When gamer Peter Byrne of South Amboy, New Jersey, wrote to Sony complaining that his new PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 touchpad was interfering with his gaming experience, a Sony employee responded the very next day promising to build him a custom one. The employee, Alex Nawabi, made good on his promise to the long-time gamer who has cerebral palsy.
Byrne wrote that due to his neurological disorder, his left hand kept hitting the controller's touchpad and pausing the game. In an interview with News 12 New Jersey, Byrne showed how the way he held his DualShock 4 to play Tom Clancy's The Division often resulted in inadvertent presses on the touchpad, which brings up the map and pauses the game.
Nawabi responded to Byrne's letter saying he would look into the matter "personally", Byrne wrote in a Facebook post. After a series of back and forth emails to discuss the issue and exchange images showing how Byrne gripped the controller, Nawabi told the gamer that he was ordering parts to try and solve the issue. However, he emailed Byrne the week before saying he was unsuccessful but added that he would send a goodie bag instead for the inconvenience.
When Byrne's goodie bag finally arrived, he was shocked to find a brand new modified controller inside, together with a letter from Nawabi, which Byrne posted on his Facebook page.
"My apologies for the white lie I told but I felt this surprise was too good to ruin," Nawabi wrote. "I was able to come up with a solution for your gaming/controller problem. Inside is a controller I've specially modified just for you."
Nawabi said it took three controllers to build the custom device, more than 10 hours of labour and a "few moments of frustration" to rework the concept and "bring it to life". Nawabi's custom controller includes a second button that is out of the way where Byrne grasps the controller. He also disabled the touchpad and rerouted its functions to the new button so Byrne can play his games without any interruptions.
"The email you sent definitely struck a chord within," Nawabi wrote. "It killed me to hear how something you used to enjoy thoroughly was being ruined because of our new controller design. Although I can't help everyone who has this problem, at least I could help you. I wish I had more to give you."
The employee also asked for feedback on the new controller and said he was making a second one in case the first one breaks.
Byrne says he hopes his touching experience will encourage other companies to think more about gamers with disabilities as well.
"Someone listened and cared enough to take my matter personally," he told BuzzFeed News. "I hope that other companies look at their fan base and realized that disabled people are gamers, too, and that we need to be accommodated."
In November 2015, Chris Hepburn modified Valve's Steam controller to create a functional one-handed Skyrim control scheme, responding to a user's request for a one-handed configuration for his father. In October, game developer Gabe Telepak created Butt Sniffin Pugs, a game controlled by a giant tennis and a stuffed dog butt, hoping to tweak the controller into a potentially more inclusive one that people with disabilities can use to play a wide range of games that feature a cursor-driven experience.