In the video game “Still Happy,” you play as a person affected by cerebral palsy. Words appear on the screen—“Look at birds” or “Wave at passerby”—and the player has to type those words very quickly and without a mistake in order to perform the action. Because it’s so hard to get right in the short time you have to type, performing these simple actions gives the player a feeling of real satisfaction.
When you fail to type the words fast enough, though, there are feelings of sadness and frustration. When the words “Put mail in mailbox” aren’t typed quickly and correctly, an in-game helper says “Let me do it!” which is intensely frustrating. These feelings are the point, says Steven Uy (’14), one of the designers of the game.
“The game mechanic is meant to be difficult,” Uy says. “Every time you fail, the aide still helps you, but you don’t gain satisfaction like you would if you had completed the action yourself.
“We wanted to help people realize that it’s not always the best thing to just do tasks for someone with cerebral palsy, for example, or else they’ll never gain the same satisfaction that we do,” Uy says.
Uy and fellow student Deng Ke Teo designed the game together as part of an LSA class on race and digital games, part of the Department of American Culture’s new digital studies minor. The pair took inspiration from Uy’s brother, Nathaniel, who has cerebral palsy and who delivers mail around his community as part of a special education program.
Uy graduated in May and now works as a software engineer for Sapient Corporation in Chicago, and he’s proud of the game, which he dedicated to Nathaniel.
“He’ll always have a special place in my heart,” Uy says. “Despite all the things that have happened to him, he always has a smile on his face.”