The Spider-Man franchise has a long history with video games, dating back to its first appearance on the Atari 2600 in 1982. However, for many players, everything changed in 2018 with Marvel’s Spider-Man on PlayStation, which allowed players to realistically swing above the city with a flick of the controller.

Since then, being Spider-Man and doing everything like him has become the core of any game featuring the hero. But for 25-year-old author Sheri To, the first leap from a building before soaring through the historic skyline became a reality only in December 2023, thanks to Sony’s new PlayStation Access Controller. This specially designed game controller, targeting players with disabilities, was created with input from the disabled community.

As someone diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), holding a dedicated controller is particularly challenging for Sheri, even though she enjoys immersing herself in the fantastical worlds that video games bring. In terms of gaming in general, Sheri prefers playing on the computer, as it offers a wider range of hardware options and greater customization abilities.

Just as players in the 2000s could truly appreciate a video game that allowed them to swing above Manhattan using webs, Sheri can now fly around the streets of Manhattan as Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2 on the PlayStation 5, experiencing a “liberating adventure.”

“Only a year ago, I could hold up my neck on my own, but now I need multiple pillows to support me while playing games and watching the TV screen,” explains Sheri. For her, these challenges are part of her daily life, and playing games is a small window of joy she can experience every day. Striving to maintain as much independence as possible, despite the impact of her disability on strength and dexterity, people living with SMA (which has various types, with Sheri having type II) do their best to make the most of their days and time.

“My window for playing games is during lunchtime. It takes me about three hours to complete a game, and it gives me enough time to focus on the game. It’s challenging to play for longer sessions, as I get fatigued, and in recent years, my condition has worsened. I used to be able to support my head and spine on my own, but now I need much more assistance.”

Despite the fact that Sheri requires time to speak in complete sentences with breaks for breath, conversations with her reveal a person with tremendous enthusiasm and strength. Her space is an HDB (public housing) apartment in the suburbs where she lives with her family. Her mind remains active as we discuss the PlayStation Access Controller and her adventures in the Forgotten Realms of Baldur’s Gate 3 alongside Astarion.

While video games represent a thriving world of virtual landscapes and interactive narratives, with the power to transport, challenge, and connect us, the same cannot always be said for players with disabilities, as these gateways to adventure can be difficult to access due to non-accessible controllers, interfaces, and game design. Fortunately, the industry is waking up to the immense potential of a truly inclusive gaming experience.

This has allowed a few individuals to excel in the industry, even turning professional in select cases. Much credit goes to the way companies are creating new forms of interfaces for players, as not all games use a mouse and keyboard, and various types of games can utilize different tools.

One of the exciting new developments is the emergence of specialized accessibility controllers. These innovative devices go beyond regular controllers, offering modularity, alternative input methods, and customizable configurations. The recently released PlayStation Access Controller is just one example. With detachable button caps, external switch support, and multiple profiles, it allows players with different needs to tailor their controllers for optimal comfort and gameplay.

Ms. To, a dedicated video game enthusiast, avoided consoles simply because console controllers were not designed for players like her.

“One thing I dislike about PlayStation titles is that they are always exclusive to their own console first, and holding the DualSense controller is challenging for me,” she explains.

“As for game developers creating games for players like me, the software provides enough accessibility. Naughty Dog (the creators of The Last of Us) offers many robust options to help me enjoy the game better and is one of the best in the industry in terms of accessibility features. But it’s the console hardware that needs improvement.”

As a true player, Sheri has dedicated time and effort to try out the PlayStation Access Controller. Among all the games she has tested, Spider-Man 2 ranks first as her favorite, followed by Horizon Forbidden West and, finally, The Last of Us Part II Remastered.

“The problem with The Last of Us when played on a console is that the game locks the joystick movement to the player’s camera movement. Since I have no movement in my left hand, I play with my right hand only. For games like Spider-Man 2, I can quickly press the buttons, and in Horizon, I can access slow-motion or melee abilities, so I can even overcome the game’s toughest parts.”

For a player like me, these details may not be as apparent, and it took an afternoon with Sheri to gain insight into the challenges she faces to have a gaming experience tailored to her. Indeed, even with the PlayStation Access Controller, adjusting and personalizing the controls requires many trials.

“Together with my brother Gabriel, we spent an evening trying to find the right buttons to suit my gameplay style.”

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Which video game opened up adventures for players with disabilities on PlayStation?
Answer: Spider-Man 2.
2. What is the new specialized game controller targeting accessibility?
Answer: PlayStation Access Controller.

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