Ever since the release of the Nintendo Wii back in late 2006, I’ve been a really big fan of split style controllers that allow for a player’s hands to rest comfortably apart. While the Wii Remote and Nunchuck were tethered together by a cable, limiting the range of positions a player’s hands could rest in, the two halves of the controller could be further apart, and held in more varied positions, than a traditional single piece controller w.ould allow.
In the years since the release of the Wii, progress in the split controller space has led to controllers like the Nintendo Switch’s split Joy-Cons, which can wirelessly be used as a single controller while not tethered together by a cable. It’s also led to the adoption of similar control scheme styles in things like VR, where players are often using two hands to manipulate items in virtual worlds, using two separate controllers.
Split controllers offer a lot of benefits for disabled players, and while not being unanimously more accessible for all players in all situations, there are enough use cases where they are beneficial that I’d really like to eventually see Xbox and PlayStation offer support on their consoles for this kind of tech.
In particular, I think PlayStation could offer this ability to PS5 owners with very little effort on their part in the near future, if people make it known to them that this is a feature they would value.
Let’s start off by talking a little bit about some of the benefits experienced by disabled players when split style controllers are an option when gaming.
Starting with some of the more obvious benefits, Split Style controllers like the Switch’s Joy-Cons can be held in a wide range of positions, at a variety of angles. Rather than a player’s hands needing to be close together in front of their body, in a fairly fixed position that requires tensing of arm muscles, with both wrists at the same angle as each other, disabled players using a split controller can, for example, move their arms to differing positions, such as resting one arm down to the side of their body, or having one arm rested on an arm rest. If a player has, for example, one arm in a cast and sling, they may still be able to use that hand, with their arm across their chest, to manipulate one half of their controller, while the other hand rests in a more natural position rather than trying to adapt to match the other hand’s position.
For players with chronic pain and chronic fatigue issues, the ability to switch up hand and arm positions, and reduce tension, can help to delay the onset of pain and fatigue while gaming, both of which are beneficial use cases for this kind of tech.
Lass_Alma on Twitter very much finds this to be the case, saying “I struggle with wrist pain due to an injury, and being able to position my hands freely and independently has helped tremendously with that, especially when the injury was fresh and the pain most severe. Also good for gaming while cuddling”.
Alma also pointed out that, for PC gamers, Split Keyboards exist and can provide a similar kind of support, making them an additional valuable part of this discussion.
AppleShampooArt on Twitter said, regarding the Switch’s Joy-Cons, “I’m disabled, and can only play switch games for an extended time because of these beauties. I can position my arms in different ways, to stay as comfy as possible. And they’re so lightweight, they don’t bother my hands too much”.
Speaking with regards to use cases that are perhaps less immediately obvious, for gamers with conditions such as ADHD and Autism, which can involve the player being physically restless, fidgety, or less able to get comfortable in a single position, split controllers can be useful, as they offer flexibility in positioning. I can speak to this from my own experiences, I often find myself needing to rearrange my position while gaming to get myself more comfortable, and the flexibility of split controllers really helps with that.
PsyguyinEDI on Twitter said, regarding split controllers, “A small thing, but as a person with ADHD I often fidget, move about, stand up etc while playing. It was great to just stand up and play with my arms at my sides to avoid sitting for long periods”.
While not an inherent benefit of split style controllers, the fact they are split often allows for disabled gamers to create, or purchase from small creators, adaptors that allow for a split controller to be recombined into a single controller, but one that’s laid out differently for more comfortable one handed play.
GayerVegeta on Twitter said “My partner had a severe injury in their dominant hand. During the beginning of their recovery, they couldnt play video games at all. But with a $10-$15 3D printed one handed joycon grip and some button remapping, they were able to play video games again. They happy cried about it”
Sometimes the benefits from these style of controllers simply come from the fact that controllers designed to be held in a single hand, spread apart, are designed to be smaller or lighter in general to accommodate for the fact that they’re not held in a two handed grip, which tends to have its own benefits.
Kassi199 on Twitter shared “Not my story but unfortuntely my brother isnt around to share it anymore: he always liked the switch joycons, he had muscular dystrophy and it made big controllers really hard for him to use. The joycons get a lot of flack for being small but that made them usable for him”
Additionally, sometimes the benefits of split style controllers stretch beyond areas that neatly fall into traditional accessibility, but none the less provide flexibility in input styles and help people to keep gaming.
SirEelBiscuits on Twitter said, when speaking about split controllers, “Not a disability, but I beat most of Breath of the Wild holding my baby son, Joy-Con in each hand. He was difficult to settle early on, and if someone holding him so much as sat down he’d wake [up]. So I’d rock him, stood in front of the TV, in the middle of the night, playing Zelda.”
“Without split controllers, I’d have had nothing to distract me from the back pain. Honestly I wouldn’t have been able to beat the game the year it came out. I can only imagine the good a split design can do for those who need it all the time”
Up the top of this video, I talked about the fact that, in a perfect world, I would love to see Xbox and PlayStation officially support split controller play on their consoles eventually, because of the accessibility benefits these kinds of controller layouts offer players. Now, I recognise that for Xbox this would mean the company developing brand new hardware, which is somewhat of a commitment financially to ask for. However, when it comes to PlayStation, it would be surprisingly easy to offer this on PS5, without any new manufacturing needing to be set up.
Next week, on February 22nd, PlayStation is releasing the PS VR2, a brand new VR headset for PS5 that comes bundled with a pair of motion sensing controllers called the “PS VR2 Sense” controllers.
These controllers, while designed for use in VR, feature almost all of the buttons present on a traditional PS5 DualSense controller, missing only the D-Pad and Touchpad inputs, and are able to be held separately apart from each other, much like the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con controllers.
According to a PlayStation blog post, while the PS VR2 Sense controllers will be able to be used on PS5 when the user isn’t in VR, this support will only extend as far as navigating console menus and the console’s media app, not when playing non-VR games on the console.
While I recognise that the lack of a D-Pad and touchpad will mean that in some games, some controls would not be accessible, I think that there are a lot of PS5 games that would be very playable with two analogue sticks, a set of four face buttons, a left and right bumper and trigger, and clickable stick inputs. I recognise the reasons for not wanting to officially support use of a controller that’s lacking some of the inputs from the DualSense, but I think that in terms of supporting disabled players who value split hand controls, allowing the PS VR2 Sense controllers to be used by players in non VR games would offer up a lot of games to be made more comfortably playable, without requiring any additional new hardware to be produced.
While not all disabled players will find split controllers useful, for example some one handed players find it easier to use a single controller affixed into a set rigid position, there are a lot of use cases in which split controllers are beneficial as an option for disabled players.
I’m not saying that Nintendo’s Joy-Cons are perfect, they definitely have issues with analogue drift, their size is too small for some users to find comfortable, and they sometimes struggle with connectivity drops with the console. However, putting those aspects aside for a moment, their split design as an optional way to play, on a console that also offers a more traditional Pro controller, is one extra way for disabled players to engage with video games.
While it’s not going to be the right fit for everyone, I’d love to see Xbox and PlayStation eventually offer their own split controller options, and I thinjk that the PS VR2 Sense controllers might be a smart place for PlayStation to jump into that offering.