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How a gamer with a disability speedruns some of the world's fastest games

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A Q&A with speedrunner Halfcoordinated

Speedrunning isn't just a celebration of games; it's a test of human limitations.

Clint "Halfcoordinated" Lexa has a physical disability that limits the use of his right hand. Last year, he tackled Platinum Games' Vanquish at Awesome Games Done Quick. During this year's event, he successfully ran Platinum's Transformers: Devastation. We spoke with Lexa following his run about his origins, his place in the community as a gamer with a disability and his advocacy efforts.

What got you into speedrunning?

I watched a lot streams for a while back before Twitch.tv. Justin.tv. Actually, I have to admit I watched people playing Ocarina of Time, that's what people did. Shortly after I went to college, I decided I wanted to try speedrunning myself and I ended up playing Rage. It's a first-person shooter by id.

What it does right it does very solidly. It just has too much dry meat between all the shooting. No one had really speedrun that game yet ... It's what got me into speedrunning, not what my first speedgame was.

Well, I think I get it. It seems like you seek out your own challenges.

There, you called it for me. Before speedrunning I was a challenge-type runner, in that whole sense. I played more Castle Crashers than I'll ever know, probably thousands of hours of Castle Crashers. I beat "Insane Mode" with every single character in that game, which is thirty-some characters. I did score leaderboards for some games, like Renegade Ops, figuring out strats for that. It progressed into speedrunning later. A thing that actually pushed me into learning how to push a game farther was that I was part of the Super Smash Bros. Melee community for a while. It did twist how I did looked at games to figure them out a little better. I'm glad I don't play Melee anymore, but it did get me started on that path.

What did you run at Awesome Games Done Quick 2016?

ran Transformers: Devastation. It's the most recent game made by Platinum Games. To be honest, it's basically a game I've wanted to exist since childhood. I love the classic Transformers, especially the classic movie. I listen to the soundtrack when I'm going to-and-from work every week. The combination of Platinum Games, my favorite developer — I've [done a speedrun of] Vanquish and played their other games as well — and they made Transformers ... It's beautiful.

Why do you like Platinum Games so much? You mentioned Vanquish. Are you a God Hand fan too, going back to Clover?

Unfortunately I have not played God Hand yet. It's something I should do. I know people that have wanted me to play God Hand. The thing I really like about Platinum is really that it's pure, unfiltered action. They just know how to deliver. No filter, it's that pure, flashy action that has all the effects, everything looks great, everything feels great, it's super smooth. It's just very, very gratifying, and you just know they'll deliver that. I mean honestly, with Transformers it's just their bread and butter over their formula. But it's fine, it still works, it's great.

What separated your run from a standard run?

Well, as my username implies — Halfcoordinated — I play any speedrun I do one-handed, almost any game I play in general. The reason that I play one handed is that I have a physical disability called hemiparesis. Basically, there's scar tissue on the sensory motor cortex of my brain that I've had since birth, and it lowers the feeling and coordination of my entire right side. Of course what matters for playing a videogame are your hands. Just basically imagine having a mitten on your hand at all times.

You can use your right hand, but it's not as effective as your left hand?

Exactly. It has much more limited movement. My thumb and index finger always move together. The other three fingers always move together, and it's much more limited control. Basic clasping motions are what I can do.

"It's what makes me tick."

So for something like speedrunning, or gaming in general, it has to be a barrier to playing games.

In a way, definitely, yes. In others, I started playing games one-handed instead of with two when I got a PS2 when it first came out, since I didn't have a PS1. It was the first controller where the sort of grip that I use now, that I have used since that time worked. Before, I would basically just fumble around pressing the wrong buttons on the Genesis all the time. Since then, it doesn't feel like a huge barrier to just play. Then there are times where trying to excel, or certain games just don't have the options needed for me to be able to play. So it does vary a lot from game to game.

You mentioned Platinum games. Those games are hard in general. How long did it take for you to get used to the action elements or how high-paced it is?

I had been playing action games before that, but like we're saying, Platinum is much more intense than a lot of other games. For how long it really took me to get used to them: I will admit I really didn't like Vanquish the first time I played it. I did not like it because I played it like a normal brawler. It's definitely a game where you will get out what you put into it. So once you know what you're doing, it's a magical experience, so it definitely takes a good bit of time put into their games to actually figure them out. Once you know their general formula, you can apply it to most of their games, and it works.

I've tried to look into other styles of games, but it turns out everything I play just has some sort of intense action element ... It's what makes me tick, I guess.

vanquish

Speedrunning is about pushing it to the limit. How does it feel coming into a scene like this when you have your own personal limitation?

That can feel a bit strange at times as I work on the run. Actually, it's more of the community aspect, I would guess. With speedrunning, it really is about trying to push the game as far humanly possible. When you're doing it with half as many digits to put in all of those inputs, you do definitely have to get extra creative to be able to do that. At the same time, I think my disability has made me really good at looking at things a little differently — to figure out how to work around these situations. In some ways that actually helps me out a lot with figuring out how these games work.

A lot of speedrunning does seem to be adapting and evolving. So you just naturally do it now from having done so in the past?

