Work, school and social interactions exist at the touch of a button. This may seem easy to you and me, but there are small buttons and complex maneuvers required to make this work. This makes these ubiquitous devices hard to use for individuals with limited motor function, and I believe everyone should be able to use these devices.
This was first brought to my attention while watching the stream for the “Smash Ultimate World Tour.” In the stream, there were advertisements for a new controller from Hit Box based on the original fighting games–style cabinets: a flat board with a large joystick and buttons as opposed to the GameCube or Switch Pro Controllers most professional players use. The advertisement claimed that it would reduce the risk of wrist injuries, a significant issue in the “Smash” community. Most prominently, star “Melee” player Hax$ developed a calcified FCU tendon from playing with a GameCube controller in 2016, which forced him to go on a hiatus from competitive play. During this hiatus, he developed a controller similar to the one listed before and returned to play in 2017. (He is currently the top player in New York and ranked 19th in the world.)
The mention of an alternative controller sparked my interest in what other companies are doing to be inclusive not only for people with injuries, but for people with motor disabilities as well. The gaming community is not known for being the most inclusive and accepting group of people — join any “Call of Duty” lobby for proof. However, I would be mistaken to assume that there were no gaming communities that supported disabled people. All the way back in 2014, there was a popular streamer by the name of NoHandsKen, who was in a construction accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. He started streaming on Twitch by using a device called the Jouse 3, which is able to control a mouse using a mouth, cheek or chin. Although he was limited to games solely controlled by mouse and keyboard such as “World of Warcraft” and “Path of Exile,” he gained 35,000 followers by the time he stopped streaming in 2016. While NoHandsKen was able to bring enjoyment to himself and to his large following, it shouldn’t matter what one’s motivations are for playing — whether it’s to have fun or to build an audience, gaming should be accessible to everyone.
Currently, there are many streamers who play games using alternative controllers. A prime example of this is the streamer MiketheQuad, a quadriplegic who is paralyzed from the chest down. He mainly uses the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which has large buttons as well as ports to connect more external buttons. This feature allows customizable button sizes and placements, which is helpful for someone who is unable to press the small buttons or grab triggers on a regular controller. However, these controllers are not a final solution. The price point is pretty high, and it takes up a lot of space; however, it could be a solid step in the right direction. Another interesting accessible controller is the orbiTouch, a keyboard that uses no keys. It’s based around two knobs that slide in eight directions, and its range of combinations allows for typing without the use of fingers. Although typing fast with orbiTouch takes time to learn, it is an effort to accommodate typing for individuals with motor function disabilities.
These controllers offer alternatives for disabled individuals, and their innovative workarounds are impressive, though there is room for improvement. Gaming is a huge part of my life, and it’s nice to see companies and consumers alike working together to create opportunities for everyone to play. As technology evolves, the gaming industry will continue to face inclusivity-related challenges. The new push for virtual reality will be especially difficult, as it can require full-body movements as well as fine motor control. I hope we will continue to find and invent solutions to support all people, and I have faith that the gaming industry will continue to improve its efforts to make gaming an activity for all.
Daily Arts Writer Maxwell Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.