I was born with cerebral palsy, a non-progressive condition that affects the part of the brain that handles the limbs and fine motor functions. The disease rendered me unable to talk and confined me to a wheelchair. In addition, I only have full use of my right arm. As a disabled gamer, I’ve always been a little concerned about what the future holds. As it is, controllers have undergone a massive evolution over the past 20 years. They’ve gone from as simple as the original Nintendo Entertainment System controller to as complex as the PlayStation 3 controller.
Couple that with a genre like shooters, which use pretty much every button, and you run into a problem: The controls are too complicated for one-handed gaming. When you need to hold the controller a certain way, it inevitably leaves some buttons out of reach. That is my biggest complaint with the controllers for this generation, as well as the previous one: Disabled gamers can’t use the shoulder buttons easily. Using the left analog stick and pressing the right trigger with one hand is pretty much impossible.
This isn’t limited to just shooters. Other recent big-name titles such as Ninja Gaiden 2, Too Human and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed also use the majority, if not all, of the buttons, and the options to reconfigure the controls are severely limited. In all of the titles just mentioned, the shoulder buttons are so crucial to the gameplay that using them is mandatory.
However, humans have an uncanny ability to adapt to pretty much any situation. Over the years, I’ve had to continually and drastically adjust how I play to account for ever-changing controllers. One title that you probably wouldn’t think I’d be able to play is Ninja Gaiden 2. While blocking with the left trigger is an essential part of the gameplay, I do pretty well without it. In fact, when I play on Path of the Acolyte mode, the only real problem I’ve had is the second boss. I’m on Chapter 7 and I’ve beaten five of the six bosses so far with minimal blocking.
Another challenging title is Soul Calibur 4. Playing against the computer is fun and all, but after a while you see its patterns and it becomes boring. This is where having friends over and online multiplayer are helpful. While they are vastly different from each other, mostly due to lag, they are both useful for quickening your response time and reflexes, even if you can only press the face buttons.
The PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS Lite aren’t as troublesome as the current generation of consoles, but there certainly are some problems. One such problem in regard to the PSP is that the distance from Left on the directional pad to the Circle button is approximately 6.25inches, which is quite long for someone to play one handed. As far as the DS Lite is concerned, the distance from Left on its directional pad to the A button is considerably shorter (4.75 inches), and it has the touch screen. However, some titles such as Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games require you to use the buttons in conjunction with the touch screen. Some even require the use of the DS’s built-in microphone, as in the Nintendogs and Spectrobes titles.
You could argue that Nintendo already has taken us into account with the Wii, but honestly, they haven’t. While there are some simple point-and-click titles such as Pokémon Battle Revolution, the bulk of the Wii library uses both the Wii-mote and the Nunchuk. The good games, like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, No More Heroes, Super Mario Galaxy and even Elebits all require the use of both the Wii-mote and the Nunchuk.
Ideally, the gaming industry should take into consideration those people who cannot play games the “normal” way – whether it’s due to paraplegia, quadriplegia, deafness or any other disability out there – and make official peripherals for us. But so far, it has failed to do so. For such peripherals, we have to turn to people like Benjamin “BenHeck” Heckendorn, creator of the Access Controller and other modified (and sometimes even custom-made) controllers. More often than not we have to learn to fend for ourselves the best we can, using what we have available to us.
The Access Controller was designed and built by BenHeck for one-handed gamers. It’s currently available for the PS2, PS3 and PC, with an Xbox 360 version awaiting approval from Microsoft. The controller has a modular design with five moveable sections that players can arrange to suit their needs. BenHeck designed this customizable controller to be laid on a table or a leg, making it not just easier to use, but more comfortable. While it carries a hefty price tag ($129.95), I believe the assistance provided justifies the cost.
There should really be some a mass-market option for those of us who don’t have full use of their bodies. Rather than us having to rely on people like BenHeck, why can’t we go into a store and see a controller that helps us, the disabled gamers? Why hasn’t a third-party company like Mad Catz made a controller that incorporates all the buttons into a small pad so that one hand can easily access them all? Game publishers and developers fall far behind other industries in terms of adaptive technology. Many other major industries have made great strides in allowing disabled access to their products: closed captioning for hearing impaired users, text-to-speech browsing, large-print books and Braille for visually impaired users, etc. It’s appalling how far behind gaming companies fall in terms of promoting alternate access to their products to this substantial demographic.
Andrew Monkelban is a freelance contributor to The Escapist who spends his spare time owning Ninja Gaiden 2.