Controllers I Use
I'm in my seventies with eye problems (myopia, cataracts) and repetitive stress injury (carpal tunnel syndrome) caused by many years of non-ergonomic keypunch and keyboard-banging in the 1970's and 1980's.
This is a real pain because I use my eyes and my hands a lot, for drawing, writing and playing games. (Not to mention ancillary things like shopping and preparing food.) I've cut back on doing everything, but gaming is important to me these days, and it can be particularly hard on the hands. So I've put some effort into finding easier ways to play. Updated: July 2023.
The comments below are divided into sections for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. (PlayStation controllers work fine with the PS2 for playing PlayStation games, and most PS2 controllers can be used with the PS3 with a PS2-to-USB adapter.) The section about the PlayStation Portable describes how I use one without holding it or using my thumbs. I also have a section about using an adapter with the PlayStation TV / Vita TV to allow use of wired controllers.
A good source of information on alternative controllers is OneSwitch.org.uk; from whom I purchased a second HORI SRWC when I wore out my first one.
First of all, I choose my games wisely, limit playing time, take breaks, remember to do my stretching exercises and so on. The real killers for me are the famous amount of X-button mashing that many games require during battles, having to hold down a button for long intervals (to walk, for example), and any furious use of the analog joysticks that requires a lot of thumb movement. In fact, I try to avoid using my thumbs at all, and often wear braces that constrain thumb movement.
Tactics-style games are the best, and turn-based battles are much easier than real-time battles. For the latter I often play a healer or mage and let the AI do the real fighting, which is okay; I game for the stories.
Back in the heyday of console gaming, a number of little companies made all manner of special controllers. The intent was not always to provide alternatives for people with disabilities, but some of these controllers are useful for single-hand playing, or playing with minimal use of the thumbs.
This is the Asciiware ASCII Grip, from a company that seems to have vanished without a trace. I bought mine in mint condition for $20 on Amazon Marketplace (less than I've paid for some wrist braces). I actually use it with two hands to largely avoid use of my thumbs.
The ASCII Grip is a PlayStation controller, so there is no L3/R3, and there are no analog sticks. (The original PlayStation controller was digital only—no analog sticks—so in most PS games the functionality of the left stick is identical to the arrow pad. This remains true in many PS2 games.)
In early PlayStation 2 games, L3 and R3, if used at all, merely provide short-cuts for actions that can be performed through menus. Sometimes the right stick is also used for short-cuts. In later games, the right stick and R3 often have to do with camera movement, which can be useful, but it is rarely essential. So I find that the ASCII Grip controller is usable with most PS2 games.
Above are the ASCII Grip with standard PlayStation 3 controller, and with a HORI Dragon Quest Blue Slime PlayStation 2 controller. The Blue Slime was my first alternative controller, and I do dearly love it. The controls are more sensitive than on a standard controller, and holding it seems easier and is comforting as well. But it is difficult to use without thumbs, and the plastic has become sticky with age, so the Blue Slime now pretty much sits smiling on the shelf.
By the way, this is my gaming area. The table is a kotatsu—a Japanese heated table—(photo was taken in summer, so the blankets are off). That's a subwoofer under the pillow on which Mokona is sitting. Shoji screen to block glare from the window. I spend a lot of time in this space, gaming, playing and listening to music, reading, drawing and writing.
After using the ASCII Grip for a while, I acquired two more PlayStation controllers.
The first is the ASCII Specialized Joystick 8140. Like the ASCII Grip in the previous part, this is a PlayStation controller, with no right stick or L3/R3 capability. As you can see, it's huge! As large as an original PlayStation, and built like a tank, with a metal baseplate and arcade-style switches. The joystick is a 3 cm ball that sticks up 6 cm. One of these controllers can be had for as little as $10 if you look around.
I bought this mostly because my fist reaction upon seeing one was, "I gotta own one of these!" However, it has a number of features that can be handy for hurting hands. The second photo shows the array of switches that control whether each of the eight large buttons are in normal, turbo or auto mode. There's a slider for adjusting the turbo speed*. There is also a 'slow' mode that slows down game play**. (The latter works with Chrono Trigger but not with Parasite Eve 2.)
