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Technology helps gamer advance to next level

By Jeff Kiger

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Videogamers love technology.

For pro gamer Randy Fitzgerald, technology does more than just enhance his experience. It allows him to play.

Born with a rare condition that left him without the use of his arms and legs, Fitzgerald of Rochester plays by using his mouth and chin.

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While he managed to find ways to play just about every kind of game from the Pac Man arcade machines to X-Box, the release of Microsoft’s X-Box 360 proved difficult when the company stopped making the programmable controllers he used.

"I was like, ‘What am I going to now?,’" says Fitzgerald.

Customized system

The solution came from Scot Maki of Llama.com. The Twin Cities-based company customizes gaming systems and sells parts.

"We just have a good basic knowledge of the controller, which allowed us to personalize it for Randy," says Maki.

Then Fitzgerald’s online opponents wanted him to compete face-to-face at major tournaments. But his typical playing style was lying down in his apartment He needed a way to use Maki’s controller while sitting in his wheelchair.

That sent Fitzgerald to Saint Marys Hospital, where he had spent time, including a yearlong stay while he recovered from surgery.

Occupational therapist Dan Knowland has worked with Fitzgerald for many years.

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"I remember one of the first things he said to me was ‘I want to design video games,’" Knowland says. That led to a series of different types of systems and voice-recognition programs to allow Fitzgerald to fully use a computer.

Tournament competition

Now, as an adult, he wanted to be able to compete in gaming tournaments.

"We helped him take it to the next level," says Knowland. "We try to create tools for the job of living."

While the combination of the custom controller and the device to keep it next to his face worked great, one game — Call of Duty — had a design that made it tough for Fitzgerald to compete.

Talking to the company, he soon was recruited as a beta tester for a new version of the popular game series. Now at the start of Call of Duty 4, players can choose a specific controller setting called Nomad, after Fitzgerald’s gamer name.

Developing technology has made it easier and easier for him to compete, though Fitzgerald is concerned a new game style might reverse that trend.

Nintendo’s new Wii system requires full body movement for most of its games.

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"I’m afraid the next generation of game systems will go that way and eliminate all of the handicapped gamers," Fitzgerald says. His game clan, Equal Opportunity Gamers, aims to bring awareness to the issue and encourage game-system makers to remember players with special needs.

For more information, go to Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

Randy Fitzgerald http://www.equalgamers.com/nomadbio.html

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