March 31, 2020
Mike Luckett’s life changed on Aug. 7, 2011.
After spending a year in Iraq with the U.S. Army, he was injured in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down, with limited dexterity in his fingers.
Among the many other life adjustments that accident forced upon him, he learned that video games, one of his most avid hobbies, had become significantly more challenging to play. But his determination eventually helped open video games to a much wider group of people.
“Call of Duty was one of the games I wanted to play eventually,” he says. “I knew that was going to be a process in figuring that out.”
Fighting games were his first step back into the video game world, because he was able to use joystick controllers similar to the ones found in arcade games. Next came Borderlands 2. And eventually, he was able to play Call of Duty on the PlayStation 3, which has a larger controller and was easier for him to use.
A few years later, he got the itch to play on the Xbox, but found that system’s controller didn’t suit his needs. A search online found an extremely expensive (in the range of $500), but low-quality controller. Even more frustrating was the work involved to ensure it could be used.
“It would work initially, but when games came out with updates … it would cause massive communications errors with the controller I bought,” he says. “Eventually I had to worry about firmware and updates and things you have to worry about with a PC, versus what you are used to with a console. … It got to the point where I got one error and basically quit and broke the controller.”
That led him to talk with Ken Jones, an engineer and founder of Warfighter Engaged, a nonprofit that helps wounded veterans by creating custom adapted devices. Jones not only fixed the controller Luckett broke; he made some enhancements to it. Before long, Luckett joined the team, and was part of the Warfighter Engaged squad that worked with Microsoft to create the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a unified hub of devices designed to make video games more accessible (and more affordable) for people with severe injuries.
“I see video games as a way to progress in technology,” says Luckett. “It’s an extension of rehabilitation through technology.”
Beyond his work with Warfighter Engaged, Luckett also volunteers at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Col., assisting patients with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries in playing video games. Every week, a mix of (mostly) teens and adults get together to play. Typically, it’s three or four people, but as many as 11 have shown up before.
“It’s a big confidence booster being able to be part of the community,” says Luckett. “Someone with a disability is able to join a massive community where everybody has a level playing field. I think it makes people more social. They have this type of inclusion in a virtual world.”
That’s something Luckett has some personal experience with as well.
“My buddy [in Overwatch] never knew I had a disability when we were first playing,” he says. “[Other players] only see what your avatar is and what your gameplay is like. After a month or so, I did tell him I’m a quadriplegic and can’t use my hands. It’s really cool to see. Something we, as a disabled community, need to do is break these barriers — and video games are one of the barriers I was able to break down.”