Arcade-style controllers are available for the PS2 and PS3. They tend to be expensive (as much as $150), are often tailored to a specific series of games and often are made in relatively limited quantities. Though most have some kind of turbo functionality, the slow mode seems to have disappeared; probably because there is no consistent way to implement it.
* Turbo means that the controller mimics you repeatedly pressing a
button without you having to actually do so.
** I believe this function sends Start-button presses to slow things down, so it doesn't always work, because not all games use the Start button to pause the game.
The next controller is a HORI Super Robot Wars Controller (SRWC) HP2-114. This is typical of the special limited-run controllers often made for popular games (like the Blue Slime controller for Dragon Quest). It is a full-featured PS2 controller, can be used for one-hand or two-hand mostly thumbless play, and you don't have to actually hold it; it has rubber pads on the bottom. There's a switch to swap the L/R function of the two sticks, which is nice. One complaint is that I find the layout of the L2 R2 L1 R1 buttons non-intuitive. They are in that order from the front (without visible labels) rather than L1 L2 R2 R1, which would make more sense to me.) Another problem is that the action buttons seem to not be pressure sensitive. (I found it impossible to play the dragon flute in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time using this controller.)
Unfortunately, this is a rare controller and costs big bucks, but it has become my main controller for games that need full PS2 functionality when my thumbs are hurting. It also works just fine on the PS3 using an "eForCity PS2 to PS3 PlayStation Controller Adapter USB Converter" I purchased for $5 on Amazon. (Note, however, that although most PS2 controllers work just fine on the PS3 with such an adapter, many PlayStation controllers, particularly digital-only controllers without analog sticks, do not work fully on the PS3.)
In July 2014 I purchased a mint condition Official Street Fighter™ Anniversary Edition Controller (2004) with Chun Li 'lenticular hologram' by N-Imation™ for $15; new, in shrink-wrapped pasteboard carrying case, with comic! Made by NubyTech, another defunct company that made a lot of niche controllers, it's a PlayStation controller, obviously. There are L2 and R2 buttons on the cable side. I bought this for use with PlayStation games like Parasite Eve.
Long live the PlayStation 2!
In November 2012 I purchased a Power A Pro Elite Wireless Controller. It's a PS3 controller with a layout similar to an Xbox controller, which many folks say is more ergonomic than the PS2/3 controller. (I agree.) Certainly the position of the left stick lets the thumb be used at a shallower angle, the grips are textured, the L2/R2 buttons are curved and easier to find, and it's large enough that I can play with it resting on the table top.
The photo below is next to a standard PS3 controller. The Pro Elite has lighted buttons (the action buttons can be turned off; the home is always on when the controller is active) and comes with a USB cable for charging and a wireless dongle. The latter must be used; this controller will not use the PS3's native wireless or USB connections. The dongle has a USB port for charging while you play, and—unlike a Sony controller—it will charge from any USB source.
The Pro Elite has a relatively short inactivity time-out, but a touch of the home button brings it back to life instantly. (By relatively short I mean it will turn off during a long cut-scene or potty break, not during normal use.) It's a bit heavier at 200g than a standard 175g PS3 controller. (There is now a wired version of this controller, but I see no reason to try that instead of the Hori Sports Pad Pro.)
For my December 2013 play through of Star Ocean: The Last Hope, which makes heavy use of both the left and right sticks, I bought a HORI Sports Pad Pro controller. (The left stick on PS2 controllers like the HORI SRWC does not work with SO:TLH, and I find the Power A Pro Elite also a bit too clunky and heavy, with the buttons just a bit hesitant, to use for a game like this.)
Because it has no battery, the Sports Pad Pro weighs about 150g; same as a standard PS2 controller, which is nice. The USB cable is about 3 meters (10 feet) in length.
On its back the Sports Pad Pro has a knob with the same functionality as the right stick (except for R3), and a button that can be assigned the function of any other button or combination of two buttons. (Very handy for offloading X-button mashing to the fingers of the left had, or for an often-used double-button battle function.)
