190: Making It Work: Game Accessibility

Making It Work: Game Accessibility

If you're frustrated at how complex videogame control schemes have become over the last couple decades, imagine how it would feel if you could only play with one hand. Andrew Monkelban explains how disabled gamers have adapted to modern videogame controls, and how the industry could better serve them in the future.

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Good essay, I read about these kinds of issues but I've never seen it explained in-depth. You might have better luck arguing the case towards game developers instead of controller developers. Control schemes change from game to game, so any attempts at making a one-handed controller are going to fall flat as soon as someone releases a game that doesn't mesh with its setup. It's not like anyone was shoulder aiming in their game heavily until Gears, for example.

The best solution, to me, seems to be just requiring developers to make every button mappable. As in, every button. If we made it so pressing start shoulder-aimed and left trigger was start, would you be able to play it better? The nice thing about this is that everyone wins this way, since every player will enjoy this option.

Still impressed you can get through Ninja Gaiden 2 without blocking...

If I couldn't use one hand, I'd probably find a new hobby tbh. I don't know why games don't make mappable controls (apart from user-friendliness).

BenHeck is awesome, I like the swappable modules.

Yeah, I see ZERO reason for not making controls user definable, I seem to remember just about every ZX Spectrum game managing it in 48k, how can they not fit the option into 4.7gb?

Maybe someone should take it to the 'European Court of Human Rights' and say the games inflicting on your human right to play it as they can't play one handed, far worse cases have been brought and won, and it'd actually be a good thing for the moderately disabled community.

Actually I'd rather not get legally involved, but just an extra couple of hours work during development to make your game more accessible to EVERYONE, surely that's gotta be worth more than designing ANOTHER funny hat for the create a character page?

I admit I still want more hats too tho.

Good essay Andrew, good job on getting through Ninja Gaiden 2.

I suppose you've heard of the emotiv EPOC neuralheadset?

Here's a pic...


I find this pretty damn exciting myself. $299 American. And not just for so-called "disabled" players either. Not necessarily a replacement for controllers but defiantly an adjunct. It might get you hitting that block button etc. after all. Even winning serious competitions.

It's developed in Australia, so of course I'm puffed up with patriotic pride lol.

My advice is to get The Escapist to buy you one so you can do a review on it! :D

I think you have a good point. I thought you were going to say something about how all official controllers from now on should also tend for disabled gamers, which let's be honest, would be a little unfair. Equally as the vice-versa which is your situation now so I think releasing another official controller for each console would be perfect.

Maybe you should petition it? Could end up happening. Or maybe they've already considered it but need the evidance that it would be a good move for both parties.

If I couldn't use one hand, I'd probably find a new hobby tbh. I don't know why games don't make mappable controls (apart from user-friendliness).

BenHeck is awesome, I like the swappable modules.

I agree.

It's not that I don't understand the author's plight, but I don't think the industry should be expected to provide such control interfaces. Capitalism works on a supply and demand basis, so if there's not enough people to justify this interface on a mass-market basis, then it won't get produced.

Although it would be nice for everyone to be included.

One of my thesis supervisors was heavily into interface design for people with disabilities. She went nuts on me for suggesting that successful controller manipulation could be seen as a measurable identification of 'skill'. "What if someone has ADHD?" she asked. "What if they have a problem with spacial recognition and can't navigate a 3D environment? These games prescribe and dictate a standard of normalcy which is terribly non-inclusive."

Which may be true.

Control schemes have gotten progressively more complex over the past decade or so. In fact, this initial complexity is a pretty big barrier between new players and new games. Have you ever tried to get a non-gamer friend or family member to play something they seem interested in, only to immediately recoil upon seeing this monster controller bristling with buttons? By designing interfaces that are more friendly for the disabled, it might be possible to attract other would-be gamers as well.

I have to say admire someone with your patience! games have alot of buttons controls and this does help with immersion. yet i do think more could be done to help people in your position.

People disabled via accidents or disease other infirmities must be accommodated for. I mean there must be a large enough market to make a control that attaches to your hand and is putting more control at your fingertips.....

I wish you all the best and hope your love for gaming continues.


Control schemes have gotten progressively more complex over the past decade or so. In fact, this initial complexity is a pretty big barrier between new players and new games. Have you ever tried to get a non-gamer friend or family member to play something they seem interested in, only to immediately recoil upon seeing this monster controller bristling with buttons? By designing interfaces that are more friendly for the disabled, it might be possible to attract other would-be gamers as well.

Which is a huge part of Nintendo's success with the Wii.

