Everyone Deserves a Seat at the Table: How Nintendo Addressed the Issue of Overlooked Gamers

Authored by Gabriel Fequiere Jr.

NES Hands Free Controller Overhead View. This view highlights the chin lever and sip and puff tube used to work the controller.

Video games are a massive social and economic force the world around, with an estimated 2.6 billion people worldwide playing (Cairns, Power, Barlet, and Haynes, 2019a). Games provide not only an escape but also a feeling of belonging to a community. This was especially true during the pandemic. The socialization provided by games allows players to decrease feelings of loneliness and anxiety and feel like part of a larger community at a time when staying socially distant was imperative. The gaming community is a rich world with shared experiences, pop culture, friendships, and events including conventions, meet-ups, and even Twitch streams, where people with similar interests can unite.

Currently, 46 million Americans identify as having a disability (Cairns, Power, Barlet, Haynes, Kaufman and Beeston, 2019b). “For people with disabilities, games, in particular, provide a cultural outlet where they can be included with everyone else, and enabled to do things on an even footing with their non-disabled peers.”(Cairns, Power, Barlet, and Haynes, 2019a). Video game interaction however is heavily dependent on hand control making it nearly impossible for people with motor disabilities to play video games (Rizov, Risto, and Zhivkovski, 2020). In 1990 Nintendo of America announced that they had created the first controller designed to allow players with limited or no use of their hands to be able to play video games. Named the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) Hands Free Controller, it was a 2.5 pound device that could be strapped to the chest and utilized the head, neck, and breath to play (Gadia, Granato, Maggiorini, Marras, and Ripamonit, 2017). “Although it was only made by order and pretty expensive it was an important milestone in the process of further development of this category of controllers…”(Rizov, Risto, and Zhivkovski, 2020). For more than 20 years the NES Hands Free was the only adaptive option available to players. From 1990 to 2018 the majority of adaptations for different abilities were mere window dressing until Xbox created their Adaptive Controller which is readily available from retailers. Today with the advent of 3D printing, players can have a controller bespoke to their particular needs. None of these advances would have existed were it not for the Vincentian ideals of the engineers at Nintendo trying to make the gaming community more inclusive.

“Popular media have a poor record when it comes to portraying disability. Media representations of disability more often than not showcase harmful clichés that position disability ‘as an absolute state of otherness that is opposed to a standard, normative body’ “(Brown and Anderson, 2020). It behooves us, as a part of this community, to endeavor to do better for those that need it the most, so that everybody has a seat at the table. Because we all deserve a seat at the table.

The NES Hands Free Controller is currently part of the collection at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, and highlights Nintendo’s commitment to aiding the disenfranchised of the gaming community thus embodying the Vincentian ideal of “exemplifying the intrinsic worth of all members of our community” (“Equity and Inclusion | St. John’s University” 2022).


Brown, Mark, Sky LaRell Anderson. 2020. “Designing for Disability: Evaluating the State of Accessibility Design in Video Games.” Games and Culture 0(0): 702-18. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412020971500.

Cairns, Paul, Christopher Power, Mark Barlet, Greg Haynes. 2019a. “Future Design of Accessibility in Games: A Design Vocabulary.” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 131: 64-71. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhcs.2019.06.010.

Cairns, Paul, Christopher Power, Mark Barlet, Gregory Haynes, Craig Kaufman, Jen Beeston. 2019b. ”Enabled Players: The Value of Accessible Digital Games.” Games and Culture.

Gadia, Davide, Marco Granato, Dario Maggiorini, Matteo Marras, Laura Anna Ripamonit. 2017. “A Touch-Based Configurable Gamepad for Gamers with Physical Disabilities.”  Proceeding of the International Conference on Computer-Human Interaction Research and Applications-CHIRA.

Rizov, Tashko, Risto Tashevski, and Martin Zhivkovski. 2020. ”Design of a Game Controller for People with Motor Impairment.”.

“Equity and Inclusion | St. John’s University.” 2022. St. John’s University | Catholic, Vincentian, Metropolitan, Global. 2022. https://www.stjohns.edu/equity-and-inclusion.