The basis behind all video game experiences are contingent upon the interaction between a player and their controller. Controllers are the peripheral that connects a player to the immersive worlds they so love. They have evolved from simple game pads with minimal buttons, to oddly shaped three-handle monstrosities, to the modern ergonomic masterpieces that feel more like an extension of one’s body than a remote. Even now, as we enter the next generation of video games, controllers continue to innovate with features like touch screens and improved rumble in an attempt to improve gamers’ interactions with the devices. As these controllers continuously improve, the games experienced through them will become more and more immersive and enjoyable to those who play them.
Seeing as this column deals with issues faced by handicapped gamers, I thought this would be the perfect article to show how those with physical challenges can overcome certain hurdles thrown at us by the industry. You see, while modern controllers are extremely intuitive and work well for most gamers, they can occasionally be difficult to use for gamers with a physical challenge. Gamers with amputations, paralysis, or severe muscle weakness (like myself) sometimes have difficulty using the standard controllers for consoles. For example, someone with an amputated or “nonfunctioning” arm may have difficulty playing a twin stick shooter, but does that mean he isn’t allowed to play games like Halo and Bioshock? The answer is a resounding no, but not many gamers with disabilities realize that.
As I’ve mentioned in previous editions of This Is Handicapped Gaming, I began gaining by mostly playing sports games like Madden. It wasn’t until recently, the beginning of this generation to be precise, that I took a close interest to non-sports titles. After years of my brothers running trains on me in Halo, you can probably imagine my frustration with shooters. At least in sports games, I stood a fighting chance. (Maybe “stood” is a poor word choice). However, as new consoles arrived and I became older, I grew weary of just playing sports games and sought out a new gaming experience. Slightly after I received my Xbox 360, I purchased Call of Duty 2 (a classic). Unsurprisingly, though the game was fantastic, it was extremely difficult for me to play. Due to muscle weakness in my hands, it is almost impossible for me to pull the trigger and bumper buttons, and these buttons are very important to perform actions in in many games. At this point, I had to decide. Would I allow this obstacle to prevent me from playing a wide variety of games, or would I find a way do overcome this challenge? I chose the latter of the two, and began looking for a way to modify my 360 controller.
Jakebox Controller Prototype I
In 2009, Infinity Ward released the heavily anticipated Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I wanted the game really bad, even though I knew that it would be difficult for me to play. At this point, I asked my dad to help me build an adapted controller that relocated the trigger buttons to the top of the controller. At Christmas, I was happily surprised to see this guy:
As you can see, this controller is quite different from most standard 360 controllers. The left and right trigger buttons have been replaced with two buttons on the top of the controller, and the bumpers have been replaced with two sticks on the top of the controller that activate when pulled in. For the first time, I was able to enjoy games that required me to press these buttons. A whole new world of gaming opened for me. It was the basis for the controller that I use now, which I detail further down.
Though this controller revolutionized my gaming experience, it did have a few flaws. First of all, at times the buttons were unresponsive and/or they would not work. Seeing as this device was created by somebody who had no prior knowledge about how the controller worked, it is understandable. Also, after a few months, I realized that it was too difficult for me to hit the left buttons because my left hand is somewhat weaker than my right hand. Finally, after a few months, the controller began to break down and I slowly phased it out of my gaming experience.
At this point, I turned to the internet to find someone who could help me build a controller that would work well for me.
Jakebox Controller V1
I began feverishly searching for a company that was able to adapt controllers. I stumbled upon evilcontrollers.com after they published a video displaying a controller they made for a paralyzed gamer. It was much more complicated than the controller that I wanted, so I knew that they would be perfect to help me build the controller of my dreams. After a few days of brainstorming, and a $200 price tag, I received this guy:
This controller was an absolute game-changer for me. Moving all of the functions of the trigger buttons to the bottom right of the controller was an amazing idea. It was close to where my hand rested on the controller, and it was easy to reach causing greater reaction times when I played. I completed many of the 360′s best games on this on this controller.
The main drawback to this controller however, is that it is extremely fragile. I have owned it for two years, and have had to send it in for repairs twice already. It really bums me out when it doesn’t work, because it sends me back to being unable to play some of my favorite games.
As of right now, my brother and I are in the process of building our own custom Jakebox Controller: Over 9000 Edition. It is currently in progress, and I hope to update you on it soon. It will build upon the model of its predecessor, and perform better, hopefully.
I’m hoping that this article can reach someone who doesn’t realize that there are ways to overcome physical obstacles when playing games. Just because it doesn’t work for you now does not mean that it is impossible for you to enjoy the games you love. Stay tuned to this column, as I will be sure to bring you more awesome adapted controllers in the future. Until next time…