Where a standard PS3 controller has its row of LEDs, the Sports Pad Pro has a switch for setting the number of directional inputs for the back right stick: 8, 4 or 0 (the latter disables the back stick). I set this to 4, making the stick pan the camera up/down or rotate it right/left.
Most importantly, the Sports Pad Pro uses the more ergonomic XBOX position for the D-pad and the left stick. My left thumb is much happier with this position, though I wish the front stick was not so tall. This is now my favorite PS3 controller!
In August 2014 I purchased a Hori Gempad 3, a wired PS3 controller. It is somewhat smaller and lighter in weight (by about 25 grams) than the Hori Sports Pad Pro controller, and has a turbo button and a center slide switch to select sensitivity of the the sticks. The turbo function can be applied to any of the ten usual buttons in turbo or turbo-hold mode.
Lighter weight and the smaller size makes it easy to hold and use in various ways. There are internal LEDs, which I turn off, that can blink on button presses.
Finally (?), in October 2016 I added the HORI FPS Assault Pad 3 G.E.A.R. to my PS3 controller collection. Though the name is similar, this is a very different controller than the HORIPAD 4 G.E.A.R. I already owned. (See the PS4 section.)
This is quite a hefty controller; twice the weight of the Sports Pad Pro. This is good, as I mostly do not hold the Assault Pad, I use it as a replacement for the PS2 S.R.W.C. controller, which does not work properly with some PS3 games, i.e., Star Ocean: The Last Hope. I really like this thing!
I assign the X and O buttons to the middle shoulder buttons for when I do pick up the Assault Pad for boss fights. The LEDs I turn off, and I do not make use of the other 'FPS' features of the controller.
I bought myself a PlayStation 4 at Christmas 2014. I have only a couple of games for it at this point, and haven't played them yet. However, I just purchased in March 2014 my first alternative PS4 controller, a HORIPAD 4 G.E.A.R. controller that can also be used on the PS3. Actually, despite the fact that the buttons have PS4 names, it's more accurate to say that this is a PS3 controller that can also be used with the PS4; there is no touchpad; so this controller cannot be used with many games designed for the PS4 controller.
This is a wired-only controller with ergonomics similar to the Xbox controller. There is a small thumbwheel at front left to adjust the sensitivity of the analog sticks. The LEDs under the Share/Select and Options/Start buttons indicate whether the top shoulder buttons have been reprogrammed (like on the Sports Pad Pro). The Program button is below the PS button.
On the bottom is the slide switch to select PS3 or PS4, and a 'trigger' button that reduces the sensitivity of the analog sticks for targeting or fine motions. The extra set of shoulder buttons at the top is programmable. It's not clear in this photo, but the bottom (L2/R2) buttons have a scooped shape to make them easier to find and not slip off from.
HORI released the Fighting Stick Mini 4 for PS3/4 in December 2015, and of course I had it on pre-order. Nice little thing:
Haven't used it yet, because in spite of being a Sony-authorized accessory, it does not work with the Vita TV without the third party adapter. (If I have to use the adapter, I might as well use the SRW controller.) That's a real pity, because this would be the perfect controller for playing what were originally PSP games on the Vita TV. Boo.
Before playing Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, I picked up a HORIPAD FPS Plus wired controller. It has a PS3/4 switch, which is a bit odd with the PS4 touchpad, and a trigger button on the bottom. The main difference between this and the G.E.A.R. is that this has turbo capability and only two shoulder buttons.
Although the FPS plus looks bulkier, it actually weighs a bit less than the G.E.A.R.
I really liked the HORI FPS Assault Pad 3 G.E.A.R. controller I used for my most recent play-through of Star Ocean: The Last Hope. If HORI releases that for the PS4, I'll buy it in an instant. But at least I now have a few alternatives to the standard PS4 controller.
PlayStation.Blog announced that pre-orders for the Sony PlayStation Access controller kit begin 21 July and will ship in December 2023. Wow, Sony; what the heck took you so long?
