Monday 14 September 2020

Make an Assistive Tech Minecraft Controller

At Newlands Intermediate School in Wellington NZ we designed and made an assistive tech Minecraft controller. One of our students is restricted to using his left foot for communication and controls. We wanted to create a way for him to make and collaborate in Minecraft. The makerspace at Newlands Intermediate is where we had our 3-hour making-fest. The teacher who runs the space made room for creativity and invited the design team. The team comprised the student, student’s aide, a classmate and a couple of teachers. I believe it may have been this diverse mix of experience, knowledge, enthusiasm and perspective that made the design process so successful and fun. We may have startled the other students in the class a few times with our whooping and cheers! 

First design idea

We decided to try and combine a Makey Makey (with tin foil and cardboard) and an Optima Joystick to provide the floor controls needed to play Minecraft. My students at previous schools have made Minecraft controllers with Makey Makey but the designs always required two hands (or feet) to work. This was a much better challenge! We were lucky that the classmate helping us was a highly skilled Minecraft player and the aide knew the best places to test positioning controls and buttons. We rapidly sketched our ideas and discussed the parameters of our designs. Then we immediately tested the designs with cardboard and tin foil (Makey Makey uses conductivity to work). 

Optima joystick
Design in process

The student gave us feedback throughout the design and testing process (and commenced joyfully building in Minecraft even with half working controls). We kept modifying the designs to best meet his movement, comfort and game requirements. By the end of our 3-hour making session we had a working prototype. Albeit, a flimsy, hacked together prototype. Other students were coming over to observe, ask questions and offer assistance. I shared the photo of our design with a different class I had after lunch and was inundated with students asking to help make the wood and metal version in the school’s hard tech space. We plan to make a robust folding version that can be stored under the student’s walking frame and is plug-and-play. We want to give the student as much agency as possible in his gaming experience. (see updates and final product below).


If you would like to have a go at making your own assistive tech game controller here are the components we used:

  • Makey Makey - awesome little micro electronics kit
  • Laptop - to run the game and plug the makey makey and joystick into
  • Optima joystick - compact joystick that does not require fine motor skills (student already had this)
  • Tin foil 
  • Cardboard
  • Sticky tape

The best thing about Makey Makey is it can be adapted to almost any configuration, so it is a great way to quickly make custom controllers for different requirements. This week we start making the wood and metal version. I’ll post a picture when it’s made! :)

Custom assistive tech controller in action

This was the first wood and metal prototype. After testing we found that the controller was uncomfortable for the student with no shoes. So we started designing and testing a conductive shoe.

Using the 'skin' from a scrubbing sponge wasn't reliable.

Steel wool ended up being the winning solution! :)

Today we finished the Makey Makey Minecraft assistive tech controller! Here is a video of it in action! :) Reach out if you want to try something similar and have questions.