When Dalton Banks and his younger brother were growing up, they loved video games. But since he was born with a physical disability, Dalton’s brother couldn’t use the traditional controller to play. Video gaming became another activity from which his brother was excluded, Banks says.
“For most people who don’t have a personal connection to a disability, it’s not something that you’d think about a lot,” says Banks, co-founder and CTO of Bansen Labs.
With the release of its first product, Xogo, Bansen Labs seeks to include every gamer, regardless of disability. Xogo is the first universal console adapter that allows anyone to play video games using assistive technologies.
Assistive technology refers to devices for people with disabilities. Xogo can accommodate a variety of assistive devices, including voice recognition, foot pedals, mouth control and head control. The team at Bansen Labs offers resources for finding the device, or combination of devices, that works best for the player.
“Xogo lets you plug in whatever controls you want—whether that’s joysticks, buttons, or foot pedals,” explains co-founder and CEO Noam Eisen. “You plug in the combination that works best for you, and you assign those to take the actions in the game.”
If a gamer wants to use foot pedals instead of the standard A-B buttons on an Xbox controller, all he or she has to do is plug the pedals into Xogo attached to the Xbox, open the configuration page and set up the controls with foot pedals. Xogo translates the custom controller to standard movements in the game.
What started as a class project at Penn for Banks and Eisen has become a full-time pursuit. Initially, the duo focused on creating a controller for people with physical disabilities. With research, they discovered there are already many options available.
But, when it came to actually using the game, players had to use clunky products that didn’t allow them to truly mix and match controllers. Many adapter systems require a computer and additional technical knowledge. Banks and Eisen realized gamers with disabilities didn’t need more controllers; they needed an adapter for video game systems.
“Everyone’s needs are different,” says Banks, “so we’re giving everyone the power to interact in the ways that work for them.”
With a prototype, Bansen Labs was accepted into AlphaLab Gear’s cohort last year.
At Maker Faire Pittsburgh, visitors saw firsthand how easy Xogo is to use. “We had a kid come up in a wheelchair with his own head switch that he used for accessibility, plug it right into the system and start playing games.” Banks says.
“Usually he has to watch his sister play, and Xogo enabled him, for the first time to play games with his sister,” says Eisen. “He was happy, his sister’s happy, it’s pretty cool.”
AbleGamers Foundation, a nonprofit advocate for video game accessibility, estimates there are around 30 million gamers with disabilities worldwide. The popularity of video games among those with disability, Banks explains, comes from the social aspect of playing together.
“There’s also a ton of parents of kids with disabilities who are looking for ways to get their kids engaged, active and included,” says Eisen. “That’s an audience that’s not as connected to the game communities out there and we’re trying to reach them.”
Xogo can also split the duties of one controller across multiple players. “If you have a really complicated game, and the player can only do one or two things, then they can play with a parent or friend to complete the controls,” says Banks. “It’s great for a kid who’s just getting started, maybe with cognitive disabilities who can’t process everything that’s going on, it opens up a lot of possibilities.”
“It’s a tool that puts these games within reach, and allows everyone to come together on an equal footing,” says Sean Baron, Bansen Labs’ community manager and a recent Carnegie Mellon graduate. When Baron learned about Xogo, he knew he had to join the team. “It resonated with me because when I was at CMU, I was out on medical leave and video games were an escape for me. They allowed me to get over the knee injury I had. I understand the power of gaming.”
Xogo is now available for preorder on Bansen Labs’ website. The team is planning to ship product out before the holiday season.