It’s About Time Accessible Gaming Was Taken Seriously

With the release of Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller, I applaud an industry that is finally looking out for the needs of the disabled gaming community - but let’s not forget the 30+ years of history that led to this development.

Recently, you may have seen the hugely positive social media reaction to Microsoft’s brand new mass-produced game controller - designed to make gaming accessible to all. Independent companies have been hard at work for years, creating hardware for this demographic, and I would not like you to think this is some sort of recent innovation (I’ll dive into the history of accessible gaming soon). 

Many are claiming this is the first time a major console manufacturer has made a first party piece of hardware for this audience - containing 19 inputs, for totally customisable switches, levers and buttons to a user’s mobility.

Nintendo's NES Hands-Free Controller - launched 1988

Nintendo's NES Hands-Free Controller - launched 1988

But I would argue this with Nintendo’s NES Hands-Free controller, developed in 1988, which saw people control characters using their breath into a pipe. But nevertheless, Microsoft’s effort is the first one in a while.

And with research from way back in 2008 showing that one in five casual gamers playing with a physical, mental or developmental disability, alongside further research by the Accessibility Foundation in Utrecht, The Netherlands showing 92% of these gamers show sheer willpower by playing an average 10.3 hours per week despite difficulties, this begs the question… What took them so long?

The History Of Accessible Gaming

It’s not as if disabilities only just reared their head in the last few years. They’ve always existed, and as soon as the world was introduced to home video gaming in the seventies, accessibility was a big question.

Rather than attempt to transcribe the history here, I’m going to give a shoutout to Lady Eklipse and her detailed timeline, documenting every software and hardware modification to better enable accessible gaming, along with the huge community of professional disabled gamers, including NOM4D, the world’s first quadriplegic professional gamer.

But the key takeaway from this is simple - over the decades, people have worked hard to make gaming experiences accessible to all, sometimes in partnership with and sometimes in spite of the original developer. 

Microsoft’s trailer for the Xbox Adaptive Controller

The level of backdoor hacks that were needed to develop many of these solutions on the article were nothing short of genius on the side of the people creating them, but also jarring to note many of these did not come from (or were supported by) the original console manufacturers.

With government-regulated pressure for other businesses to be disability-friendly, is it about time video games underwent this same level of scrutiny? I believe so, but I will leave that up to you.