At Xbox, we believe that gaming is for everyone. You hear it a lot, but it’s absolutely true. The Xbox community is at the center of everything we do, every decision we make. This month we’re recognizing the 400+ million players who make up the gaming and disability community. In their own words, we’re inviting Elle Vance, Software Engineer II for Xbox Player Services, to share their story on how being part of the gaming and disability community has impacted their life:
“I understand the world through a different perspective. Unlike most neurotypical people, who understand the world from a top-down perspective; I start with a bottom-up approach, focusing first on the details. Sometimes my perspective is advantageous in my work as a Software Engineer II, and in other areas of my life, too, as I am able to troubleshoot problems at a granular level before processing it from a broader framework which could potentially create bias in attempting to solve that problem.
I’ve worked with Xbox for 4 years and was recruited through a program for neurodiverse individuals, like myself. I am proud that I am able to be open about my autism diagnosis and that my candor has given the opportunity for others to not only understand people with autism better, but sometimes to even realize that someone they know and love, or even themselves, might experience neurodiversity, as well. I have also been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition that affects connective tissue in my body, which has required me to endure multiple surgeries and use mobility aids to get around. While I have felt the need to mask my disabilities at certain times, advocating for myself has supported me at work. Currently, I am able to work from home where I can be comfortable and do my best work in a predictable, quiet environment.
In my free time, I enjoy video gaming as a hobby. Recent favorites I’ve found on Xbox Game Pass include Pentiment (an RPG involving illustrated manuscripts), Hi-Fi Rush (a rhythm-based action game), and Party Animals (a multiplayer brawler game). I always play games with subtitles on, which helps me process auditory information when I am engrossed in the action. I do wish more video game developers would include autistic protagonists. Representation is important, not only so I can feel included, but so neurotypical people have more opportunities to develop empathy for people in the neurodiversity community and appreciate the strengths our unique perspectives provide.”
For this community moment, we’re excited to announce a new phase of our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics and their Gaming for Inclusion tournament! You can read more about that and how Xbox is empowering players with disabilities below:
Xbox Partners with Special Olympics for Gaming for Inclusion Esports Tournament
Since 2014, Microsoft and Special Olympics have been teaming up to empower Special Olympics athletes through technology. This partnership has evolved through the years and now includes a yearly Gaming for Inclusion tournament presented by Special Olympics, Microsoft and Xbox. This year’s Gaming for Inclusion will take place in November, with a mix of virtual and in-person events – all streamed for players and supporters to watch and join in on the fun.
On November 11, 2023, Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners will compete virtually in Rocket League for a chance to play alongside celebrity supporters of Special Olympics, including NFL athletes and WWE Superstars, in an in-person and livestreamed event in Los Angeles, CA on November 18, 2023.
“Xbox is honored to further our commitment to create inclusive gaming experiences for everyone by partnering with Special Olympics as they bring the Gaming for Inclusion esports tournament to life again this year,” says Jenn Panattoni, Head of Xbox Social Impact. “Xbox works year-round to bring intentional, inclusive practices and accessible features to everything we do—but the Gaming for Inclusion tournament provides a moment for us, along with the Special Olympics communities, to remember what gaming is all about: play.”
In addition to the upcoming tournament, in late September, Xbox hosted three of the Special Olympics athletes at the Microsoft Experience Center for a shoutcaster training. In the workshop, the athletes developed their esports commentating skills through improv sessions, guest speakers, and more—and will be putting their training to the test by shoutcasting for the November Gaming for Inclusion tournament.
“We are thrilled that for the third year in a row Xbox and Microsoft are bringing our athletes and Unified partners together for Gaming for Inclusion. Our goal is to digitize the movement for our athletes by removing barriers and expanding our reach through digital technology. Gaming for Inclusion is a powerful example of how organizations can come together to leverage their unique strengths to meet an urgent need and provide critical platforms for people with intellectual disabilities. While oftentimes esports and gaming is a faceless activity, events like Gaming for Inclusion is innovative by showing the world that people with intellectual disabilities are leading the way when given the opportunity,” reflects Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics Inc.
The Xbox community can tune into the tournament on the official Xbox Twitch channel for a livestream of the action. Visit specialolympics.org to learn more about their programs and find ways to support their work. Microsoft Rewards members in some markets can also donate earn points and donate them to Special Olympics to support this important work.
Gaming and Impact with Microsoft Rewards
Microsoft Rewards members in the United States and the United Kingdom can earn and donate points to organizations supporting people in the gaming and disability community with Xbox. The organizations below will be featured on console throughout October:
- Special Effect – Special Effect transforms the lives of physically disabled people across the world through the innovative use of technology. At the heart of their work is their mission to maximize fun and quality of life by helping people control video games to the best of their abilities. (UK)
- Warfighter Engaged – Warfighter Engaged’s mission is to improve the lives of severely wounded and disabled warfighters through custom adapted devices. They modify video game controllers, make prosthetic enhancements, recreational and other novel devices for greater independence. All adapted items are provided at no cost to the warfighter. (US)
- AbleGamers – AbleGamers creates opportunities that enable play in order to combat social isolation, foster inclusive communities, and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. (US)
Xbox gamers can earn Rewards points in various ways, such as playing games and completing Game Pass Quests, completing offers in the Microsoft Rewards app on Xbox, and select purchases at the Microsoft Store (exclusions apply). Earn points and redeem them for real rewards. Join us today and donate through Xbox.
