My relationship with the Xbox controller is a strange one. While Xbox is my preferred platform and the controllers I have for it hold sentimental value for me, the controller itself has always been a bit of a barrier to being able to fully enjoy games. Or to enjoy them as much as I’d like, for as long as I’d like.
The chunky design paired with my small hands that have 32 years worth of joint degeneration has always made playing for more than 15-20 minutes at a time quite painful. The position my hands had to be in to hold the controller plus having to hold it up as opposed to resting it on my lap would, on my best pain days, leave me fatigued with slowly creeping numbness in my thumbs, index, and middle fingers. Holding it up strained my wrists and repeated use of the left and right bumpers and triggers in driving and shooting games would leave my index and middle fingers in a swollen and stiff curved position for several hours after a gaming session. During my worst lupus flares, I had to stick to playing on my PS4 because the controller’s design provided me significantly more comfort.
Enter the Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller.
I’ve wanted the Elite Controller since the first one came out a couple of years ago but given that it’s marketed to professional or “hard core” gamers instead of as an accessibility device like the XAC, I could never justify the cost of buying it just because it seemed cool.
Luckily, a few weeks ago, I was given the Elite Series 2 as a gift and while my first hours with it left me wondering if I would have to stick it in its case and leave it in my closet, after some time retraining my muscle memory, I’ve discovered that the Elite Series 2 is a game changer (pun intended) for me as the Xbox Adaptive Controller is for so many other disabled gamers.
The most noticeable difference upon first playing with the Elite was the huge weight difference compared to regular Xbox controllers. It’s significantly heavier, which is why in those first hours with it, I’d almost decided it wasn’t for me after all. The regular controller strained my wrists and this did so significantly more. It also felt a bit top-heavy in my hands, so my natural inclination was to rest the top in my lap, which rendered the left and right triggers and bumpers useless.
Also working against me was my muscle memory, which knew from six years of playing with the regular controller exactly how I should be holding the controller: out in front of me, my arms bent at 90-ish degrees, and my index and middle fingers at the ready on the triggers and bumpers. The most uncomfortable position for someone with chronic pain and hand joint degradation to be in.
But this story gets better!
You see, the Elite offers customization that, for me, is on par with that of the XAC.
The first thing I did was adjust the stops for the triggers, making it so I no longer had to fully pull them for the action to have an effect. This alone was a game changer (I’m not even sorry for the pun) for me. The triggers on both the Xbox controller and the DualShock 4 have been the bane of my existence since 2014. While the DualShock 4 was less of a problem due to the design of the controller, both would leave me in pain every time I played a game.
But what’s really been a life changer (see, I didn’t say it this time) are the four back paddles the Elite comes with. These were also the hardest thing to grow used to because that muscle memory is a force, but thanks to the three customizable profiles users can set, I’m not exaggerating when I say the Elite has eliminated every single issue that has caused me pain for so long.
For driving and FPS games, I use a profile that assigns the bumpers and triggers to the back paddles, allowing me to keep my hands in a more relaxed shape, without the repeated stress of stretching my fingers to aim and shoot and accelerate.
For games with melee combat mapped to the face buttons, I use a profile that maps the X and Y buttons to the back paddles, again allowing me to play without straining my small hands.
Both of these profiles allow me the biggest benefit of all; the ability to play with the controller resting comfortable in my lap, my shoulders and elbows relaxed, my hands not having to bear the brunt of the “heavy lifting.”
After three weeks with the controller, my brain has finally caught up with this new setup and no longer defaults to my former gaming posture, which my creaky old body is grateful for, and the pain formerly caused by gaming is fading from my memory.