Meet the gamer with the Deus Ex bionic arm
In the latest episode of our PRISM series, we speak with Daniel Melville – the man who games with a bionic arm. Check out the video here.
Daniel Melville’s been gaming since he was a kid. Only, back then, something wasn’t quite right: the characters he played as didn’t really look like him. Melville says, “I played a lot of video games – I still do – but I didn’t really have many video game characters to look up to. Everyone had two hands, or were full bodied. Then, I started playing Deus Ex and was like, ‘this guy’s got bionic arms – that’s extremely cool!’”
As someone who grew up wearing a prosthetic arm, Melville found that in Adam Jensen, the protagonist in the epic sci-fi series, he finally found a character he could relate to. He explains, “He had these cool augmented arms and he was a badass, and I thought ‘I’d like to be like that.’ Finding a character in a game that really related to me just felt amazing.”
At the time, Melville could have no idea that one day he’d grow to have even more in common with Jensen. He says, “I had prosthetic arms that didn't do anything. You wore them because you thought that was the normal thing to do. I only ever got them to get time off school because I hated school, but I hated the arm too. It was a Catch 22. I felt more disabled wearing it and for many years I stopped wearing them. I grew up with sci-fi films, though, so I wanted a bionic arm like the Terminator or Robocop.”
Unfortunately, the bionic arms then available were far too expensive, especially as a young person who would feasibly grow out of them. Years later, however, Melville stumbled across Open Bionics, which was running a Kickstarter campaign for a 3D printed low cost bionic arm. After some email correspondence with founder Joel Gibbard, Melville and Gibbard met up and established that the former would help test the arm. This made Melville a Guinness World Record breaker: as the tester of the world’s first 3D printed multi-grip bionic hand.
“Kids can get a bionic arm in a few days now which is mad. It’s great for kids, because it was frustrating for me with the old process. Making it lower cost, easier for fitting and less troublesome for everyone makes it such a positive experience for people, plus the arms themselves are really cool to look at too. Being in the Guinness Book of Records was pretty insane. It was the oddest thing I have done because it’s a record that can't be beaten because my video game bionic arm was the first ever.”
Melville immediately knew that this would make a huge difference. He explains: “From day one, what fascinated me was that I could do open and close, and pick things up like a piece of chalk whereas when I was growing up I couldn't do any of that."
And this arm allows Melville to master his skills in his favourite pastime: gaming. But how does it work? “I use pulses in my arm to open and close it. If I tense my muscle it’ll change the grip pattern to certain modes. It’s quite nice and simple, really, but also effective. When I game on my computer, especially wearing this arm, I need something that won’t slow me down. Something that’ll speed up and make my gaming experience nice and fluid.”
Outside of gaming, Melville now designs his own bionic arms, knowing that there was so much more he could do.
He says: “I bought my own 3D printer and completely destroyed it trying to work out how to use it. You learn on the way and I made a lot of mistakes. It now takes a couple of hours to design my own panels for my bionic arm. You can mix and match. Some days I want to wear it with normal covers, then another day Deus Ex video game covers then another day camouflage covers.”
After quitting his job to pursue designing full-time, Melville also started running workshops for kids and families. He adds, “If the kids do a doodle, I can do a 3D print for them so they have something memorable that they can take home. It doesn't cost a lot for me and they have a keepsake they can keep forever.”
But it all comes back to gaming. Melville is primarily a PC user as the mouse is easier to use than a controller, and he’s an enormous fan of Overwatch.
And while he currently feels that it may take disabled esport players a couple of years to compete against able-bodied players, technology’s moving in the right direction. You get the sense, too, that he’ll be leading the charge. He concludes:
“My parents were always worried about me playing games because they thought I might not be able to play missing a limb, but they saw me playing it at a friend's house and they got onside.”
“If you’re passionate about something, you always find a way of doing it, which is why I am always playing video games.”
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