Seal Boy was conceived first and foremost a fun endless runner computer game. Based on the actual movements of Mat Fraser and Jacqui Harper, you control their avatars and run through the game avoiding all kinds of obstacles gaining as many points as possible. As you progress through different levels elements of Thalidomide history appear.
During 2014-2015 McKeown researched the catastrophe of Thalidomide, a drug used in the 1950s and early 1960s across Europe and other parts of the world very very much like a pain killer today. Developed in Germany unfortunately Thalidomide was proved to be very unsafe causing congenital impairments in over 10,000 children. Following his research, McKeown designed a digital project with disabled Thalidomide affected persons which went on to be sponsored by the Wellcome Trust.
Previously senior artist and manager in the computer games industry (Driver Series for Infogrames/Atari) with a research interest in diversity in games and culture more broadly, McKeown understood that disability was rarely represented in games. Working with Thalidomide actor and performer Mat Fraser and CGI artist Craig McMullen, McKeown devised a novel, yet, simple 3D computer game, which featured Fraser as well as his friend, Jacqui Harper who is also Thalidomide affected, as the main characters.
Mat Fraser created in 2001 the play Sealboy: Freak, based on the life of the disabled circus performer Stanislaus Berent and while working with McKeown on his Motion Disabled project they had discussed the important need for the positive representation of disabled characters and narratives in computer games. This led to the creation of a seedbed of ideas, detailed research and to a successful funding application to the Wellcome Trust uniting disparate discourses to create Seal Boy as an innovative contribution to disability and medical history and the computer game field.
Animator and CGI artist Craig McMullen worked for many months with Mckeown to plan the game and its content which he then implemented in the game engine Unreal.
Although developed in 2016, publication on the Google Android Play Store was delayed into December 2020. We hope you enjoyed Seal Boy. There are very few games featuring disabled persons as lead characters. Disability history is often forgotten and we have sought to highlight a small part of this history with this game.