Upgraded: The Gaming Accessibility Conference 2018

In dedication to the eternal legend Stan “the Man” Lee. #RIP.

The ancient being named Uatu The Watcher ponders “The year 2018, it started off relatively similar to any other year so why am I here?” Uatu’s presence signifies the commencement of a major universal shift.

Stan Lee meeting with Watchers

That shift is occurring in the gaming industry, it’s called the Accessibility Revolution. 30% of gamers have a disability so companies cannot afford to alienate that valuable passionate user-base. The awareness and application of accessibility have grown exponentially, developers are making their long overdue venture into this hidden field to create an inclusive sanctuary. However, the effective usage of singular voices all working towards similar goals mean that those influential voices need unification.

Image of the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris

The GA Conference EU 2018 held in Paris on the 22nd of October was the perfect platform by bringing passionate disabled gamers together with talented developers to discuss the present and the future state of accessibility. Ian Hamilton (Director of GA Conf 2018 & an Accessibility Consultant), stated that consistent feedback from the “first two events in the USA were really successful” however potential guests or speakers from Europe “were unable to take part because they couldn’t make it across the Atlantic.” This meant that the “good work being done around Europe” wasn’t acknowledged or shared. True inclusion can only be created through spreading knowledge as widely as possible which was a key goal of the event. The GA Conf had brilliant sponsors, so thank you to Epic Games, Ubisoft, Paris Games Week, Shara and support from Microsoft.

Schedule of the Gaming Accessibility Conference 2018

The GA Conference featured valuable educational talks covering a whole range of topics, presenting eye-opening talks about accessibility even for me as a disabled gamer. Developers need to be open to change or new ideas so that they can design accessibility features with the proper knowledge, to fully connect with the idea of making the industry a more inclusive space. It was excellent to see developers from big studios like Epic, Square Enix, Guerrilla, Ubisoft, Microsoft, PlayStation connecting and sharing ideas.

Accessibility is gaining traction from every part of the gaming industry, so developers are attending in order to keep up with best practices. David Tisserand (Ubisoft Accessibility Project Manager) articulates that the event is “the single most informative conference… due to the diversity of the talks, from case studies, experts sharing detailed user needs and real-life stories”. The output of accessibility needs the input of collective knowledge so developers will not be at a disadvantage in the future when accessibility will become a vital part of game design.

Me speaking to Mark Friend from PlayStation

Mark Friend (Senior Researcher at Sony) said that this conference was a great inspiration as it was an opportunity “to see what different people at different companies are doing to make their products more accessible” His talk For All the Players: Accessibility, explored how PlayStation in Europe promotes accessibility, to incorporate it in games to fit their audience. “It’s also great meeting gamers with disabilities, hearing their stories, & getting a deeper understanding about what challenges they face…”

It’s important to think deeply about all forms of disability not just your own. I never realised the challenges faced by colour-blind gamers until Douglas Pennant the Associate Development Manager at Creative Assembly spoke about the invisible problem of designing games for colour-blindness. It’s impossible for someone without colour-blindness to detect these issues during gameplay design so it’s a tricky challenge to overcome.

The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild logo with Link climbing a mountain Jamie Knight BBC’s Senior Research Engineer explored gaming through an autistic lens. His talk on cognitive accessibility explored options that can aid users in receiving, processing & acting on information in a game world with too many cognitive stimuli. Open-world games with millions of icons can be overwhelming, games like Zelda Breath of the Wild provide a vast world that you can explore at your own speed.

Picture of the panel about gaming with motor disabilities

The panel Empower Us! Including Players with Mobility Disabilities was chaired by the inclusion advocate Cherry Thompson. Gaming with a mobility disability had never been covered before, so having the platform to discuss experiences with the panel & answering questions from developers was empowering. We all agreed that including remapping buttons in the game should become standard, along with developers listening to feedback and consulting with disabled gamers. The Able gamers VP Chris Power opened the conference he said “The next step goes way beyond providing a list of options to bypass inaccessible mechanics. Accessibility needs to be a key part of the creative process & include disability representation in video games.” We need to consider this realistically, accessibility thinking in the industry is just beginnings so there’s still a lot of education ahead to get the fundamentals right. Mistakes only create the next stepping stones on our journey towards inclusion.