Though I once liked to curl up in a chair with a PSP to game, in the past few years I've had trouble using a PSP in this manner. There is no way to hold a PSP that does not stress my wrists or require too much use of my thumbs. The solution, for me, is to stick four soft feet on the bottom of a PSP and use it while sitting at my kotatsu.
I can play without wearing my glasses and use ear buds; I just don't have to hold the PSP in my hands. Or I can plug in a component video cable and watch the game on the big screen while listening to the sound through stereo speakers. (This works only with the PSP-2000 and PSP-3000 and probably the GO.) The video quality is quite decent.
If you want to try this, be careful buying a cable. With the PSP-2000, it must be a component video cable (with five RCA plugs) because games are output only in progressive scan (480p), in the PSP's native 480x272 resolution. (This is different than playing a UMD movie, in which case the PSP behaves like a 720x480 DVD player.) I believe the PSP-3000 and GO can output games with interlaced scan (480i), which would work with a composite cable and pretty much any TV or monitor, but I haven't tried this. PSP-2000 and PSP-3000 use the same cables; I believe the GO is different.
Once the cable is connected, turn on the PSP and hold down the video button (the one that cycles through display brightness) until you see a connection diagram on the PSP screen. At that point the video switches to output and the PSP screen turns off.
Putting feet on a PSP can increase the likelihood of seeing the "Do you want to quit the game?" screen. This message is caused by the PSP believing that you have opened the UMD drive door. It can be caused by a slightly warped UMD case, and perhaps made worse by the flexing of the PSP chassis when on feet and in the heat of battle. The lever is here:
And the fix, if the problem is specific to a particular UMD, is a piece of duct tape on the UMD case opposite the opening for the read head:
It might also be a good idea to put a piece of soft foam on the outside of the UMD drive door, i.e., under the PSP when it is on the table, to ensure that the door stays firmly shut. Long live the PSP!
In November 2014 I purchased a PlayStation TV (known as Vita TV in Japan), because the handheld Vita has no video output capability. The Vita TV is a nifty little device, but out of the box it does not work with wired controllers, even though one must plug a PS3 or PS4 controller into the USB port to sync it with the device. However, thanks to a tip from someone who visited this page, in October 2015 I purchased a Mayflash Universal Adapter (Amazon ASIN: B0089OBLDO):
Using this adapter*, my HORI SRWC works just fine with the Vita TV. The adapter is about the same size as the Vita TV, and has Turbo, Home and Clear buttons. The Home button works as a PS button, but so does the 'analog' button on the controller. I haven't tried the turbo functions, yet. I'm now looking forward to playing Tales of Hearts R, Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure and Trails in the Sky on the big screen via the PS Vita, using my favorite controllers. (And finally Sony added Ys: Memories of Celceta to the list!)
I left all the option switches in the off position. Follow directions to 'train' the adapter; start the PS Vita with PS3 or PS4 controller plugged in, then substitute the adapter, with the PS3 or PS4 controller plugged into that, and finally switch to the PS2 or PS controller you want to use. You may have to restart the Vita TV once or twice during this process, but be patient; it will eventually work. Once it works, the training does not have to be repeated, at least so long as you leave the adapter on the same type of console.
While in a game, holding down the Home button on the adapter gets you to a menu where you can turn off the console or put it into standby mode, but more importantly, you can check a box to enable the virtual touchpad. Once enabled, in the game pressing L3 and/or R3 cause hand-shaped pointers to appear on the screen that can be positioned using the L stick. It's pretty awkward, but if all you have to do is grab something and move it around, it's acceptable.
In October 2016 a game developer told me that Sony has discontinued PlayStation TV compatibility, so sadly it is no longer possible to release new Vita games that can be played on the PlayStation TV. In 2018 Sony announced that Vita production would end in 2019, and there would be no further handheld consoles from Sony. Sadly the end of an era.
* The adapter is designed to allow cross-use of controllers between "Xbox360/PS3/PS2/PS/Vita TV/PC" with a USB or PS cable on the controller side and a USB cable on the console side. I do not own any XBOX controllers, so I cannot say whether they can work with the Vita TV.
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