For those of you who read my thoughts here, dear readers, you’ll know that I have talked a lot about disability and how it relates to and fits into our various fandoms. You also may have noted that I have focused a lot on adaptive technology for gamers who live with disabilities (like yours truly), and the technology that has emerged to ensure that all of us have a fair shot at enjoying our passion for gaming. For many of us, gaming is about being a part of a larger community, and having a shared passion that we can discuss with others. However, before some of this tech came about, not all of us had that fair shot that I mentioned.
Well, friends, that’s why I’m here again today. The team over at Xbox has just announced the release of their newest adaptive tool for gamers, and this one is pretty damn impressive.
Ladies and Gentlegamers, Meet…the Xbox Adaptive Controller:
Available later this year, according to Microsoft, the Xbox Adaptive Controller can be connected to external switches, buttons, joysticks, and a whole host of different mounts. The idea behind this is to give gamers with a wide array of physical “limitations” the ability to customize their gaming set-ups in order to give them the freedom to play the games they love.
The ability to customize this controller so widely will be a huge boon to gamers who aren’t necessarily able to use a standard game controller – whether that be due to lack of motor function or missing limbs/hands. One of the testers, Solomon Romney, is a Microsoft Stores retail learning specialist who was born without fingers on his left hand. While testing this out, he utilized a mix of software remapping and extra switches to move some more difficult-to-navigate game controls over to the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and it has allowed him to experience games that he otherwise would not have been able to play. In fact, the customization of this tech could even allow him to play a game using only his feet. HOW COOL IS THAT??
This controller is being touted as “the most flexible adaptive controller made by a major gaming company”, and we can see why. It can be used to play both Xbox One AND Windows 10 PC games, and it also supports the button re-mapping feature of the Xbox Wireless Controller platform.
According to Microsoft, the Xbox Adaptive Controller’s beginnings started about 4 years ago, in 2014. An engineer working for Microsoft saw a photo of a custom game controller on Twitter. The controller was made by a nonprofit known as Warfighter Engaged, whose mission it is to provide gaming devices to military veterans who have been wounded in combat. The Microsoft Engineer then contacted Ken Jones (Warfighter Engaged’s founder) and spoke with him about the difficulties faced by wounded veterans wanting to break into (or get back into) gaming as a hobby. They also spoke about how much time it took for Jones – an engineer himself – to modify these gaming controllers so that they could be used by those with various disabilities.
The unnamed Microsoft engineer and some of his fellow MS coworkers decided to put a team together to compete at Microsoft’s 2015 Ability Summit, where a hackathon was being held. Their goal was to develop and implement a solution that Warfighter Engaged could use in their work. With Ken Jones as a consultant, the team came up with a device which used the motion-sensing technology from the Kinect. This project won the hackathon and later inspired a second Microsoft team to create an upgraded version later that year, which was a unit that could be hooked up to a standard Xbox controller, but also had the ability to add extra switches and buttons.
This brings us to the current iteration of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and this thing is a unique piece of adaptive tech. The Xbox Adaptive controller is a simple white rectangle, measuring about 11” x 6”, and has two rather large black buttons on its face. The cool thing about these, though, is that they’re not just buttons. They’re enabled for what’s called “light-touch”, meaning that the buttons are able to be clicked with the lightest tap, allowing gamers to essentially roll their palms between the two buttons and not have to worry about using a lot of force to click them. Not only are the buttons light-touch enabled, but clicking each one produces a slightly different sound as well. This doesn’t just offer a new layer of sensory input, but it could also be a great thing for those who have either auditory (hearing) disabilities or sensory processing issues.
Looking at the other parts of the controller, there is a D-pad to the left of those larger buttons, a classic Xbox power button, and even a profile button which allows players to quickly swap between three different mapping options. This can even be done mid-game, so that gamers won’t have to spend a lot of time getting to the set-up that works best for their individual needs. On either side of the controller, there are even USB-C ports (one per side), which accepts plugs both “right-side-up” and “upside-down”.
Getting to the back of the controller itself, we see some of its other cool features. There are 19 (yes, NINETEEN) 3.5mm ports there, reflecting one port for each button on a traditional Xbox gamepad. This gives gamers the ability to plug in any accessibility tools they may already have (e.g. air-powered inputs, small clickers, large buttons, etc.), and have those instantly mapped to whatever function the player needs. If a specific mapping doesn’t work for whatever reason, the ports can be changed to quickly remap the controller, all without having to go through the hassle of pausing the game. Yes, it’s a hassle. Seriously: who likes to pause their game(s)?
Now, after reading all of this, you may be intrigued. However, I’ll bet you’re asking: “But Doug! How much will something like this cost?” Well, you’d be right to ask that, as a lot of the currently-available adaptive gaming tech can be REALLY expensive; ranging up to thousands of dollars (no, that’s not an exaggeration). Fear not, dear readers! It seems that Microsoft as examined this trend, as the Xbox Adaptive Controller will be available for a mere $100.00 / £74.00 / €84.79 when it hits stores later this year!
It’s tech like this that will bring gaming to so many more people in the world, and allow many who thought they’d not be able to enjoy the things that others do to jump right in and be as awesome as they can be.
To quote the Chief Operating Officer of AbleGamers, Steve Spohn:
“There are so many battles that have to be fought for people with disabilities to become the players they want to be. Xbox replacing one of the tools I use in my everyday job with a bigger and better version of that tool only allows us to do our jobs are better, serve more people, and be quicker about it. We have so many people who still need our help, millions of people. The Xbox Adaptive Controller is going to help change the future for the better. I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it.”
Tell us your thoughts on the Xbox Adaptive Controller, dear readers! I would be willing to bet that you know at least one person who could use one!