Graphic about the Xbox Adaptive Controller

Tara Voelker (Co-Director of GA Conf, Xbox Gaming & Disability Community Lead) presented the Microsoft’s Inclusive Technologies Lab, a permanent space specifically dedicated to game accessibility. The lab has a multitude of vital applications from research, feedback from disabled gamers who visit & educating developers by tangibly demonstrating evidence of what an accessibility-centric space looks like. Personally, as a disabled gamer, finding my own setup was quite scary as it is a huge unknown. I wasn’t aware of the devices available, I couldn’t test the said equipment so a space like this would be vital. You don’t realise how powerful visual feedback can be especially for changing perspectives of developers who are fearful of designing accessibility features.

Picture of my Xbox Adaptive Controller setup

During the whole event, we were joined by Bryce Johnson (Inclusive lead at Microsoft) who was heavily involved with the creation of the Inclusive Technologies Lab. Bryce exemplifies accessibility by celebrating the amazing Xbox Adaptive Controller. The possibilities are endless with the XAC. It definitely will change gaming, it’s a simple idea with a huge impact, nobody can ignore accessibility now that Microsoft has made this bold statement.

Ablegamers Logo and the Xbox Adaptive Controller

“There is no room for pride when it comes to accessibility. We need to reach between companies and talk to each other, learn from each other. We all want the same thing, wins for disabled gamers”Meagan Marie, Senior Community Manager at Crystal Dynamics

Me with Meagan Marie the Senior Community Manager at Crystal Dynamics

The Tomb Raider retrospective by Meagan Marie illustrated how accessibility has been threaded throughout the whole Tomb Raider franchise. Earlier games included multiple pre-set controller configurations and lock-on aim, those options were accessible without Square Enix fully understanding the impact, they were decades ahead of their time. My first gaming memory was of playing Tomb Raider 2 and the safety of Croft Manor because combat scared my 7-year-old self especially when having to shoot tigers. This ability to explore Croft Manor in the earliest trilogy was a genius example of environmental storytelling, a safe playground reflecting Lara’s personality. Exploration not only had practical usage, but the mansion went beyond the detail necessary for a simple tutorial, it had the added benefit of unintentional accessibility. I personally loved searching for the secrets hidden in Croft Manor, this combat-free zone still allowed me to feel like a Tomb Raider without missing out on other gameplay elements. Throughout each iteration the Mansion evolved as part of the ongoing dialogue between developers and fans, so returning to it now, I admire Croft Manor as a feature ahead of its time.

Timeline of the evolution of Croft Manor from Tomb Raider 1, 2 & 3

The recently released Shadow of the Tomb Raider was groundbreaking for its accessibility mindset, taking the crown from Uncharted 4 by adding another layer of inclusive features for gamers with cognitive disabilities. You were able to alter the difficulty of 3 key gameplay elements: Combat, Exploration and Puzzles. For example, if you lowered the difficulty during puzzles Lara would instruct you exactly what to do step-by-step.

Lara Croft with a quiver of arrows and a scene inside hers head with her holding her signature pick-axe

Meagan Marie felt that “representing the hard work of Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s accessibility advocates at the conference was a huge honour” and “a great opportunity for me to expand my knowledge base and bring learnings back to stakeholders at Square Enix.” Spreading awareness of great practice is important internally as a foundation to build upon but also externally for other game developers to reappropriate great ideas. Accessibility goes beyond mere company rivalries it’s all-encompassing so it requires a holistic approach.

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey logo with your character Kassandra ready for battle

Strong examples of successful AAA developers working with an accessibility philosophy, hopefully, that will create a positive and convincing example for all developers. David Tisserand, “We’re trying to do exactly that on all Ubisoft franchises. One feature at a time like the improvements from AC Origins to AC Odyssey.” Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Assassins Creed Odyssey and Spider-Man are huge commercial successes, so accessibility doesn’t hinder global sales.

