a lack of awareness on their part though that they haven’t catered the tournament to people of all abilities. And I also fully understand table space is premium so it may come at the cost of accessibility it’s just a sad thought that people might miss out attending an event they are excited for due to that. Plus, and purely a personal perspective, I’d hate for a tournament to make changes to accommodate me that might impact on the overall player experience.
Overall though my experience with the community whether locally or online has been overwhelmingly positive. Regarding other changes I’m not really sure except changing Harlequin Flip Belts back to their original rules!

Jonathan: Oh mate me too. That “fix” to the fly rule is a clusterfuck.
And don’t worry, you don’t in any way come across as someone who is dictating terms. I’m just interested in your perspective, your story. It’s fair to say I’m probably going to pretty much base the article on this “interview.” I think people need to hear about this.
On that note; I do need to make sure you understand that this will be on the CDWN site and therefore be public. I’m sure you already understand that given the nature of my post but it’s just something I have to check.

Andrew: Yeah that’s ok. I feel I’m probably not the biggest help as I’m not a huge tourney player so my experience in that world is very limited.

Jonathan: Oh that’s not the emphasis at all. The article is really going to be about taking part of in the hobby while coping with a physical disability. And tournaments are only one part of 40k.

Andrew: From a hobby perspective the paint handle has been fantastic for me. I have issues with my left hand due to the burns and it makes it SO much easier to hold a model steady & paint.
I think overall what I’m noticing more now is when I think about a game, I know I’ll be sore by the end and the next day. Where 6-12mths ago I’d be happy to play once a week, now it’s more once a fortnight/month because of pain.
Mentally I’m trying to motivate myself to take this time to paint and finish assembling the stuff I have, just hard getting that motivation.
Due to having a 3.5yo and a wife that’s had her own health issues this year, my hobbying time is usually after 7pm and by that time I just feel exhausted and sore to do anything.

Jonathan: Is there anything you have to do, in terms of preparing for a game, to help with that pain and discomfort?

Andrew: I’m already on pain killers daily to try and help with just day to day life. I’ve had some game nights where I’ve taken an extra tablet to help and it has helped a little bit but by the end I’m still pretty sore and stiffened up in my hips/lower back. The next day can also be pretty bad pain wise. It’s a bit of a catch 22 where I can take something extra and get through the game relatively ok but because of it I’m not realising I’m probably pushing myself to far and then when the pain killers wear off it hits me.

Jonathan: Ah yeah. I’m a bit like that with tournaments. All weekend necking codeine and then it hits me like a train on Sunday night. Is there anything you do in terms of list selection to make it easier for you? Fewer troops, more vehicles for example, so there’s less to move?

Andrew: My first army was Harlequins so they are Elite/Vehicle based anyway and it just worked out that way. I haven’t had any list building dictated by my disability. Deployment zone can be because I don’t want to pick up and move all my stuff around but I don’t think that’s unique to me haha. Also I’ve had games I’ve conceded as I was losing and it was in turn 4 and I’ve just called it so I could start packing up rather than play it out.

Jonathan: Even the completely able-bodied do #3 and #4, believe me! I had someone concede in turn 2 at my last tournament. Poor bugger. [Since this interview I have also conceded in turn 2 at a tournament].

Andrew: I’ve conceded turn 2 before playing my friends Necrons. Everything went bad for me haha. I really hate Necrons. But I agree, I think everyone does 3 and 4 so I’m unsure how much my mobility plays into it, I just know sometimes I’m thinking “eh I’m done.”
I think another thing I worry about is I’ve noticed more recently as a game drags on and I get sore I can get quiet. And consciously I know I’m doing it and I need to be more outgoing so my opponent knows I’m having fun but it can be hard to do it in the moment.

Jonathan: Oh bless you. That breaks my heart a little.

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