Microsoft's Xbox Adaptive Controller has made it possible for gamers with disabilities to enjoy gaming once more. Now the company is enabling veterans to get back to gaming by partnering with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Gaming is quite popular in the armed forces and can help in relieving stress, developing camaraderie and getting familiarized in new environments. Microsoft is making it possible for injured and disabled veterans to combat isolation, get back in touch with colleagues and provide therapeutic benefits through gaming.
22 veteran rehab centers will receive the Xbox Adaptive Controllers as a part of a 20-year partnership between the two organizations. The move promises a new future for the veterans who often get submerged in loneliness and depression being relieved of their duties.
A Quick Look at The Xbox Adaptive Controller
Microsoft launched the controllers last year and also featured them in the Super Bowl commercial in 2019. Priced at around $100, the controllers are designed for games with disabilities. The devices come with two big, programmable buttons and 19 jacks that you can connect with other peripherals like joysticks, switches and buttons.
Microsoft developed the controllers in collaboration with gamers, accessibility experts and charitable organizations that deal with gamers and veterans with limited mobility.
The controllers can be used to play Xbox One and P.C. games on Windows 10. But many people have already used hacks to make the controllers compatible with Nintendo's Switch console.
Developing a controller that works on all platforms is a 'win-win' for both Microsoft and the gamers. Phil Spencer, the gaming chief of Microsoft, expresses that the biggest feedback they receive is making the controllers work on all platforms.
But Microsoft doesn't own the software used on Sony or Nintendo. Spencer says that his company is in talks with Valve, Sony and Nintendo about making the controller compatible with their systems. He hopes a time will come soon when the Xbox controller will work 'out-of-the-box' with all platforms.
Spencer feels that the Adaptive Controllers are the starting point for Microsoft. Based on their performance, they are going to improve their accessibility features. He thinks that a time will come when Microsoft will be able to allow people with disabilities to play games like everyone else.
A New Beginning for Veterans with Disabilities
Injured veterans or those with limited mobility find it difficult to use traditional controllers. The Xbox Adaptive Controllers can enable a broad range of veterans to access gaming once more. The devices are designed to improve hand-eye coordination, motor skills and social interactions. In short, they are ideal for use in rehabilitation and therapeutic activities.
The veterans will be able to take advantage of the exposure therapy that gaming offers by using the innovative controllers. Recreation therapist Jamie Kaplan has used gaming therapy successfully on veterans with traumatic spinal injuries for seven years at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Florida.
He strongly believes in the therapeutic capabilities of gaming. According to Kaplan, gaming improves various aspects of disabled veterans like motor skills, cognitive processing, information processing, visual processing and social skills.
Kaplan has worked with Mike Monthervil, who received a serious injury in 2014 during a training session while he was posted in Afghanistan. Monthervil lost the ability to use his legs and met Kaplan while undergoing surgery at the A. Haley Veterans' Hospital.
Kaplan gave him an adaptive controller many years before Microsoft released their version. But the controllers felt really cumbersome and was difficult for Monthervil to use. Once the Xbox controllers were released, Kaplan built a custom setup for Monthervil using some additional buttons. According to Monthervil, the Microsoft controller was the best one he used since his injury.
Jeff Holguin, an ex-U.S. Coast Guard, has been taking help of gaming to deal with PTSD and depression after an injury in 2003. He dreamt of a long career in the military but had to give it up due to his injury. Haunted by severe isolation, he took to gaming and found a sense of inclusion he was searching for.
He says that gaming gave him an outlet and a virtual efficacy in a world he felt he was excluded from. Following his childhood passion for gaming, he was able to make new social connections and friends which helped him a lot. Holguin joined back school to study psychology and even helped Microsoft design research for mixed-reality devices.
Gaming gave Holguin a sense of belonging and safety. He was able to reintegrate into his post-military life and build up social connections which meant a lot to him. Holguin points out another advantage of gaming- you can turn it off any time you want if you feel overwhelmed! He is happy to agree that gaming provided considerable therapeutic value in his case.
Kaplan feels that gaming is perfect for distracting chronic pain patients from their pain. It works as a trick by engaging them in gaming and helping them to forget their pain and trauma.
The Future of Rehabilitation and Therapy
President of U.S. Regulated Industries at Microsoft, Toni Townes-Whitley, says that the Xbox controllers are part of their larger effort to offer improved clinical and therapeutic interventions to veterans. But the main goal is to use technology to improve the veteran's lives.
Microsoft will collect the feedback on its Adaptive Controller from the V.A. centers to determine its effectiveness. The feedback will also allow them to improve the controllers and include veterans who have never taken part in gaming before.
Finally, as Spencer says, they aim to bring together different people with different abilities, races, gender and socioeconomic background. He believes in the power of gaming and its ability to form new connections and inclusion.