Last Updated on June 26, 2019 by Mark P.
Microsoft has often been at the vanguard of gamer accessibility designs, most recently with their Adaptive Controller, patented some time ago. But while the Adaptive Controller was a great step forward, Microsoft is still looking for other ways to assist those with physical disabilities in playing video games that they enjoy. The focus of their latest innovation is to assist the visually impaired. Playing video games is already a difficult task when visibility is an issue, so this is welcome news.
Of course, there are many systems and tools already that aid the visually impaired in playing video games, but most of the methods are undesirable or awkward. One of the most common is a screen reader, which generally relays text information to the player through audio. Naturally this comes with many drawbacks, though the most prominent is having a robotic voice listing off text while you’re trying to focus on the game.
Microsoft’s upcoming answer to this is a braille-enabled controller. The way this will be achieved is innovative, to say the least. The controller will be mostly similar to an ordinary gamepad, but with a key difference; a mechanical unit on the back of the controller with a braille display and six paddles that represent the six dot positions of a braille character, allowing for both braille input and output. With this system, a visually impaired player could simply run their hands over the back of the controller, feeling for the changes in the mechanized bumps as different text is presented to them. It would also allow them to type in-game with far more ease.
However, there are a few things worth noting about this entire setup. For one, it is just a patent thus far. Microsoft hasn’t even officially revealed it as a thing they are working on, despite the patent being submitted last year. The timing looks somewhat favorable for an E3 announcement, but even that is just speculation, as patents don’t necessarily imply that the device in question is actually being developed. A patent just claims the idea before anyone else does.
Furthermore, while this braille enabled controller is a very innovative idea, it can’t solve the problem for visually impaired gamers on its own. For one, the video games being played would have to possess a metadata layer designed for visual to audio cue conversion and vice versa. Without such a metadata layer, the controller wouldn’t be very useful. Thankfully, many game developers are putting more and more consideration into game accessibility for those with disabilities, so it is likely that the reveal of this braille controller would lead to more games with this type of support.
Ultimately, we don’t know for sure if this controller will actually be made or if its simply a thought on a board for Microsoft at the moment, but it is nice to know that a major publishing company is considering ways it can help its gamers enjoy their favorite hobby.