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He's all game

April 28, 2012
By Jim Tate - SMSU , Marshall Independent

Unlike most gaming aficionados, Josh Straub has other reasons for his interest in games.

Straub, a senior creative writing and history double major from Plymouth, was born nine weeks prematurely. "I have Cerebral Palsy. I can't walk, and I talk funny," he said in a self-deprecating way.

"I had limited choices for recreation as a result; gaming was my recreation. I could not build a fort outside, but I could go into the virtual world and save a princess."

Straub has landed a summer internship with Game Informer, a magazine devoted to games and gaming.

"I was familiar with the magazine, I had read it for 10 years," he explained. "On a wild hair, I was wondering if they had internships, because I need something to do after graduation. I got on their website and it turns out not only do they have internships, but their offices are only 10 minutes from Plymouth, right down the highway."

He had a phone interview, and after that, was asked to submit a game review for "Star Wars: The Old Republic." That led to a personal interview. "I'll be doing whatever they want me to do," he said of the internship. "They recognized that I'm most productive when I work with a scribe, and they'll let me work with a scribe from home. Their building is not accessible, so I will only have to come in once or twice a week."

Straub has been a gaming aficionado from Day 1. "I think it's helped my fine motor skills," he said. "Plus, gaming has psychological impacts for the disabled, as well.

"I can hold a pencil better because I played Legend of Zelda when I was a little boy. I got practice using muscles in my hand. If I had used those muscles through therapy, I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much, and I wouldn't have done it as much."

Straub said many students with disabilities "have little control over their lives, but in gaming, you can have complete control. That's a positive impact. I need someone to help me get dressed, but in a game, I don't need any help."

There are psychological implications also, he believes. "When you are playing other people online, they don't see you, they don't know you are disabled. They don't filter the relationship based on the fact you are disabled or not disabled. They look at you based on how you act, and how you've done in a game."

Just about every gaming system is in his possession. "Except Nintendo Wii. That's based on motion, and I don't have the hand stability," he said. "Five years ago motion control was a niche market. But as technology progresses, motion controlled gaming is more prominent. My concern is if they go to full motion control, it would make gaming inaccessible to disabled people."

Gaming is nothing more than an interactive novel, he believes, and nothing excites him more than being drawn into a good story, be it a novel, a game, or a television sitcom. "I like good writing," he said. "I like these interactive literary experiences that challenge you. In these games you make moral decisions that determine the outcome of the game - which one lives, and which one dies."

His theories about gaming and those with disabilities are included in a paper he wrote for his Honors Program capstone class titled, "Wheelchair Warriors," a play on the term "Armchair Warriors," which refers to gamers.

When he crosses the stage next Saturday to receive his diploma, it will be the end of an academic career that has seen its highs, and its lows. His best friend and lead personal care attendant, Josh Baldwin, was killed in an accident near Sacred Heart the fall of his sophomore year. And his service dog, Zeus, had to be put down over Easter. "Last May he contracted cancer in his leg. He fought it, and we had the leg removed. But over this past Easter they found more, so he was put down."

He'll get a new service dog at the end of August. "When I go to Ohio to get him, it will be to train me, not him," said Straub. "The dog is programmed for 40 commands - it can open and close doors, push buttons on elevators, can turn lights on and off. Mainly, my dog picked things up off of the floor, which allowed me to live in a dorm by myself."

He'll take from SMSU an appreciation of the faculty "who were really committed to helping me succeed. There have been some speed bumps along the way, and they have helped me time and time again."



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