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey landscape with your character Kassandra on a rearing horse

Kirsty McKnaught from Special Effect explained Eye Mine, the wonderful way to play Minecraft only using eye-gaze assistive technology. It’s a revolutionary step for accessibility, illustrating how flexible assistive tech can be even if you have rudimentary knowledge, as Ian Hamilton said, “Simplicity and flexibility can go a very long way, and open the door to all kinds of great things being layered on top.” The new Tobii Eye-Gaze 4C supports games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey so even more exposure of eye-control efficacy can only be a good thing.

Tara Voelker (Co-Director of GA Conf, Xbox Gaming & Disability Community Lead) states that the best part of the event was the large “variety of studios presented. Everything from a one-person indie to a AAA studio. We wanted everyone to find the content they could relate to & I think we hit it.” Ian Hamilton said that “community building is a really essential part of advocacy work, the amount of good that can come from you spending 30 seconds preaching is really incomparable to the amount of good that can come from spending 30 seconds introducing people to each other. It’s through those connections that efforts multiply…” The life of an inclusion advocate can become quite isolating, as you’re “either working as a sole advocate or trying to be a lone voice of reason in a wider company. So being in a room full of 100 other people who all care about the same things, understand the struggle… it’s all really valuable at a personal level.” The awesome news is that ”a common story we get is of people leaving the events feeling re-energised and re-enthused.”

David Tisserand says “I always learn about new ways to communicate about accessibility. Be it, how to convince my colleagues to care and act, or a sentence/slide which describes very well a design challenge we must solve, or just learning how to communicate with the community. It may sound shallow to focus on communication, but I believe this is how you change mentalities and convince people to do the right thing.” I agree accessibility and inclusion rely heavily on advocates.

Me and Cherry Thompson at the Gaming Accessibility Conference 2018

Speaking of strong accessibility advocates, we ended on a high with Cherry Thompson passionately exploring disability representation in-games, it was absolutely insightful. Accessibility should be a key element during all aspects of the whole creative process and as Cherry stated, it can and should also consider disabled representation in video games. Cherry said that gaming “saved my life” and for me it’s definitely the truth. Disability representation is more powerful than our understanding of it as it reaches into our heart. As Jamie Knight said, “If I exist in a game world it helps me persist in the real world.” As creators, you can’t be properly focusing on narrative design if you are not considering what all your players want, how they might feel and the impact you have left behind. The talk discussed games with extremely negative representations of disability or wheelchairs like Bloodborne, Life is Strange and how damaging it can be to gamers living with a disability. Cherry openly spoke about difficult topics such as Suicide, which is a common narrative stereotype of a disabled character. However, she loves the gaming industry and appreciates developers, we celebrated positive representation in games like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice so progression is happening. It was such an insightful, and powerful end to the conference. With strong advocates such as Cherry, the gaming industry will evolve even faster into a space ready to fully embrace accessibility.

I want to thank all the wonderful sponsors, everybody who attended, and the amazing people featured in this post. Without you, none of this would have been possible and the industry is now better for it.

Uatu the Watcher and Stan LeeExcelsior!

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Product Design – Wheelchairs

[The content of this blog is my opinion, so I’m not either endorsing or condoning this mobility technology]

After reading this interesting article about the WHILL wheelchair, I decided to further investigate by visiting their website. Unsurprisingly I found the usual problems regarding the product design of disability technology and societal constraints of normality.

Often, the designers of wheelchairs (or disability technology) are able-bodied, so the product is created on an assumption of need rather than through the involvement of disabled people.

This is the trap that WHILL has fallen into with 3 able-bodied designers creating the WHILL for a disabled friend who was embarrassed to venture outside in his wheelchair. They wanted to create a mobility device to help disabled people feel confident.

Hold on a second. As a fellow wheelchair user, the problem with confidence isn’t with the actual wheelchair but the anticipation of accessibility problems in the world around us. I already feel independent and confident sitting in my wheelchair.

This inherent ableist thinking viewing people with disabilities are ‘wrong’ or embarrassing needs to be changed not just hidden with sticking-plasters of new technology.  A wheelchair does not need to be considered as something to be shunned, society needs to accept that wheelchairs are useful tools for disabled people to live their life.

They redesigned the ‘wheelchair’ from the ground up. Get this, with important features like colour customisation, foldability, an app to control your wheelchair remotely and seating the rider upright so they feel like they’re controlling a vehicle.

