Xbox Adaptive Controller first look: A new, necessary gamepad

This is a passion project for Johnson, Michel and many other developers on the Xbox team. They see the Adaptive Controller being using in physical therapy, mental health recovery and in the daily lives of people with disabilities — and those without disabilities. Developers stressed that the Adaptive Controller is the next iteration of the Xbox gamepad, not a throwaway gimmick, and they were clearly excited about all of the unimagined ways players will use the new controller.

It takes advantage of a few existing Xbox inclusivity features, including remapping and copilot, a function that allows two players to control the same character. Combined with the Adaptive Controller, the Xbox ecosystem is opening up new worlds for people who have been excluded from the video game industry for decades.

Erin Muston-Firsch is an assistive technology lab specialist at Craig Hospital, where she guides patients with brain and spinal cord injuries through physical therapy exercises. Muston-Firsch was Microsoft’s point of contact at Craig as they put the controller together, and her patients got the chance to beta test it and provide feedback. After the reveal of the Xbox Adaptive Controller at Microsoft’s offices in Redmond, she told the following story:

I had a patient named Reese and she came from a family — she has 15 siblings, 15 brothers and sisters, which is insane — but that’s what they do. They game. She was teaching her younger siblings how to play Call of Duty, and that was kind of the way they related to each other. And then she had a spinal cord injury.

She had this major trauma happen and she was just thinking about all of the things she couldn’t do anymore when she came to Craig for rehab. … At that time, we were in beta testing, so I set her up with the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and within five minutes she was playing Call of Duty. And not only was she playing Call of Duty, which is an insanely difficult game to set somebody up with the first time if they have a disability and can’t move their fingers, but she was copiloting with her younger brother. He was controlling just the right analog stick and she was doing everything else.

Her mom was in the back, crying, because it was this super powerful moment.

One of the most important aspects of the new gamepad, for developers and players alike, has nothing to do with its actual functionality. It’s all about how the product feels and looks. The Xbox Adaptive Controller doesn’t look like an accessibility tool. It looks like an Xbox product; it’s sleek, branded and clean, and it won’t stand out negatively in anyone’s living room. For players who have been dealing with mismatched wires and tools cluttering up their gaming spaces, this is a huge improvement, both physically and mentally.

For people like Reese, Muston-Firsch and AbleGamers COO Steven Spohn, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is already a success.

“There are so many battles that have to be fought for people with disabilities to become the players they want to be,” Spohn said. “Xbox replacing one of the tools I use in my everyday job with a bigger and better version of that tool only allows us to do our jobs are better, serve more people, and be quicker about it. We have so many people who still need our help, millions of people. The Xbox Adaptive Controller is going to help change the future for the better. I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it.”

Images: Microsoft

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