Concepts that redefine a game controller for the disabled
I wrote a piece a little over a month ago about the importance of making video game controllers accessible for gamers with disabilities, and how there were some best practices and support groups that cater to these gamers. Today, I want to share what I believe, are some design concepts that redefine a game controller for the disabled.
It’s very interesting how a these designs combine technology and innovation in order to cater to people with disabilities – through research and keen observation of gamer trends and habits, these controller designs have been created with considerations for the disabled gamer. Doing this significantly levels the playing field for these gamers not just in terms of competing, but more importantly in achieving a fun and meaningful gaming experience.
(Author’s Note: While not necessarily considered an accessibility product, trigger-extending adaptors like the Avenger Reflex is helpful to gamers with limited range of motion in their hands or number of fingers. You can check out the review here).
One-handed Gaming pads
One concept that seems to do the job is a controller that’s suited for a single hand. The idea behind this is to position triggers/buttons in such a way that they are within reach of the gamer’s curled finger around the controller. What I personally like about this design is that a gamer can use the full range of motion from each finger joint to interact with the buttons on the pad.
Gaming keypads for the PC have been common examples for this kind of controller design, with a variety of programmable buttons and ergonomically-positioned scroll wheel and analog stick emulates the keyboard-and-mouse configuration for shooters, real-time strategies and online battle arenas. And while it can be argued that a programmable mouse can do similar, there are plenty more liberties in the gaming keypad that can be suited to different disabilities.
The Xbox line of consoles has also been fortunate to carry the same considerations in both the current and previous generations. With the 360, products like the Razer Sabertooth or the SCUF controllers include removable triggers that are positioned behind the controller. These triggers can be removed or added depending on preference, and can be combined with profiling of settings like key-mapping and sensitivity to cater to different game types. And recently at E3 2015, Microsoft announced the release of the Xbox One Elite Controller, which not only has the additional triggers at the back of the pad, but also includes interchangeable d-pads and analog sticks to better suit the game of choice.
The “stickless” arcade stick
Who said you needed to follow the convention for arcade joysticks? In fact, the concept of the stickless arcade stick has continued make its rounds over the past two years. This design concept is essentially a “two birds with one stone” idea – an innovation that uses four additional buttons positioned in a way that matches the hand position on a keyboard – this allows a more natural transition for PC gamers to the consoles (particularly fighting games) without compromising the dexterity that can be found in using a standard-design stick.
Furthermore, the button layout is more compact compared to other arcade sticks, giving full coverage for both hands across all buttons that are needed. In fact, button proximity is so well-placed that a gamer with a big wingspan on their hand would be able to operate it with one hand.. not to mention, makes it less challenging compared to playing Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat with one hand.
With this concept, Hitbox certainly leads the way. This stick comes available in single or multi-platform, and has great support with maintenance and modding. And while they have rightful dibs behind the design, modding fans of arcade sticks use the Hitbox’s layout as reference to their own versions of the stickless arcade stick, thus catering to other people’s needs, including gamers with physical disability. I’ve had a chance to play against gamers who use this kind of arcade stick, and while they themselves have no disabilities, they have adapted very well to this control method, which is intuitive and easy to pick up.
Switching it up in more ways that one
The last sample I’d like to mention is based on a switchboard system. This concept is based on the premise that a switch-based box with built-in functions allow different kinds of control switches to be configured and used depending on the disability. Large buttons, sip and puffs, trackballs or analog sticks can be used individually or combined to emulate the same controller mapping that a gamepad would have.
A perfect example of this is the Adroit Switchblade 2, which was created by Evil Controllers in conjunction with The AbleGamers Foundation, a non-profit public charity that empowers people with disabilities through gaming. The product has programmable and individual jacks that are compatible with switches that make use of 3.5mm male jacks. The switchboard itself has the features such as remapping a button layout to what’s suitable or needed, toggling a button to simulate a held-button, and a turbo function to simulate rapid button presses. It also comes with rumble boxes that can be re-positioned to complement the gaming experience.
There’s so much to talk about with the Adroit Switchblade 2, so come check it out here!
This product has so many possibilities, it can make any gamer (with or without disability) take notice and feel good knowing that they can make their controller cater to them instead of the other way around. For me, if game controllers were a utility item, this design would be a Swiss-army knife as it’s got something that is most likely suited for everyone.