They made a console non gamers can play without having to go on a damn course :D

Anyone can play Wii bowling with about 30 seconds of explanation, whereas, although of course there's 'better' games, most non gamers shut off the moment you say 'X..um, that's the yellow one, that shoots, unless you're holding the left trigger down, then it turns left...'

You played Ninja Gaiden 2 with one hand, and hardly ever used the L trigger? Bloody hell. It's a tricky game, but without the dodge or block? I'm speechless. Kudos.

Good article. The ability to play the same games without the use of two hands is something that is potentially useful for everyone. Something as simple as breaking a finger would make playing conventional games difficult, and bringing these kinds of controllers closer to the mainstream is the only way these things are going to become more affordable. There's a market for this, if only more people knew about them.

You do realize the fact that you play games like Gaiden one-handed instantly confers the much-touted 'Hardcore' status, like it or not? It's that whole Zatoichi angle. Disabled gamers are officially the Internet's new bad-ass samurai heroes.

Excellent article. It has always been one of my biggest fears that I will become disabled and not be able to enjoy my favorite pasttime.

I had a friend that played World in Conflict (RTS) with one hand. That's not a big deal, because you can play just about any RTS with one hand, but he wanted to be able to use the functionality of the keyboard by remapping buttons to the mouse, which the game didn't allow you to do. I didn't see the outcome of this, but he brought this issue up in the forums and they sent this request on to the design team. I hope it was incorporated into the game via a patch, but I haven't been able to play in quite a ding dangedy long time (my wife got ahold of the post while I walked away from the keyboard).

I believe Valve was the first one to incorporate closed captioning into a game with Half-Life 2. I thought that was a wonderful way of allowing the hearing impaired to play a FPS without being able to hear the miscellaneous sounds typically needed for survival.

I am in the exact same boat.. CP, but have the left instead of right hand usage. I agree completely. The wife bless her bought me a PS3 for xmas because I love games and movies (Blu-Ray built in ya!!). But since the game controller is so rigid in its usage I've played less than 10 hours on the games because I just can't manage the controls.

To make things worse the wife is starting to realize that i can't use it and is feeling bad as she really thought she found a great gift for me. Now I need to drop another 100+ dollars for something we've already spent over $500.00 on. FRUSTRATING!!!

Great article Andrew really interesting. I am so impressed you are getting through Ninja Gaiden without the block. That is incredible.I got my ass handed to me by the third boss I think. That head set posted by Jemborg could be great, I agree, you should totally get the escapist to get you to review it.

Andrew Monkelban:
Making It Work: Game Accessibility

If you're frustrated at how complex videogame control schemes have become over the last couple decades, imagine how it would feel if you could only play with one hand. Andrew Monkelban explains how disabled gamers have adapted to modern videogame controls, and how the industry could better serve them in the future.

Read Full Article

Interesting and informative read, though I can honestly say I'm not surprised that your demographic has been ignored for so long with regards to peripherals and customization options.

I mean, the demand is probably not high enough for large corporations to decide to invest their resources in that target market. As a matter of fact, this is the first time I've ever heard of the concept of a 'disabled gamer'. Partly, I'd imagine, as a result of a certain amount of ignorance and partly a result of it being a rather rare occurrence.

Aside from that probability, I think the lack of any developer, publisher and manufacturer supported peripherals or options is quite likely due to a lot of it being rather difficult to pull off. I mean, you wanna compare BenHeck's devices to subtitles and braille? Which do you think could be accomplished with a decent amount of quality for the least amount of money in the shortest amount of time. There's not even a question as to how other types of media could make such important progression's in such simple ways while the video game industry is still stuck ousting an audience few people have acknowledged yet. Though, maybe there is a simple answer to this problem and maybe we just need the right complex mind to discover it.

I'm sure that problem is more challenging on the side of actual physical devices than controller layout setups, but on that front, I suspect many game developers intend for their games to be played a certain way and set the controllers up according to those intentions. For example, Fable 2 - One button combat, etc. That was a very thoroughly thought out control scheme that was meant for that game, not just a general 3ps Action/Adventure title. Another example would be Halo Wars, I don't even have to explain that one. On the other hand, it shouldn't really cost developers much to add in the option for personal configuration and the exclusion of that option in so many games is a bit ignorant of the disabled gamers out there.

In closing, I imagine it would be quite a hefty investment for companies to begin developing official peripherals for the disabled gamers of this world. It would take a lot of research into an audience I don't think many developers or console manufacturers or publishers are even aware exists, by virtue of which they might not perceive it as worth the time, effort and cost. On the other hand, the sooner this issue is looked into by the big heads, even just lightly, the better the end result could be.