Explore Games Curated by Gaming and Disability Communities at Microsoft
Celebrate the Gaming and Disability community through the power of play. Games provide us with the ability to include representation in a variety of immersive experiences that help us connect with each other and understand our differences.
During October and beyond, we are featuring games created by and reflecting the experiences of neurodiversity and people with disabilities. Available on the Microsoft Stores on Xbox and Windows, check out the Stores collection that exists year-round as part of our ongoing work to create more inclusive gaming ecosystems and elevate content that resonates with communities. For Xbox Game Pass members, check out the Xbox Game Pass Gaming & Disability community collection and the PC Game Pass Gaming & Disability community collection.
Featured titles within the collections include:
- Halo Infinite (Available with Xbox Game Pass on Console, PC, and Cloud) — The character customization options in Halo Infinite provide a variety of prosthetics, including the Mjolnir power armor that was utilized to create a prosthetic sleeve design for Limbitless Solutions. 343 has been a proud partner of Limbitless Solutions for several years, a non-profit which creates 3D-printed prosthetics for children and helps train them to use their new bionic limbs.
- Hi-Fi Rush (Available with Xbox Game Pass on Console, PC, and Cloud) — Follow the story of Chai, an aspiring rockstar with a disabled right arm. The story begins with Chai receiving a cybernetic limb replacement which is interrupted by a music player falling into his chest, resulting in Chai being labeled as a defect. Disability themes remain present throughout the narrative and robotic upgrades are integral to the gameplay.
- Sea of Solitude (Available with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate on Console and PC) — CEO, lead writer, and creative director of Jo-Mei Games, Cornelia Geppert, created Sea of Solitude with the idea of immersing players in traumatic relationships within the safe digital confines of a video game. The monsters in the game symbolize depression, anxiety, narcissistic personality disorder, and other disabilities, giving players the opportunity to experience empowerment through game play.
Artist Danielle Taphanel Inspired by a Blooming Desert for the Xbox Logo Redesign
Xbox commissioned Danielle Taphanel, who is a disabled, non-binary, Filipino-Latino self-taught artist, to redesign this year’s Xbox logo in honor of celebrating the gaming and disability community. Danielle hopes that through their beautiful, desert-themed redesign of the Xbox logo, they can provide a perspective from the disability community that embraces games and art as sources of joy and connection. Through this design, they aimed to capture the diverse, essential, and life-positive forces of the disabled community through the lens of a desert in full bloom after it rains.
Just as the desert creates conditions of adversity in which plant life survives and thrives, so Danielle expresses that disabled people embody the resilience and necessity of shared existences. In their words, “We adapt, we are part of the ecology of our communities; like those desert plants that operate with such specialized and poetic grace, we are essential beings, full of the simple and vibrant commonality of life.”
The blooming expression of the imagery speaks to the ways in which gaming serves as a centralized, accessible, connective force of exploration, play, and imagination for disabled communities across vast spectrums. Check out more of Danielle Taphanel’s work here.
Xbox Ambassadors Feature Stories about Gaming and Disability
This year the Xbox Ambassadors Program is celebrating the Gaming and Disability Community by spotlighting individual Ambassadors on our Xbox Ambassadors Blog and Xbox Wire! We’re excited to share stories from our community about how gaming has impacted the lives of those with disabilities. Read the spotlight below to learn more about featured Ambassador Grumpy0lLady and their gaming experiences.
Spotlight on Grumpy0lLady, Xbox Ambassador
How does gaming impact your life?
About 5 years ago I got badly injured (back and neck) at work, and have been very limited on how long I can do things – such as housework. I have to stop every 10 minutes or so and gaming keeps me occupied while I have to wait to get back to what I was doing. I have been gaming for about 45 years, but now it makes up about 90% of my waking hours.
Do you have a favorite gaming memory you’d like to share with the community?
Getting that last achievement in Forza Horizon 4 – I felt invincible! That was a pretty tough completion, and very satisfying.
What specific games or franchises do you connect the most, and why?
The Dragon Age and Mass Effect series really take me away to another place. They are very easy to lose yourself in with the great stories and companions. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Skyrim both kept me enthralled for thousands of hours. When I’m in the mood to race, the Forza Horizon series really takes the cake. Excellent gameplay and a ton of fun! Finally, Diablo II – my first PC game and first that I didn’t pump quarters into. It was the only game I played for many years. I still have all of my discs and save files from over 20 years ago! It will always have a special place in my heart.
New Gamerpics, Profile Theme, and Avatar Items for Gaming & Disability
In partnership with disability communities at Xbox, we’re introducing a new gamerpic, profile theme, avatar items, and wallpaper! Additionally, we made Champions Rise gear in partnership with Special Olympics so your avatar can gear up like the Special Olympics athletes competing in the Gaming for Inclusion tournament this November. Get your avatar items here and your wallpaper here. Content is subject to availability by country.