Adventures with an Xbox adaptive controller in Australia
Hi, here’s a first ever blog post, as thought I would share our experiences with the new Xbox adaptive controller, which is designed to help gamers with disabilities.
Some background: 3+ years ago my wife suffered a massive stroke which left her with profound communication difficulties, and no effective use of her right arm/hand. Before her stroke, she liked gaming, she had sunk hundreds maybe thousands of hours into Minecraft, and we had played all of the Borderlands trilogy, and several Halos in coop games together, and she was also a fan of Skyrim and Dragon Age. Following the stroke, she has played some Minecraft, and a little bit of Slime Rancher and Stardew Valley, but it’s very challenging for her in terms of trying to use a controller one handed, and it’s easy for her to get confused with what the controls do, or get lost in crafting menus, etc.
When I first heard of the Xbox adaptive controller, and watched YouTube videos of kids using the controller that brought me to tears, I was very excited that the adaptive controller would be a solution for her gaming difficulties. After some minimal research online, I journeyed into the city to the Microsoft store, and bought an adaptive controller (A$130; I believe it retails for $100 in the US), a big red button (A$100), a little green button (also A$100), and a Logitech Joystick (A$90)- I would have preferred a PDP one handed joystick, but those are not available currently in Australia. So if you are disabled and on a limited income, outfitting an Xbox adaptive controller may be prohibitively expensive, unless your occupational therapist can provide access to one. In case you are wondering what’s up with buying somewhat ridiculously overpriced buttons, the adaptive controller comes with two large buttons default mapped to
, so I figured we would need at least two additional buttons so we could map
to them. It’s a bit of a baffling design decision to me that the adaptive controller doesn’t have four buttons by default, but that’s presumably to allow flexibility.
Which brings me to my next point, the most impressive feature of the adaptive controller is its flexibility, you can plug and play a wide range of peripherals via either USB or 3.5 mm jacks, and you can map any function from a standard Xbox controller to the peripheral. For example, our current setup for my wife has
all mapped to different buttons on the Logitech joystick. This flexibility means that you can personalise the adaptive controller depending on your particular needs/issues.
However, this flexibility does lead to a significant issue- it’s not very straightforward to set up- the Microsoft support pages are somewhat sparse, and there is not yet extensive third party help pages, YouTube videos, etc. I am a PhD trained research scientist, currently a tenured Professor at a major university, and it took me a long evening of scouring the internet, random experimentation, swearing at Microsoft and occasional smashing of the adaptive controller against my forehead in order to set ours up.
The biggest set up challenge was working out how to make both left stick and right stick controls accessible with one hand. Eventually, I worked out you could map a shift function to a peripheral, which I have mapped it to the big red button. So in our setup the joystick serves as the left stick unless my wife steps on the big red button and keeps it held down, in which case the joystick serves as the right stick. We’ve tried it in Minecraft, and it takes a little getting used to, but you can walk backwards or forwards using the joystick, and then hold down the red button when you need to turn.
Another interesting feature of the adaptive controller is the capacity to set an ordinary Xbox controller as co-pilot, thus potentially enabling a second player to co-drive your character in a game. The big buttons also enable me to tape on explanations of their function, which may help reduce confusion for my wife.
If I can work out how to include images in this blog post, I’ll add a photo of our current setup.
In summary, I’m not sure it’s a solution for us, as my wife is currently sitting on the couch playing Minecraft with the old Xbox controller rather than the new adaptive controller
, but I remain hopeful about its adoption in our household. It is an impressive piece of flexible technology, with a pleasing design aesthetic, that I’m sure will help thousands of gamers with disabilities. However, there are issues regarding cost and challenges in terms of setup, the latter issue may be lessened over time as more resources go up online to provide guidance.