X-Box's new games controller for those with muscular difficulties - to let all avatars flourish
Our standard image of people absorbed in their video game is that of a wired young person, clicking compulsively on their controller. Yet one of the great benefits of the virtual gameworld has always been that, physically, you can be any shape, form or ability offline, and the fantastic or powerful figure of your choice online.
All of us may be represented by our "avatars" these days, like the icons or chosen handles on Twitter. But computer games are on a trajectory (as the movie Ready Player One showed) towards a fully realised "virtual reality" that itself is ever more a social, and even political space itself - particularly for its capacities to provide "self-creation", for people who have differing physical and mental abilities.
So it's good to see that the games-makers are beginning to realise that their disabled and differently-abled constituency may need to be met halfway, in terms of the design of their produce. Stephen Bush, the political editor of The New Statesman, revealed the other day that Microsoft's X-Box has just produced a controller that can be used by people with muscular disabilities (picture below) It has two large black buttons that can be customised in their operation to what specific abilities the user has.
As someone with dyspraxia, where hands don't always do what you want them to, Stephen often plays games in what's called "narrative" mode, where the story rather than the furious gameplay dominates. As he writes.
The reason why easy or narrative modes are often so badly designed is there are some people in and around the gaming industry who think that the point of video gaming is to be the very best – but actually the point of playing video games is to have a good time. For some people, having a good time means taking out the Thresher Maw without taking damage and putting it on YouTube, and that’s fair enough, but for other people it means a battle that is just challenging enough for them or simply getting to enjoy the story and the scenery.
That’s why Xbox’s decision to bring out a controller for people with muscular disabilities, that can be bought in any store rather than adapted at great cost by charities, is great news and not just for people who will be able to enjoy video games more easily. It’s an acknowledgement that gaming is, as Playstation’s slogan puts it, for the players. Not the good players, not the most able-bodied and fast-moving players, but for everyone who wants to have a good time.