For years, like in most digital sectors, there has been a drive to make gaming more inclusive. In-game features like subtitles have had an overwhelmingly positive effect not only for those with hearing impairments, but for all players. Despite this progress, the hand-held controller can still be a barrier.
For many with physical impairments the world can be very isolating. Video games can provide an outlet for them to explore different worlds, interact with new environments and open avenues of social interaction that might otherwise be unachievable. In the digital world their disability becomes non-existent.
The early days
From the early days of video games in the 1980’s, right up to modern consoles, the way people have interacted with them has been through the handheld controller. The early models of the controller were developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and this standard has been refined and developed into the ergonomic controllers used on consoles today. There have been occasional deviations from this standard over the years, the Nintendo Wii’s motion controlled ‘Wii motes’ or the three handed controller… I’m looking at you Nintendo 64. But most have maintained the same formula, being developed for the two thumb stick, two index finger user, creating a barrier for those unable to use their hands in this way.
How research has helped
Research by Muscular Dystrophy UK found that 60 per cent of those with disabilities under the age of 24 consider gaming to be their favourite pastime. As Lauren West, manager of Muscular Dystrophy UK’s youth campaign group Trailblazers, explained it’s an area where “there’s increasingly limited care hours… [so] games provide a good opportunity to interact socially” but that “the industry hasn’t been hugely supportive” in providing accessibility technology. Microsoft has sought to change that and has partnered with a number of US charities including the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, The AbleGamers Foundation and SpecialEffects to design and develop a new style of controller that aims to remove these barriers.
What came from that research is the Xbox Adaptive Controller which is specifically designed to make gaming more accessible to people with disabilities.
Three years in development, the Adaptive controller acts as a hub for a range of external devices such as track pads, joysticks and switches so that the controller can adapt to the unique needs of disabled gamers trying to enjoy a game. What’s more, the Adaptive controller has multiple input standards, from 3.5mm jack to USB 2 and Bluetooth for these external devices. A lot of people with physical impairments already have a range of similar devices for interaction or physiotherapy, the Adaptive controller can handle the inputs of these devices eliminating the need to buy a whole host of new equipment, you just unplug the switch from whatever device it was attached to and plug it into the Adaptive Controller. The controller also supports button customisation to enhance its adaptability to the play style of the individual user. Combined with Xbox’s efforts to enable play between the Xbox console and PC’s, the controller can work on both, adding to its versatility.
How equipment can be adapted
Thought has been put into how the controller can be mounted. Through its research, Microsoft discovered that gamers would mount their controllers with Velcro, so they added Velcro loops to the back for ease of securing. They also worked with third-party equipment manufacturers to ensure that mounting equipment for wheelchairs was compatible with the design. Even the packaging for the Adaptive controller, often an overlooked aspect, was designed so that it was accessible. Disabilities shouldn't prevent you from being able to enjoy the simple pleasures of opening your new controller.
Building on the in-game accessibility already included by game developers, Microsoft’s release of the Adaptive Controller is sending out a clear message; People with physical impairments can enjoy all the benefits the gaming world offers; and that this level of inclusivity will benefit the gaming community as a whole and put everyone on a level playing field.
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