Good luck for the future. If I ever achieve my dream of becoming a video game developer, I'll be sure to keep you and others like you in my thoughts.

As much as it sucks that you have such a terrible condition, I wouldn't count on video game developers catering controls for you guys. It not a real common condition and having to drastically change controls would cost developers time and money.

Thats a very sad condition. N64 must have been a great platform though since it's fairly easy to hold it with one hand.

dude, you must be awesokme at NG2, if you can play it with one hand!

It seems sadly, Games are moving backwards in terms of how assessable it is to gamers with disabilities, More games are trying to push for people to use voice communication and taking out typing it seems. Leaving me to only play with good friends online as many on xbox and PC will end kicking someone with no mic.

Also it seems the newest trend as more games are moving into full voice to leave out subtitles leaving my deaf friends in the dark as far as to what the story in Assassins Creed is even about.

I think consoles may end up becoming almost unplayable to anyone with disabilities in the future sadly, Due to a focus on Voice,Hearing,Motor skills, and Vision. While I can see PC getting a big bump in sales and development of games focused on disabled gamers.From text based chat, Subtitles, Customized Controls, and Color Blind options.

I know a player who struggles with gaming using only 1 hand, and I agree games should be more accessible, at least letting players change the controls to what they personally want/need.

I too am surprised that third-party companies haven't really come up with much accessible controllers, aside from the ones that mimic arcade sticks possibly being easier.

You know what? If they made and marketed that one-handed control pad as-is, it probably wouldn't sell too well. If they marketed it as a "pro" gamepad with "all the control in one hand!", it'd probably do a lot better. I support sneaky marketing like this.

I believe the only realistic appeal here is to petition Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo into making it a technical requirement that all games support button mapping.

Beyond that, it would just be a demonstration to a 3rd party peripheral manufacturer that a disabled demographic is substantial enough to make a profit from. Unfortunately, I don't know if that is the case. Possibly, if a peripheral functioned cross platform and also for the PC it could be covered by insurance? If it could be covered by insurance (due to PC accessibility) than that would mean that even a niche, high cost peripheral ($500 ? ) could make the proposition even more profitable for a peripheral manufacturer.

Basically, don't expect change unless the game industry can be guaranteed financial viability.

While I sympathise and agree that it would be better if they did something for 'handicapped gamers' I think it'd be hard for companies to cater for everyone with specialised controllers.

[anti-rant rant mode on]
Look- disabled gamers are going to have difficulty playing these games. Just like someone with one hand is going to have difficulty tying his shoes. Do you think it equally unfair that they don't make FPSs accessible to blind gamers?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for accessibility- as long as it's not at the expense of the fully-abled users. Re-mappable buttons? All the way baby. (But don't make it mandatory- geez. Let the game companys know you want it, then buy the games that support it. If the demand is really there, then the games that offer it will simply sell better and everyone will fall into line.) One-handed controls as standard? No thanks.

If there is a large market for one-handed game controlers and no one is making them, don't complain about it- start a business! You've found yourself a golden opportunity!

If there isn't a market, then admit that this is just one more area that your disability has closed off to you and find something else you can do. Personally, I love interactive fiction- those are games that would be accessible to Stephen Hawking even if he were blind! (No, I'm not joking.)
[/anti-rant rant mode off]

Acually, One of my brothers friends could beat me, My brother, And my other brother at World Ciruit racing game with only one game and laugh at us. I thought he was just showing off, I didn't expext he could only use his right hand.

I don't need to play one-handed, but sometimes I do. This is pretty much what emulators are for. I use a N64 emulator with WASD, Space, Shift, Tab, Q and E. C-buttons are TGFH, D-pad is IJKL, but I don't use those very much.

I've been around people with disabilities like yours, and it is quite depressing that a disability takes away the possibility for a simple fun pastime. In other words, I completely agree that companies should take initiative and make controllers similar to the one you pointed out available in the mass market.

The problem with that is that it would take a hell of lot of money. Sad as disabilities are, gamers like you are a tiny percentage of all people who play video games, and that unfortunately means that expensive-to-make special controllers would not be profitable. I absolutely hate this, but it's the way it is.

I do think though that companies like MadCatz should at LEAST design and develop special controllers like this and have them available for special order. The biggest obstacle is actually getting companies to consider this even though they wouldn't be economically feasible. The only way to do that is if people keep writing articles like this.

Great essay. Keep up the good work!

Because it doesn't look like I can get the Andrew account, I made this one.

L.B., as far as shoulder usage goes, you're right and you're wrong. I can think of at least 2 pre-Gears titles that rely on the shoulders, namely God of War, and Killer 7.

