The PS5’s Limited Controller Support Is An Issue For Gamers Who Need Accessibility Options

Illustration for article titled The PS5’s Limited Controller Support Is An Issue For Gamers Who Need Accessibility Options
Screenshot: Sony

The PlayStation 5 is in many ways a fantastic machine, but it’s far from perfect. Games take up more space than indicated, the dashboard’s newsfeed can get needlessly cluttered, and the simplest way to power the thing down is a departure from the hold-the-big-center-button norm. Beyond that, nearly a month after launch, Sony’s latest console lacks yet another major feature: universal support for third-party controllers, limiting the system’s accessibility.

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At the moment, the only way to play PS5 games is by using the system’s packaged-in DualSense controller. Though officially licensed third-party controllers work with backward-compatible PS4 games, they won’t work with PS5 games. Even Sony’s own DualShock 4, the standard-issue controller that comes with the PlayStation 4, is a no-go. You can use it to navigate the PS5, and to play backward-compatible PS4 games on the PS5, but that’s it.

This further holds true for PS4 games that have since been upgraded to a snazzier PS5 version, like Borderlands 3, and games that have cross-gen versions, like Spider-Man: Miles Morales. You can boot up a PS5 game with a DualShock 4, but the second you get to the main menu, you won’t be able to hit any buttons. (Licensed third-party PS4 controllers face the same rules and constraints. Kotaku asked Sony about third-party controller support for PS5 games. At press time, it was looking into it.)

astros playroom splash screen ps5
Trying to load a PS5 game, like Astro’s Playroom, with a DualShock 4 will result in this error message. (Note: This is zoomed in a bit.)
Screenshot: Sony / Kotaku

The PS5’s lack of third-party controller support for PS5 games poses an accessibility problem. As Twitter user Lofti Pixels pointed out, some players, including those with muscular dystrophy (like his brother), can have difficulty hitting certain DualSense buttons—including the all-important Options button. Other gamepads, like the near-perfected Xbox controller, are more ergonomically ideal. Back on PS4, third-party adapters let players play PS4 games with an Xbox controller. But in August, Sony announced that not all third-party peripherals would work with the PS5.

Lofti Pixels told me, via Twitter DM, that the adapter he and his brother use—a CronusMax Plus—is not compatible with the PS5. Plugging it in results in an error notification not unlike the one you’d get when trying to play a PS5 game with a DualShock 4 controller. (He said the adapter works just fine on the Xbox Series X, where his brother likes to play Call of Duty: Warzone.) It’s unclear if the case is such that no adapter on the market works with the PS5, but, as far as I’ve researched, none do. Sony’s August guidance doesn’t even mention adapters among the list of green-lit peripherals. That means players who can’t use the DualSense controller are effectively prevented from playing some PS5 games.

Currently, trying to plug an Xbox Series X controller into a PS5 (hey, they use the same cables) does absolutely nothing.

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The PS5 controller shortcomings don’t end there. The DualSense allows for some robust button-remapping, but some buttons are permanently mapped to their preset functions. The central trackpad is one. Given the nature of how that particular input relies on touch sensitivity, sure, that tracks. However, three others—the Options, PS, and Create buttons—are similarly immovable. (Remapping all of the other buttons is possible by heading to the console’s settings, opening up the Accessibility menu, scrolling down to “controllers,” and clicking on “Custom Button Assignments.” Toggling the first option on and then clicking on the second option will pull up a list of all the buttons you can switch up. You can also swap the left and right thumbsticks.)

For those who may have trouble reaching those central buttons, which are essential for plenty of games, such a limitation can be prohibitive. It’s most flagrant with games that map the inventory and other key menus to the Options button. “It’s a difficult button to push for someone with weak hands compared to some of the other buttons,” Lofti Pixels said. That can be enough to just not play a game altogether.

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“There are always input sacrifices to be made when you can’t push certain buttons like that, but most games can still be played anyway, as long as there aren’t a million different essential inputs,” Lofti Pixels said. “It helps a lot to at least be able to customize your own button inputs.”

Right now, there are precious few workarounds for the PS5’s overall lack of controller accessibility—and none of them are ideal. Where possible, you could download the PS4 version of a cross-gen game, and use an officially licensed third-party controller, but that process is both cumbersome and unfair. As more games become pure PS5 exclusives, with no option to use anything other than the DualSense controller, this issue will only grow worse.

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“It just gives us a bit of anxiety not knowing whether or not we (my brother, and I’m sure there are others) will be limited in which exclusives are accessible to play,” Lofti Pixels said.

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Staff Writer, Kotaku

DISCUSSION

How did you write an article about controller accessibility and not mention the Xbox Adaptive Controller?
Microsoft has invested millions of dollars to enable gamers of all abilities to play in their ecosystem while Sony has done practically nothing.