One of the things I have really enjoyed during the pandemic is gaming.
Pre-pandemic I didn’t play all that much and mostly played on my Nintendo Switch. I tended to game as a filler activity rather than something I did as an activity of its own.
However, early in the pandemic I got lucky, one of my favourite games (MudRunner) had a new version (SnowRunner) and the new version was exactly what I needed. A wonderful blend of exploration and muddy postman pat.
I borrowed a friends Xbox One (2013!) and I’ve played hundreds of hours since. A few days ago I got my hands on an Xbox Series S. The digital only / lower spec version of the latest generation of Xbox consoles.
This post is focused on sharing an autistic & ADHD perspective on the new Xbox. Comparing it against the old Xbox in how it fits into my life. It’s had a rather unexpected impact for me. This is very personal review, it won’t apply to all autistic / ADHD people. I am sharing a single perspective.
The first impactful thing about the new Xbox is that it is really quiet; Quiet in more ways than one.
I have a “bedroom studio” so day or night the Xbox is only ever 5 feet away. The sounds it makes rapildy become part of my daily life.
While the sound of the Xbox during gaming is important, it’s not the most important sound for me. The most important sound, a critical part of the experience, is the sound it makes when it’s in standby mode. The Xbox folks call it “instant on” mode.
I can’t hear any power supply whine from the Xbox Series S. When in standby mode, it’s completely silent. Gone. The USB-C charger for my Nintendo Switch is louder!
This has been pretty transformational for me. Due to the noise, my borrowed Xbox either kept me awake at night, or had to be turned off at the wall in order to silence it. While this worked for the noise, it ruined the gaming experience. It had to boot, then load games, and then load a map before I could play SnowRunner. From power up to playing could easily be 6 minutes. Assuming it didn’t need an update
This delay could be a huge barrier for another reason too. Distraction. One of the things I find most difficult is staying on task. I get distracted, even during things I enjoy. This is at it’s worst when I am switching between tasks. Successfully starting something is tricky. For this reason, I often turned the old Xbox on, walked away and simply forgot about it. Ironically, i’d sometimes end up playing something on my Switch while I was distacted!
With the new Xbox, it’s quiet enough I can use the instant on feature. Moments after pressing the button it’s ready to play. Right where I left off. Instant on is now accessible to me and it’s reduced one the barriers which prevented me from enjoying the Xbox platform as a whole.
Beyond the noise, its’ also visually quiet. The old Xbox was fingerprinty, dusty and visually loud. I hid it behind a little cover in my ikea cube bookcase. It was very tightly packed in and i’d pop the cover off when playing to give it some air the hide it again after i was done.
The new Xbox sits in the same spot and has ample breathing room. It’s looks much more “comfy” and tidy. There’s space left over for my XAC and wireless controller. Without sounding daft, it’s exudes a sense of “freindlyness”. It’s visually integrated, everything matches up. They all sit together quitely waiting for me to come and play. A far cry from the cramped ugly mess of how it used to be.
Compatibiluty isn’t sexy, but its really important to me. Game compatibility is the headline feature, but it’s not the most valuable thing for me. Compatibility with the XAC (Xbox Adaptive Controller) is much more important.
The XAC allows me to modify games to remove barriers. I can setup the controls to work however I like. For example, one of the ways I use the XAC is to add foot controls to SnowRunner. I put the XAC under by desk and use my feet on the two big face buttons.
The button on the left applies the brake, the button on the right applies the throttle. This little adaption allows me to play even when my hands are very numb or when I am tired and muddling up my fingers.
Having the footbrake to push in a panic is especially good in SnowRunner. SnowRunner is a cargo delivery game and many cargos are unique. If i crash and drop them, i need to start the mission again which may involve hours of work battling through the mud. Quick access to the brakes is a killer feature :D
The foot accelator is less dramatic but just as useful. The ability to swap between finger and foot inputs means reduced fatigue and increases flexibility. It allows me to match the input to the situation. I can control the throttle delicately with the trigger when crossing a tricky mountain pass, and keep it planted with my foot when hammering along the roads between the towns. This lets me save my fingers for when i need them.
My final thought builds on the points above and it might be the most impactful change of all.
The new Xbox is focused. It has almost eliminated the friction between me and the games I love.
It’s not just quicker to pick up and play (yay instant on), it’s quicker in everything i do. There are way less places for distraction and muddlement to get the better of me.
For example, on the old Xbox i’d often arrive at a map on SnowRunner and forget why I was there Was I there to collect someting? Was I pre-positioning a fuel truck…. did I need to drop something off? I often found myself wondering “why did I come here” and loading the menus to look for hints in the mission tracker and on the map. This could quickly get infuriating.
The new Xbox’s speedy load times preserves my focus and enhances my flow. It’s huge. It’s changed the way i play SnowRunner.
I’ve been on a long arc with gaming over the pandemic. I mentioned upfront that pre-pandemic gaming was mostly a time filling activity. Something I did between other things.
With the pandemic - and the release of SnowRunner - gaming started to become something I did more often as thing of it own. An activity I made time for. During the middle of the pandemic, I fixed most of the immediate barriers like adding the foot controls. I also found a way to tolerate the Xbox in my space by turning it off and hiding it behind a cover.
My new Xbox completes this transition. My Xbox Series S has changed my relationship with gaming. Gaming is a thing I look forward to doing and put aside time for.
I wouldn’t identify as a gamer. It’s never been my primary form of entertainment. But I would say I was an adventurer. Adventuring underlies so much of what I do, from mountain biking to cafe working, I love to leave my home and embrace my autonomy to explore, discover and enjoy.
My world has always been smaller than for most poeple. With the pandemic, the world outside my door has got even smaller and harder to access. With less support, less opportunity and less energy, i’m spending more time in my home. More or less in my bedroom.
But now, I have a little monochromatic box of tricks, sitting on the shelf, inviting me to come and explore. It’s not “the” Xbox Series S, it’s my Xbox Series S and I am excited for the adventures we’re having now and those still to come.