Apparently, the WHILL has been designed with the user in mind. However, who has ever wanted to feel like they’re controlling a vehicle when sitting in a wheelchair? It sounds like an interesting concept but clearly highlighting the able-bodied designers’ assumption of requirements.

Redesigning a wheelchair is not completely necessary as some options currently available are advanced already.

The rhetoric that it has been designed with the user in mind is quite arbitrary as disability has a vast scope of people with varying needs. Define your users. This wheelchair isn’t designed for people with severe muscle weakness as there is no headrest or seating support.

Thank you for reading and please join in the conversation at @UncannyVivek

Do Aliens need Plastic Straws?

After watching this interesting TEDx talk, I pondered this question ‘Why are aliens ignoring us?’

Aliens want to arrive on a planet populated by intelligent peaceful lifeforms with less Plastic Pollution in the oceans but enough flexible Plastic Straws for their anatomy. Otherwise, this planet will not be accessible to them.

Oh boy, I’m finally sharing my opinion on the present plastic straw crisis negatively impacting independence for the disabled population.

I agree that we must care for our wonderful planet and live in harmony with the animals sharing Earth with us. Plastic pollution is a gigantic problem of our time, society needs to be more mindful of their effect on this unique planet.

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I’m pleased to hear that businesses, supermarkets, Starbuck’s etc are cutting down on needless plastic products. Plastic straws should not be classed as an unnecessary plastic product. In the grand scheme of things, plastic straws are only 0.03% of global plastic waste. We need to target single-use plastic wrapping on sweets, chocolates, glitter, balloons & e-cigarettes etc

Focusing on individual products takes our focus away from the necessary discussions on global waste management. After our oceans are clogged with plastic maybe we can shoot our plastic waste into space.

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Disabled people are trying to live an independent lifestyle in a society and environment that isn’t always fully accessible to them. Nutrition, hydration and keeping healthy is vital in life, we all are supposedly meant to drink 2 litres of water daily.

Interesting question, how do you independently drink if you cannot either lift your arms up or bend down? The answer is a plastic straw (or living in space).

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You might suggest that there are other types of straws available: from metal, paper, acrylic to wax.

  • Paper straws disintegrate in a way that is dangerous for people with swallowing problems.
  • Stainless steel straws are not safe for use in hot liquids and are difficult to hold with just teeth.
  • Glass straws can have injury risks and are expensive.

Straws that are straight are difficult to use because through experience the cup can easily tip over. This is not a big issue with cold drinks, but it is extremely dangerous when dealing with warm drinks. I require a straw which has the capability to bend or deform so that I can grip it easily with my teeth without fatigue.

For me, the biggest benefit of a straw is that I’m in full control of the amount of liquid I’m sipping. Without this ability of the straw, I would easily choke whilst drinking because of my weak swallowing muscles. Who would want to choke in public? The embarrassment would not be the problem for me but the terrible consequences of potentially getting a chest infection leading to an unnecessary hospital admission.

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You cannot call yourself an accessible restaurant if your paying disabled customers cannot access a drink, you don’t expect customers to eat their meal without any cutlery.

The problem with the alternative straw options is that they do not have the necessary attributes of a plastic straw. My solution to the plastic straw ban is simple, venues should stock small quantities of plastic straws to be available on request for disabled consumers. Also, if possible disabled people should try to re-use plastics straws at home.

Please don’t alienate the disabled population or the aliens waiting to arrive on an inclusive accessible planet.

alien-life

Hidden Gems – To The Moon

Spoiler Warning: I will be talking about the story in To The Moon.

To The Moon is a 16-bit Indie adventure game developed by Canadian game designer Kan Gao. Games like this are not usually on my radar but I’m glad that I embarked on this emotional journey with To The Moon.

To The Moon is set in the future, you control two doctors who explore a dying man’s memories through technology in order to reconstruct them to fulfil his last wish. The 16-bit style is reminiscent of classics like Legend of Zelda however To The Moon has no combat mechanics or RPG elements only some puzzle solving tied into the story.

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The story intelligently tackles philosophical and emotional themes, which are rarely spoken about. Usually, AAA games like Far Cry 5, Doom etc are there to disconnect the gamer from their violent actions however To The Moon connects the gamer with their emotions. Creating a platform to think about their lives and the themes of mortality, love and existentialist thinking.

