Video games are great at bringing people together, but for years, many have felt left out. People with impaired vision, hearing, or mobility often struggle to enjoy a medium that combines images, sound, and interactivity. Developers have made efforts to make their games more inclusive, through additions such as captioning and color blind modes, but Microsoft recently announced what may be the biggest accessibility endeavor yet for gaming.
A few days after rumors began circulating on Twitter, Microsoft officially unveiled the Xbox Adaptive Controller. Rather than targeting any specific disability, the controller aims to make games accessible for a wide swath of people. The device itself is a large rectangle with two prominent buttons, a d-pad, and smaller navigation buttons. Its layout and the fact that the buttons are programmable already make it more accessible for players with limited mobility, but its real genius lies in its expandability. Along the back of the device, there are 19 ports, each corresponding to a different controller function. Accessibility devices can be attached with standard 3.5 mm jacks, making the controller completely customizable.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller isn’t the first piece of hardware to tackle accessibility, and in fact, that’s what makes it great. Rather than relying on proprietary accessories, the controller lets players use devices they may already have. Devices such as foot pedals and mouth-operated joysticks already commonly used by gamers with disabilities can be attached to the controller out of the box. Piecing together controllers out of disparate components has been a mainstay of accessible gaming for a long time; the Xbox Adaptive Controller just simplifies and formalizes it.
To develop the controller, Microsoft partnered with organizations that have been working to make gaming more accessible for years. The company also did exhaustive research and consulted with gamers with disabilities to make sure they were solving the right problems. The effort they put forth is apparent. Every aspect of the controller, from its rounded edges and spacious button placement to the clear indicators of each port’s function, is meticulously designed to meet the diverse needs of its users.
The controller is set to go on sale later this year and retail for $99.99. Microsoft has promised more information to come at this year’s E3.