No matter how skilled a gamer you are today, at some point in your life, you’ve probably needed a bit of help completing a video game. Whether it’s a Dark Souls boss whose timing you just couldn’t get to grips with as an adult, or a tricky jump in Mario 64 you couldn’t get past as a child, most of us at some point have needed someone to help us get past that one bit of a game that we’re stuck on.
Now, in that moment when you needed help progressing in a game, even if you knew you needed help, it can suck to have to hand your controller off to someone else. Even if you know you need a bit of help, the action of handing a controller over can feel like defeat. It’s not a great feeling. However, Microsoft has an accessibility feature designed around this exact kind of scenario that isn’t discussed very often, Co-Pilot Mode.
So, today we’re going to talk a bit about what Co-Pilot mode is, how it functions, and a few of the ways the feature can help disabled gamers to play games, without having to ever hand their controller over to someone else mid game.
Originally added to the Xbox One as part of an update in early 2017, Co-Pilot Mode basically allows an Xbox console to assign two controllers to the same player, effectively having them both recognised as the same controller at the same time. This is done at a system level by Microsoft, so game developers don’t have to put any effort at all into making it work with their games. Every game, first or third party, released on Xbox Consoles, supports this feature.
So, what makes Co-Pilot mode so special? Well, it allows for a huge amount of customisation in how people with differing needs play games, that can be useful for everything from helping new gamers get used to our medium, to creating bespoke controller setups that allow disabled gamers to play games unassisted.
Let’s start by looking at some of the non disability focused applications of Co-Pilot mode, which may be of interest to a wider audience of gamers. Have you ever had a younger relative who wants to play a video game, and is old enough to know if they have control of the action, but not yet skilled enough to get past a specific bit of the game? It’s not unusual to see a kid get frustrated that they can’t progress, but not want to give up control completely to receive help. With Co-Pilot mode, you can pick up a second controller, offer to play the game together, and seamlessly help nudge them over that tricky jump without having to take their controller away.
Similarly, if you’re trying to introduce video games to someone who has never played them before, dual analogue controls and a huge number of buttons to keep track of can be a barrier to entry to the medium. Co-Pilot mode allows a second player to take care of some of the trickier functions, like controlling the camera or managing quick time events, while the new player can get to grips with the basics of interacting with the world, with a few things fewer to manage.
However, where Co-Pilot mode really shines is as an accessibility feature for disabled gamers. The mode opens up a huge variety of non standard ways to play games, and doesn’t require developers to support bespoke solutions themselves. Co-Pilot mode takes games that natively have not made the effort to be accessible, and gives players options. For many multiplatform games without dedicated accessibility features, Xbox is simply a more accessible platform than PlayStation to play the exact same games.
So, let’s look at some of the methods of play that Co-Pilot mode opens up for disabled players, and why I would love to see Sony and Nintendo adopt similar system level modes on their consoles too.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, Co-Pilot mode allows for two people to divide up in game actions between them. This might sound obvious, but this allows for circumventing a lot of common accessibility issues in games. Let’s say you’re playing an action game that features no option to disable quick time events or button mashing sequences that you personally cannot complete. You can hand a second controller to a friend, play the game 100% solo, and have a friend there simply to jump on any quick time moments when they pop up. You don’t have to scramble to throw the controller to a friend with zero warning, they’ve already got the controller, ready to do that one bit of the game the developers didn’t give you the option to disable. If a game itself doesn’t let you avoid an aspect of the game, and you have a friend around, you can simply give someone else responsibility for those actions.
Beyond that, Co-Pilot mode allows disabled players the option to spread their controls out into positions they may find more comfortable to reach. With a single regular controller, your buttons are all set in static fixed positions, and if the position your button is in isn’t accessible, you’re out of luck.
Co-Pilot mode allows for players to spread their buttons and sticks out, change their orientation, and with system level button remapping even change their functions independently. If you can’t use one of your hands to operate one of your analogue sticks, you could place a second controller on the floor and use your foot to move that stick. You could place a controller sideways on the table and map your triggers to its face buttons. There’s no end to the ways you could orient and map a second controller, to offer new ways to access certain button inputs, which allows for a lot more player setup control.
Co-Pilot mode is particularly useful on Xbox Consoles as well, because of the fact the Xbox Adaptive controller exists, a modular controller that allows for first and third party peripherals to be hooked up to create custom disability focused controller layouts. By allowing players to tell the Xbox that their regular Xbox controller and their Adaptive Controller are one and the same, Players are able to integrate their existing controller into their accessible setup, and in some cases avoid purchasing extra peripherals. If you’re a gamer who for example simply can’t use your controller’s triggers, you could use the regular controller as normal, then the two big buttons on the base Adaptive Controller with your feet in place of those triggers.
It’s all about customisation and choice, and making it so as many games on the platform are as accessible to as many people as possible.
Co-Pilot mode is one of those wonderfully helpful accessibility features that seriously comes with no drawbacks. It allows for games which were never designed to be accessible to become accessible, and makes Xbox consoles a more accessible place to play third party games, even if their developers have made zero effort. It’s system level accessibility settings that work for every game, and it’s the kind of thing I would love to see more of.
Both Sony and Nintendo allow for system level button remapping on their current consoles, but this small step forward really does make a world of difference to accessibility. I would love to see Sony and Nintendo take a look at what Microsoft has done with Co-Pilot mode, because right now, Microsoft’s console is often the most accessible place to play a game, even if that same game is on other consoles.