Yeah, I would say so. A lot of life has just been, "Oh here's this random activity, and I need to figure out how to make it work for my own needs." I've just adapted gaming and speedrunning as an extension of that.

"Some people treat me like a god, which is very awkward."


But this all just internal, this is you. You mentioned the speedrunning community aspect; how does the community react to you? There aren't a lot of disabled runners.

Some people treat me like a god, which is very awkward (chuckle). At the same time, I find it a little hard to fit in with specific groups. The speedrunning community is very disjointed. There's lots of different subgroups that everyone sort of breaks into, and there's the cliques within these subgroups. I do have a fairly strong circle of friends, but at the same time I feel a little out there by myself. A lot of the games I do run, Vanquish, Transformers, they don't really have other runners. So I'm both doing it one-handed, and mostly by myself to figure out how to push the game. There are definitely other people that have helped. I do not want to discredit them. It can get a little lonely, but at the same time people are very welcoming.

You mentioned not fitting in with certain cliques. Some runners do divide up between consoles, and you mentioned not being able to play Genesis games well. So with the Genesis crowd, since you can't really talk about their games, can you just can't connect with them, or is it something other than that?

I guess that's actually a good point. Because a lot of speedrunning is retro games. It's these older games that I just do not excel at. The grip that I have developed does not really work that well for them. It's a lot harder for me to connect with one of the retro game runners, which is a very large portion of the speedrunning community. So I mostly work with either Indie game players, or more modern gamers.

You also mentioned being treated like a god sometimes. I've seen this happen for other runners, and you're good at your games, but do you think it's because of your disability that they treat you so highly?

Yes, I do think that's a very, very large part of it. ‘Cause to me I often sort of forget it, it's just how I play games. It's what I've done, it's what I do. I was worried about the reception for Transformers, which has gone over amazingly, at least so far. I forget that playing one-handed is not a normal thing, especially in such an intense setting.

"What excuse does a large studio have at that point?"

A big part of that as well — treating me differently for a disability — it's something I actually do try and advocate for with gaming. I'm working with developers for Joylancer; it's a game currently Early Access. Basically they've implemented the most impressive custom control screen I've ever seen. All on a controller you can set each button to whatever you want. You can also then have six programmable hotkeys on that controller. You can choose individual actions, like say there's an uppercut move. You can set that to up and attack, you can set it jump, you can set it to a hotkey. The customization is amazing, and I really want to see more follow games follow suit. Especially because this game is made by two people. What excuse does a large studio have at that point?

One of the most common features of a game is to have different color settings for anyone that's colorblind. What are the settings you'd be looking for in case of limited hand usage?

The main thing is just to allow rebinding of the controls. Complete freedom over the rebinding of the controls. It's impossible to predict what everyone's situation is. A lot of other disabled gamers have come up to me and told me that I inspired them [keep] gaming and otherwise, which means more to me than I can even explain. It's really, really what I do play for in the end. They have a lot of varying situations, and you just cannot predict what would be best for each player. It could just even be personal preference for someone that doesn't have a disability. It's a really great thing to have custom controls built into your game, and I really want to see that more prevalently. As you mentioned with colorblindness, it's a big thing as well. Back to Joylancer, you can completely customize colors in that game as well.

joylancer

You also mentioned being treated differently; you said you were okay with that. What are you looking for if you're going to be treated differently?

People generally treat me very nice, which is great. The best part about being treated differently is probably the inspiration aspect. People telling me that I've inspired them by doing what I do. People say that I show them that they have no excuse for whatever they want to do. That's great. That's what I really look forward to. I'm going to be treated differently anyways. I love that I'm able to help others through being treated differently.

It sounds like when you're treated differently, you're treated well, like you want people to be nice to each other.

I like people being nice to each other, that's great. Constructive criticism is also very important.

Being treated differently in day-to-day life, going out of gaming, I often feel like I get treated like a child. Largely because of certain limitations. I can take care of myself fine, but there's just a certain way that a lot of people will speak to me or interact with me that makes it feel like they don't register me as an adult.

"Don't let anyone tell you what you can or can't do."

So in a way, then, in the gaming community I feel more at home because I'm not really treated like a kid — because I'm able to hold my own with basically the best of them.

When it comes to advocating for disabled gamers, is this a challenge that you sought out on your own?

I would say so. I started trying to contact developers to try and test their games for them, and give them advice on how to make them more accessible. Both for situations similar to mine and others that I've looked into. I don't know if it's so much a challenge as much as something I think should be done.

Do you think there are others going for that same goal right now?

Yes, there are definitely different groups and communities that work for that same general goal. AbleGamers and Specialeffect are two fairly prominent charities that help build assistive technologies for disabled gamers, and as far as I understand have helped developers with that sort of thing. There are a few other individuals as well I know of — Ian Hamilton, who works a lot with accessibility in games.

Is there anything else you want to say?

I pretty much say this anytime I get interviewed. Don't let anyone tell you what you can or can't do. Particularly for gaming — in my experience, you're the only one that's really going to know your limits, and just try to push them out.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and style. Halfcoordinated can be found streaming on Twitch, as well as on his Twitter @Halfcoordinated. For more of our ongoing coverage of AGDQ 2016, check out our StoryStream.