Your suggestion about every button being remappable sounds good, in theory, but will it hold up in practice?
zero, yeah well, I've been disabled all my life. Gaming has been an outlet for me since I was a kid. Why would I give it up?
SenseOfTumour, I whole-heartedly agree with you.
jemborg and Phat_Frank, Yeah, I know about the EPOC, and I'm tempted to ask The Escapist to buy me one so I can review it, but I'm not sure how it would fly.
Nivag, you're right both situations are a bit unfair, but life is unfair at times, so we live and learn. Perhaps a petition is a good idea, but I see 2 obstacles, 1) I don't know of many local disabled gamers, and 2) do internet petitions really accomplish anything?
Clemenstation, I agree with BOTH you and your thesis supervisor. Successful controller manipulation IS (at least, in part) skill. The increasing complexity is starting to concern me about future generations.
micktheviking and Break, the size of the market is something that I tackled in the original, but was later taken out. So here's to hoping I can do another piece on this topic, but with a different stance.
teknoarcanist, XD Thanks.
PaladinMJ, I, myself, am on the fence about the PS3, If I do get one, I want to be backwards compatible because I have quite a few PS2 titles. What's stopping me is the motion/tilt control.
Judas, that is another topic I tackled in the original.
Chaism, you're all too correct on that.
With that, I believe I have replied to enough people that the rest of you can gather what I'd say to you.

I will reply to a few more of your comments, but not at this moment.

Killerkittenprr, you'll be surprised to find out that, at least for me the N64 was the beginning of the complexity.

sebar nl, that isn't to say I didn't give up on NG1...

51gunner, I'm actually looking for stuff like "pro" controllers when I go out. Any little help, well... helps.

BallPtPenTheif, while you may be right, EliteFreq and dorm41baggins brought valid arguments. Ones I have to agree with.

dorm41baggins, I wouldn't call either of our "rants," "rants." It's all good.

PoisonUnagi, yeah I use XPadder for WoW, so that helps, but still, as far as console gaming goes...

ericool13, you'll be surprised to learn that 1 in 5 gamers are disabled. While it would take a lot of money, the other problem is the differing levels of severity

That's an awesome article Andrew. I completely understand your points, it's not easy playing video games with an industry that does not make it easy for mom-and-pop controller makers to create disabled friendly versions. There are some out there though. If you get a chance check out www.AbleGamers.com - it is a website devoted to disabled gaming and helping people get back into the game!

What about PC controls?

Particularly the Computer Mouse as even my entry level gaming mouse has more buttons than I know what to do with but take a look at this:


The number pad could be a substitute for the WASD section of the keyboard with 2, 4, 5 and 6 for movement, 1= use, 3 = reload, etc

I can't say it is perfect, but PC gaming staples like RTS, FPS and other games depend so much more on the right hand on the mouse with rapid and precise aim than on the keyboard.

Though I sympathize with your situation I cannot say I agree with your theory that developers have to make peripherals for physically handicapped players.
Although as cold as it may sound, your demographic makes up I'm assuming a small fraction of their sales and it would make no sense for them to make peripherals that they cannot mass produce and sell. They gain nothing by only selling 100 controllers or so in this way.

A better solution I would agree would be for game developers to make game controls fully mappable, but I can't really think of a profitable scenario of a company making hardware for such a specific market, especially considering people's disabilities are varying.

I do seem to recall a COD player who played with one hand and his mouth or something, I'm not sure how he got the peripherals to make his situation work, but I'm assuming it was third party developers.

I do hope more third party developers offer custom game controllers in the future, but I honestly don't see it happening unless you specifically spoke your case to a company and see if they are willing to help. Maybe they will?

I remember seeing a one-handed control for Xbox a few years ago, looked funny, a bit like the Nunchaku for the Wii but with more buttons.
You disabled people all cry out to be treated like normal people but then one thing might be too difficult and start telling everybody that it's their responsibility to accommodate for that. It's called a disability for a reason.
Video games like it or not are a business, and it's probably not cost-effective to accommodate for everybody.

You could switch to PC gaming and get the Razer Naga. It's a mouse with 10 buttons on the left side. You can assign keys to these buttons. So in a shooter, you can use the left moue button (to fire), right mouse button for melee, middle mouse button (scroll wheel) for iron sights, and then you've got 10 buttons to move around, crouch and jump. It's probably difficult to master, but easier than trying to use a controller with just one hand. There's also the Belkin Nostromo N52te SpeedPad, but that doesn't have any way to aim as far as I can tell. And there are many other kinds of controllers, and most games let you bind keys.


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