When Sony first patented its unique tongue controls, many of the comments and discussions were skeptical about its applications. Is that some tool for gamers to finally ‘experience’ dating sims? Some terrible gimmick for their next console? One step closer to controlling games with our mind? It obviously doesn’t have the advantages of an actual controller, and you could even say using it to control a character in regular games would be bothersome or impossible (similar to playing a fighting game with a DDR pad—not practical, but not impossible either). In reality, the control system is innovative in a simple, overlooked part of gaming: making games accessible for those with motor disabilities.
Alternative controls, such as the Nintendo Wiimote or the plethora of touch screen capabilities that have graced this generation, still don’t give access to people with certain motor dysfunctions. When you’re playing with one finger, what good does multitouch do you? If your arms constantly twitch, how are you going to play Skyward Sword? Even beyond nerve disabilities, arthritis, carpal tunnel, and simply terrible hand-eye coordination can keep would-be gamers out of the field. Making a game accessible to these people is difficult, but Sony’s recent patent shows that they are making an effort to address the control gap that a few gamers have difficulty crossing.
The actual control scheme isn’t set in stone—the patent lists several different methods of ‘tongue-tracking,’ ranging from a device that attaches to your teeth, sensors attached to your ears, or a necklace that would wrap around your neck (and would probably be the least intrusive method, as long as it’s not uncomfortable). It has obvious flaws compared to a controller: even assuming there is no lag time between movement and controller recognition, the motions would be limited simply because of the tongue’s limited range of motion. Moving forwards, backwards, left, and right are simple enough—but can you imagine trying to aim at someone in Call of Duty using your tongue?
While it does have some flaws, it still opens up the door for people who wouldn’t be able to use a more standard controller. Even just the equivalent of an extra joystick takes some of the hassle of controllers away from the gamer, and allows them to focus their motor skills on other elements of the controller. It doesn’t help or include everyone with motor disabilities, but it certainly grants better access to disabled or impaired gamers. Given the odd nature of the controller, there’s no way it’s meant to be used in regular gameplay—it is simply a method of controller assistance for those who need it.
There’s no way of knowing whether Sony will actually follow through and manufacture the controller that goes with this patent, but we at least know they’re sitting on it. They’re not the first company to patent (or manufacture, for that matter) controls that include disabled or impaired persons, but it’s still nice to see that in this day and age, inclusion is still an objective.