Sensitive Topic Warning: I'll be speaking about living with a disability

Living with the terminal condition Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy has made me question my own mortality and trying to answer many existential questions. Last summer when I was at home my heart stopped, as you can obviously tell (because I’m typing this) I’m still here and earlier this year I lost my friend David Mayes. To The Moon reminded me of the tough questions I decided to answer by thinking about my wishes after I’m gone.

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To The Moon has the perfect music to make you genuinely ugly cry, the subtle piano notes and 16-bit art style transported me back in time to my childhood and having to stop playing the piano due to my muscle weakness. Discovering that I had an uncurable life-limiting condition was extremely tough, like Johnny there were parts of my memory with repressed feelings of anger, depression and guilt. For a long time, I wouldn’t face those parts unless I could reconstruct those memories.

What I loved the most about To The Moon was that the story did not rely on negative depictions of Autism, it shows that autistic people can become adults and find love. Finally, I was worried that the story would change into the character River wanting to reconstruct her memories and ‘cure’ her autism. Many games seem to think that having a disability means that you want to be fixed with technology or powers (i.e. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus).

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To The Moon reminds me of the equally profound game What Remains of Edith Finch, both games focus on mortality and death but through experiencing characters memories you realise that the inverse is true, these games are focusing on life.

Games like these create lifelong memories by tapping into your heart, not your mind.

 

Porsche Muscle Dream Programme

On the 18th June 2018, I was Invited by Michael McGrath to attend the Muscle Help Foundation’s flagship Porsche Muscle Dream Programme. The role of a Muscle Ambassador for the Muscle Help Foundation is a big responsibility, but it also has some incredible perks.

[Front and centre is a Blue Porsche 718 Cayman S, on the back wall monitors display Muscle Help Foundation's burgandy wristbands]

For the 8th year running, 8 beneficiaries and their families had the ‘Muscle Dream’ experience at the luxurious Whittlebury Hall Hotel and the Porsche Experience Centre at Silverstone. These beneficiaries were aged between 10-16 and were true petrolheads, harbouring dreams of speeding around Silverstone in a fast car & meeting their favourite driver Lewis Hamilton.

The Muscle Help Foundation had meticulously planned every single second of this amazing experience, taking the beneficiaries (‘Muscle Warrior’) and their families on a journey filled with surprises, scrumptious food, gifts & even factored in time to watch England win against Tunisia.

[Man in wheelchair smiling, wearing sunglasses and a Muscle Warrior t-shirt, sat in front of a red Porsche with its doors open]

After refreshments in the Silverstone Bar, we were led to the Whittlebury courtyard were Michael McGrath revealed a Porsche and Aston Martin. The fascinating part of that reveal was initially watching the supercars driving up a ramp, through a corridor in the Whittlebury Hall Hotel and into the courtyard. It was difficult to prevent the bottom of the supercar scraping against the ramp but somehow, they managed it. I remarked tongue-in-cheek that “this reminds me of the access issues faced by disabled people when trying to enter inaccessible buildings.”

[Group of children in Muscle Warrior t-shirts sat between a Red Porsche and a Grey Aston Martin]

During lunch the beneficiaries’ nomination applications were shown, it illustrated to me how important the ‘Muscle Dream’ programme is in bringing hope and happiness to the prospective ‘Muscle Warriors’ and their families. Living with Muscular Dystrophy can make hope seem impossible especially to newly-diagnosed parents.

As a Muscle Ambassador, Michael McGrath introduced me and I was given the chance to speak during lunch. The aim of my speech was to share my life story to demonstrate that you can lead a happy, active and fulfilling life as an adult living with Duchenne. I spoke quite openly about how I’ve evolved through my failures, worries and the great opportunities I’ve had through charity work. I did end the speech with the cliché phrase, “I focus on my ability, not my disability” but in this case, it fits perfectly.

