Gaming is a wonderful hobby that should be open to everyone, but unfortunately some people have a variety of challenges that can impact how they can enjoy video games. From visual issues such as color blindness or hearing impairment to coordination issues or paralysis, there are many challenges faced by gamers with disabilities.

However, these challenges don’t mean that you can’t still have a ton of fun playing video games. Video game developers are taking more time to consider the needs of players with disabilities. Likewise, there are now affordable hardware options to help disabled gamers overcome their difficulties and play games with little or no issue. If you’re someone who has problems playing video games or you know someone in that situation, let’s take the time to talk about some potential strategies to get back in the game.

Picking the Right Games

This might be the toughest suggestion, but a good place to start is at the point where you have to choose which games to play. Games come in many forms and varieties. If you have problems with hand mobility or reaction, then a frantic multiplayer shooter may not be the best choice. On the other hand, turn-based strategy games or action RPGs that don’t depend on precise twitch mechanics could be a good alternative.

This is hard, because people want to play the game genres that interest them. It’s no use telling someone to play a game of Chess when what they want is to play football. However, even within genres that you love, some games are friendlier to certain disabilities than others.

That doesn’t mean a gamer with disabilities can’t find some way to play the games they want. Even hardcore games. I’ve seen people do amazingly perfect runs of games like Dark Souls using special or unconventional control schemes. There are also disabled gamers taking part in fast-paced eSports tournaments with an equal shot at taking the prize. It might take more effort and dedication than it would for an able-bodied gamer, but the challenges are not insurmountable.

Thinking Outside of the Box

Depending on the specific disability, you may be able to use gear designed for able-bodied gamers, just not as the designers intended. I’ve seen people adapt themselves to using a gamepad; using it one-handed or holding it in creative ways. The same goes for using gear to play something it was not designed for or would be uncomfortable for an able-bodied user.

As an example, trackballs are generally not considered great for gaming, but you only need your thumb or finger and thumb to operate one. You don’t have to move your entire arm. That could be an advantage for some people. I’ve also seen people using Dance Dance Revolution pads or flight sticks to play games that were not made for the games these people use them for.

Adaptive Gamepads

The gamepad is probably the most popular way to interact with video games today. It’s become a flexible tool that places just about every button you could need under or near each finger. However, you need two fully-functioning hands and great coordination to make it work properly.

So what if you have hands that don’t look or work the way most people’s hands do? What you may very well need is an adaptive controller.

Right now the only company that makes an official factory-built adaptive controller is Microsoft. With their Xbox One platform, this will work anywhere you can already use the Xbox One controller.

The device itself is ingenious. Built into it are only a few of the buttons you’d find on the regular controller. There’s just a d-pad, an A button, and a B button. These are gigantic and can be operated by most people who have limited mobility. Where the controller really shines is how you can modify it. It has numerous connections corresponding to the controls you’d find on a regular Xbox controller. These can be connected to just about anything that’s electrically compatible.

The ports are 3.5mm jacks and work with digital or analog signals, depending on the specific port and which control it replicates. There’s a wealth of external devices out there that will work with these ports, which means you can build a truly custom solution for each person; enabling them to use just about any functional part of their body to control some aspect of the gamepad. There are plenty of demo setups you can find through Google, showing how people with various disabilities have used the adaptive controller to make gaming work for them.

Foot Controllers

While the adaptive controller from Microsoft is an amazing solution for both PC and Xbox gamers, you can also get third-party, foot-only controllers for the PC. For example, here we have the Fragpedal.

This gives you digital buttons that can be worked by your feet and assigned any mouse or keyboard action. So let’s say that your one arm has limited mobility – you can use these to take over WASD duties in first-person shooters. That’s just one suggestion and obviously it depends on which games you want to play and how much you can do with your hands, arms, and feet.

Voice and Brain Control

This is probably going to sound a little far-fetched, but you can use your voice and even nerve outputs from your muscles to control video games and just about every other aspect of your computer.

Voice control software has been around for a while, but recently gamers have begun adapting it for help with disabilities. Some voice control packages let you work the cursor keys or control the mouse using your voice. So turn-based games could ostensibly be played just using your voice, albeit at a slow pace. Then you also get software that lets you program macros bound to keyboard shortcuts. You can then use voice recognition to trigger those shortcuts.

Companies like Braingate have developed direct brain interfaces that use electrodes implanted in your brain to accept commands. Of course, you can’t buy that sort of tech off the shelf just yet. Still, there are some products you CAN buy that interpret brain waves or muscle nerve signals. The one that has impressed me the most is the MYO, which is a band that goes around your forearm and interprets gestures. It has seen applications in VR as well as general Windows interface use; it’s also been used as a control system for prosthetic arms and hands. As you might imagine, the armband has also been used as a game controller and, since it reads the movements of your forearm muscles, in theory it should work for anyone who still has those muscles and can use them. I have no idea how well this would work, but the MYO is cheap enough that it’s worth a try. This tech is improving all the time, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

The Modding Community

While it’s great that big companies like Microsoft have started to acknowledge that disabled gamers should also have options, the real heros have been modders – people who take existing controller and other gamer gear and modify it for disabled gamers. While the results might not always look like a factory job, the functionality is what matters.

I have seen modders install extra buttons on controllers, remapping them from their original location to suit gamers with damaged hands or other reasons why there aren’t working fingers available in places a normal gamepad expects them.

The best part is that modders tend to be open about their work and create instructions and plans for others to follow. Thanks to 3D printers and how easy it is to get access to one these days, there are also plenty of pre-made mods you can print yourself and then install. Modding is not for the faint of heart though, so it’s better to try and get in contact with someone with the skills to help you.

Accessibility Options in Games

It’s not all a hardware solution world for gamers with disabilities either. Many games now have accessibility options built into the game itself. A common one is a “colorblind” mode, which accommodates the various types of color blindness. Team shooters like Battlefield V are particularly tough to play if you are colorblind, so kudos to developers for taking that into account.

There are also settings in games that you might not think of as “accessibility” but can help people with various difficulties. Subtitles are an obvious one, but think about control sensitivity or even game difficulty itself. Playing the game at a lower difficulty level might give a particular disabled gamer the same subject difficulty as an able-bodied player playing on normal or hard. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try harder difficulty levels, but remember that the point is to adapt the game so that it is enjoyable to YOU with the right level of challenge.

Again, Games are for EVERYONE

Every day there are new technologies that allow people to overcome whatever disability they are living with and take part in activities that most people take for granted. Video games should be no different; with a little planning and preparation you can be pwning noobs before you know it. Solutions are out there and plenty of people are ready and willing to help, so why not make an effort to get back in the game?