Accessible Gaming: Playing Video Games with a Disability

Welcome to our very first Tech Tuesday post! Today we are talking about accessible gaming, why it’s essential, and my history with playing video games with a disability.

Hi, my name is Blake Shelley. I’m the author of “Breaking Chains,” and I am a speaker that happens to have cerebral palsy.

One of my core beliefs is that everyone has a right to have fun in their life and be able to play without barriers or at least limit the obstacles they have. This belief is one of the reasons I’m a director for Young Life Capernaum, a ministry for teenagers with disabilities.

Now, I’m not a hard-core gamer, but I enjoy playing to wind down now and then. I have a long history with accessible gaming, and today I want to give you a summary of how I’ve been able to do it.

Accessibility and the Nintendo 64

My journey with accessible gaming started in 1996 when the Nintendo 64 came out. Like most kids my age, it was at the top of my Christmas list, and I was fortunate enough to receive one.

Nintendo 64 Arcade Shark adaptive controller

Although it had a great design, the Nintendo 64 controller that came with the console, I could not hold on to it because of my fine motor skills. I was able to set it on the floor in most cases, but I couldn’t reach the bumpers or the Z trigger on the bottom. So, my parents found an Arcade Shark when they bought the console.

The Arcade Shark allowed me to play most any game I wanted because of the button size and the fact the Z button is big and on the top. I played a lot of Super Mario 64, Mario Kart, and my all-time favorite game, GoldenEye. With that game, I still wasn’t able to play in a campaign-style mission; however, there were hours of multi-player games played with my sisters. As I got older, I was able to do some of the campaigns on GoldenEye, but with some extensive cheats. The Arcade Shark was a great piece of tech; it wasn’t perfect, but it did the job.

PlayStation 2 and the Lack of Accessibility

My next phase of gaming was PlayStation 2 and 3. Now I don’t have either console anymore nor the controller that I used, but this section of my gaming history posed a lot of trouble with accessibility. I was able to find an arcade-style stick similar to what I used on the Nintendo 64; the only problem was instead of having one direction pack and one joystick; the PlayStation requires a controller with a directorial pad and two joysticks. To the best of my knowledge, at that time, there were no companies making controllers with the thumbsticks; most of the arcade-style controllers just had the d-pad, so that significantly limited the games I was able to play.

Tablet and Computer Games

The next phase of gaming I entered was computer-based as well as tablet-based. When it came to computer games, I was bound to point and click games, such as The Sims, because I wasn’t fast with my fingers on a keyboard. I played a lot of Sims in middle school and high school.

Then when the iPad came out during my college years, it changed the way I could game. I was able to do more multi-player games that only required one hand like the Power Rangers game. Below is a little bit of my gameplay on this game using one hand to pick my moves and swipe back and forth.

Gameplay footage of Blake playing Power Rangers: Legacy Wars on an iPad

The XBOX One

Then next era of gaming that I entered was the XBOX One and PS4 generation. I ended up purchasing the XBOX One because I like the controller better and the game selection back then. As fantastic as the XBOX One controller design is, I still had limitations using the remote games. My hands were getting tired from holding the controller, and when I put it on my lap, I couldn’t hit the trigger button.

So, after searching the internet for a solution, I found a website called AbleGamers. It is a great charity and website that helps gamers with disabilities purchase equipment and discover articles on accessible games. Click Here to learn more about The AbleGamers Charity.

Axis 2 adaptive controller with switch

Through AbleGamers, I found a company called Blue Tip Gaming, which creates custom controllers such as the one pictured here.

This custom adaptive controller is called the Axis 2, and it is compatible with both Xbox and PS4. The Axis 2 is a great controller as it reminds me of my Nintendo 64 controller with the big buttons, and it solved the problem that I had with the PS2 and PS3 when I didn’t have enough joysticks to play a game effectively. They even went one step further and put a 3.5mm headphone jack on the back which is where standard switch uses such as this jellybean or the bite switch down here, and that allowed me to use the right trigger either as my foot peddle or with my mouth to bite down when I want to shoot. This controller is a great solution, and Blue Tip Gaming was very helpful. Click Here to visit Blue Tip Gaming.

My Future Gaming Setup

Over the weekend, I went to plug in my Axis 2 controller, and it wouldn’t power up. I believe that there is a short in the cord, which should not be a reflection on the product nor Blue Tip Gaming but rather on me. The controller is five years old, and I think this has been pickup or drug across the floor by the power cord more than a few times. I don’t recommend that you should treat your costly devices in such a manner. Nevertheless, it is not working and needs to be replaced in some form. The replacement cost of an Axis controller ranges from $450 – $600, depending on the model and the switches you want with it.

Instead of dropping another $600 on an updated Axis controller, I decided to order the XBOX Adaptive Controller (XAC) and a Titan 2. I believe that the XAC will allow me to have more control over my setup with the switches that I want to use while using the regular controller in co-pilot mode. I order the Titan 2 to give me more flexibility if I want to use the XAC on a PlayStation 4, which I plan on doing this weekend. Next week, I will post about the unboxing and my first impressions of the XBOX Adaptive Controller. I don’t usually film unboxing videos; however, I’ve heard it has accessible packaging, so we will see how it goes.

I hope this overview of my experience has helped with your understanding of accessible gaming and its evolution over the last few years. Although this post just covered hardware, software developers are making significant strides in this area as well. Accessibility features in new games will be a future post and video, if you are interested in that topic.

If you are interested in seeing more posts and accessible gaming, let me know in the comments and if you have a favorite device that you used. You can also send me a message by clicking here.

Until next week, take care of yourself and others!

Blake Shelley

Are you looking for an accessible life? Innovative, determined, and inspiring are words that describe Blake Shelley, motivational speaker, and the author of Breaking Chains. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of six months, Blake has found ways to adapt and overcome adversity. Through this blog, Blake shares his experience and thoughts on technology, ability, and empowerment through the lens of accessibility.

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