[Muscle Warrior team standing on a viewing platform looking down at a carpark filled with Porsche's]

We all drove in convoy to the amazing Porsche Experience Centre at Silverstone, we were then greeted by an awfully expensive car park filled with every type of Porsche that you can imagine. The ‘Muscle Warriors’ had time for pictures, interacting and building the excitement through the briefing. We learnt the important phrase for going faster which was “Light it up!” The beneficiaries just couldn’t wait to finally sit in a Porsche, they had an amazing time.[Blue Porsche 718 Cayman S]

I was looking forward to experiencing a ‘Muscle Dream’ in action, it turned out that it was not just a transformative event for the beneficiaries or their families but also for me. The Muscle Help Foundation ‘Muscle Warrior’ volunteer team made the whole event special and a memorable day for everybody involved.

[2 men in wheelchairs wearing Muscle Warrior t-shirts looking across to Silverstone race-track]

The chief volunteer coordinator Lydia Drukarz was amazing organising everything in the background and helping the 30 Volunteers each with different roles on the day. Each ‘Muscle Warrior’ and their family were allocated a dedicated Volunteer host throughout the day. The many volunteers included: Photographer Gary Luff, Drone Operators Dan and Jason Smith from Cinecloud, Presenter Sarah Lowther, Gemma McGrath and the rest of the great team. Special thanks to Mel Ridgers, who provided the Aston Martin displayed in the courtyard, but also arranged for the signed Lewis Hamilton photos, the limited-edition winner’s tee-shirts and those amazing mounted and personalised car parts!

My highlight of the whole event was when I received a hand-drawn picture at the end of the event from a lovely beneficiary called Mikey.

[Hand drawn image of characters from the game Fortnite]

Muscle Ambassador – Inspiring Herts Finalist

On the 7th June, I was invited by Michael McGrath to attend the prestigious 2018 Inspiring Herts award ceremony as the Muscle Help Foundation (MHF) was shortlisted as finalists in the Family Business category.

It was a black-tie event held in the beautiful St Albans Cathedral, the mix of traditional ancient features and modern technology was exquisite. St Albans Cathedral has fascinating Medieval wall paintings & Nave Statues. During the evening coloured lights spun around the ceiling, linking in with the gorgeous stained-glass Rose Window.

Even though we didn’t win the Family Business award (we will win next year) it was such a great night getting to meet more passionate members of the MHF family – Sarah Lowther & Gemma McGrath.

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It was the first time that I could use my Muscle Ambassador business cards, so I wanted them to be easily accessible rather than hidden in my bag. The solution was to place them under the MHF wristband positioned on my left armrest!

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This was the second event which required the rental of a tuxedo, bow-tie, shiny black shoes & a burgundy pocket square (matching the MHF colour). I had already visited Farley’s Wedding Suit Hire shop in Oadby, so I rented the same tuxedo making it much easier. The shop is wheelchair accessible with very helpful staff. Getting a suit jacket fitted is fairly difficult for me whilst sitting in a wheelchair as I struggle to put a jacket on at home due to having stiff shoulders & I can only try the suit trousers at home.

I look forward to the next Muscle Help Foundation event – the annual Porsche Muscle Dream Programme at Silverstone.

Testing the Xbox Adaptive Controller

The technology industry leaders Microsoft recently announced the ground-breaking Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC) designed directly for gamers with limited mobility. As the Muscular Dystrophy UK Trailblazer gaming consultant, I was lucky enough to put the controller through its paces to see if it could adapt to my severely limited motor functions.

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I have previously written about the difficulties I have faced with gaming due to the relationship between my condition and lack of controller adaptability (click: Disability & the Gaming Industry). As I mentioned in Keith Stuart’s Eurogamer article (click here), “I ended up watching Youtube game walkthroughs of games I wish I could play. It was heart-breaking being reminded of my disability when gaming is meant to be inclusive.” My first experience of having to adapt my controller was through the charity ReMap UK and recently with Special Effect who adapted a controller with ports for 4 switches and lighter-press buttons.

The Muscular Dystrophy UK Trailblazers, a UK-wide network of young, disabled campaigners led by Lauren West recently published the ‘Changing the Game’ Report calling for the gaming industry to consider the importance of gamers with all abilities. This report perfectly fits with Microsoft’s ethos of inclusive design, an approach that involves identifying potential barriers and designing products for people with a wide range of abilities.

