Hardcore gamer or not, you probably know how a video game controller looks: it kind of resembles a W, has two joysticks, that lowercase T-shaped thing (the D-pad) and a set of four colored buttons with symbols on them. This design and functionality works for most, but what if you do not have the use of both your hands?
It is a neglected question in gaming today, and one Microsoft and its Xbox team are trying to answer with a new device that seems to defy the boilerplate model of a video game controller.
Set to release in September, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is perhaps one of the biggest steps ever taken towards making mainstream gaming more accessible -- it was also one Microsoft was willing to take in order to advance its mission statement to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
“By taking an inclusive design approach and considerations of gamers who might not be able to reach all the bumpers and triggers or hold a controller for an extended period of time, for example, we were able to design a controller that provides a way for more fans to enjoy gaming,” explained Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft and chief of all things Xbox, in a recent blog post. “On our journey of inclusive design, we have taken a wider view of our fans and a more inclusive approach to designing for them.”
The Adaptive Controller offers the same functionality as a standard controller - but in a rectangular design with a slight tilt that can easily be placed on a lap, mounted to a wheelchair or manipulated by foot. The device can be operated on its own, in tandem with a standard Xbox controller or used as a hub to connect assistive devices like QuadSticks, one-handed joysticks and external buttons with its all-in-one system of 3.5mm headphone jacks and USB ports.
In an article posted to Microsoft Story Labs, members of the Xbox team detailed the origin, design and functionality of the device. What started as a hacking challenge for Xbox employees ultimately culminated in a first-of-its-kind device that perfectly coincided with the company’s Gaming for Everyone initiative, which launched in 2015 with the goal of making video games more diverse and inclusive.
That same initiative was what led to the development of Microsoft’s Inclusive Tech Lab, a facility that allows the company’s engineers and designers to create, research and better understand how to innovate for the needs of all gamers. The Inclusive Tech Lab is not only where the Adaptive Controller was built, but also where the company brought in non-profit groups, including Warfighter Engaged and The Cerebral Palsy Foundation, and gamers with a wide range of disabilities to learn how to build a controller to cater to the needs of players.
The results culminated in a device built for gamers of all abilities -- from form factor, functionality and even the design of the box it comes in.
“When I was at the point where I was just no longer able to use the keyboard [to play video games], I started panicking, because gaming was a large of my life,” Steve Spohn, chief operating officer of The AbleGamers Charity and an Adaptive Controller tester, told Story Labs. “That’s when I needed to turn to a place for help.
“It’s going to be a great controller for those who need it. This has been such a long time coming.”
Prior to now, players with disabilities were often left to come up with their own solutions if the standard video game controller was inaccessible to them. While creative, these alternatives never led to the creation of a third-party device that could accommodate both players with a broad range of disabilities and video game titles that require a variety of complex inputs on a controller.
Accessibility and opportunity are what make this new controller so unique, as Microsoft’s commitment to inclusive gaming may be just what is needed to get the video game industry to better accommodate gamers of all backgrounds and abilities.
Image credit: Microsoft
Samuel Northrup is a marketing intern for 3BL Media. He is currently attending Utica College, where he is working toward a degree in journalism while serving as editor in chief of his college’s newspaper, The Tangerine. When he’s not pulling all-nighters studying or copy editing, Samuel enjoys cheering for his favorite football team, the Buffalo Bills.