Microsoft’s new Xbox Adaptive Controller is a welcome first step towards a more inclusive video gaming culture. It will make a real difference, particularly to people with a progressive muscle-wasting condition.

Nic Bungay (Director of Campaigns, Care & Information for MDUK)

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Designing technology through the lens of inclusivity is absolutely imperative during the development of a product. Many people with disabilities are limited by the technology around them rather than their lack of ability. For example, imagine playing Super Mario World without a jump button, Gears Of War without a cover button or the Uncharted series without ludonarrative dissonance – it just wouldn’t work. Accessibility is about the creation of gameplay options to improve enjoyment for everybody, so without a jump button Super Mario World would become a limited inaccessible experience.

Microsoft understood this issue, so they decided to work directly with disabled gamers to create the Xbox Adaptive Controller. On the 9th of May, I was asked by Nic Bungay who has tirelessly worked with Microsoft alongside Lauren West (Manager of the Trailblazers network) to offer me the opportunity to test the Xbox Adaptive Controller. I had to confess to Microsoft that I didn’t own an Xbox One but a PS4, so I had never held their controller before. I was initially doubtful that I had the ability to hold the Xbox One controller let alone press buttons to play a game. My doubts became reality, as I found my hands could not operate the regular controller and I struggled to press the big A+B buttons on the XAC. I think that the Microsoft team were initially unaware of the full extent of how my muscle weakness affects gaming.

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My tests on the 14th/15th May were extremely positive, the issues that I faced on the first test were taken on board and ideas were explored. Hector Minto (Microsoft Accessibility Evangelist) and the Microsoft team brought different switches for me to try and mounts to attach them to my wheelchair. The XAC provides agency to disabled gamers by giving you the flexibility to experiment and ultimately discover your optimal set-up.

I played Forza Horizon 3 and my set-up was: the left analog stick of the Xbox controller had a velcro strap to keep my finger on it whilst steering the car. The controller was connected using the brilliant co-pilot accessibility feature. Connected to the Xbox Adaptive Controller I had a chin switch to accelerate (RT) and right head switch for braking (LT) mounted on my wheelchair. I had two knee switches stuck to the bottom of the table to press the Rewind button (Y) or Challenge button (X). I navigated menus using the big A+B buttons on the XAC positioned under my right hand. It did take time for me to acclimatize to the new set-up. Due to my limited energy levels, it was slightly fatiguing for me to use the controller, as I usually do not use the muscles in my chin or knees. I can see myself mastering the setup in the future which gives me immense hope to tackle more games. Cyberpunk 2077, anyone?

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During testing, I was interviewed during gameplay about the Xbox Adaptive Controller by BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat’s Gaming Reporter Steffan Powell (If you want to watch the full BBC interview then click here). I was really engrossed in Forza Horizon 3, at one time I was talking to Hector Minto and I remember saying “Let me overtake this guy”. That remark really demonstrates my enjoyment, empowerment and capability to play competitively.

At Microsoft, we’re aspiring to have a living, learning culture with a growth mindset that allows us to learn from ourselves and our customers.” – Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft)

The wonder of the Xbox Adaptive Controller is that you have choice and freedom to fit the controls around your ability. Before I tested it, I was completely unable to play using the regular controller but with the perfect switch setup and co-pilot, I managed to win multiple races. It was an amazing experience to hold a controller which I never thought would be possible for me to use. The Xbox Adaptive Controller really does make the impossible possible, it will empower disabled gamers throughout the world.

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The Xbox Adaptive Controller is a watershed moment for the gaming industry, Microsoft has made the first big step to change the paradigm and make gaming inclusive. I hope that with the imminent release of the Xbox Adaptive Controller and the MDUK Trailblazers ‘Changing the Game’ report, it will give Nintendo and Sony the push to follow in Microsoft’s footsteps. Lauren West (Manager of the Trailblazers network), comments that “What we want to do now is challenge Microsoft and the wider industry to continue focusing on the needs of disabled gamers and create a much more positive and inclusive gaming environment for everyone.

It’s exciting times to be working with technology companies, their eagerness to learn from people with disabilities will evolve the future. Inclusive technology is not just a dream but an achievable reality.

We want to build intelligence that augments human abilities and experiences

Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft)