The road to a million hits

Posted: 28/01/2020

Head of Digital Jersey Academy Rory Steel went viral this week after sharing a video of his daughter using his own custom made gaming controller. The video has been an overnight success, reaching 2.2million views! Read Rory’s story below…

My daughter had a simple request, one any 9-year-old child would ask, she wanted a Nintendo Switch for Christmas. However, this wasn’t a normal request, my son and daughter both have Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP). It is a rare genetic condition which means they have difficulty with fine motor control, speech and walking that makes using a gaming controller borderline impossible. Luckily, after a bit of research, I found the Switch had a few games, like Mario Kart, where you can move the controller side to side to turn, reminiscent of the older Nintendo device, the Wii. So, I purchased one and it worked, everyone was happy the morning after Santa’s visit.

The Christmas morning happiness was, however, short lived. As an avid gamer, I had secretly purchased Zelda, Breath of the Wild for the Switch, to play once my daughter had gone to bed. The previous Zelda, Ocarina of Time was an obsession of mine at University and I had to take the opportunity to reconnect with those memories. I nearly got away with it, but I left the loading screen on one night and my son saw it the next morning… “Daddy I want to play that” and my daughter, after chastising me for using her device, also demanded to play.

I knew the controls would be too difficult for them, but I also knew Xbox has an accessibility device which I thought might help. After quite a bit of research, I discovered I could buy an adapter to make it work with the Switch, even though they are rival consoles. I then cheaply bought some old-school arcade controllers, big enough for her to use a full hand (instead of a thumb) to move around and some bigger buttons to give a greater degree of error when they wanted to perform a command. I had the plan, I waited for the delivery.

I set aside a weekend for the project and decided not to waste time creating the box, I just picked an old screw organiser box up and drilled a few holes in it. As always, I tweeted a video of my plan to alert my geekier friends of another strange project. To my surprise and thanks to good Hash Tagging, the Inclusive Lead of Microsoft Devices, Bryce Johnson, saw it and said he would be interested in me Tweeting the final prototype.

I had not factored in a few nonstandard drill sizes and the sheer amount of wiring and soldering. That first day, I made the joysticks work but the buttons would have to wait until the Sunday. I persevered and finally, I videoed my daughter using and enjoying the device as promised. This video tweet led to a few mentions on Twitter, the most notable being The Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer. The hits were skyrocketing, and I thought I might make my first 100,000 views on Twitter. Then Phil Spencer replied…

“Incredible. And what a smile.” Five simple words that took me to over 1 million hits in less than 24hrs! They aren’t called Influencers for nothing, the post went viral. Surreal doesn’t fully describe the following 48hrs, but the story bounced around the world. From local radio, TV and press to national live radio and breakfast broadcasts from the BBC. I was then further staggered to see the story on Reddit, major gaming websites like IGN, Eurogamer and Kotaku, Lad Bible, Daily Mail and a radio appearance on a Washington DC station, with Italian Rolling Stone asking for information and adding to the viral mix.

The biggest questions I’ve received revolve around the technical ability to reproduce this. Many people have family or friends who could benefit from a similar bespoke device. Their concern is it would be too difficult to make and they can’t understand how I came up with the concept. The world around us is becoming more digital and having a basic understanding of the fundamentals of how our digital devices work, means that you can connect different products and turn them into something which is far greater than the sum of its parts. Microsoft had made the core of this solution already, and if you can rewire a plug you have most of the skills needed to recreate this device. I will make a video walkthrough and link it to other courses for digital skills. It might give people the confidence to tinker themselves and spark an idea that could take them to their own million Twitter hits.

All I know is, people were looking for a feel-good story on Blue Monday, they found mine and made my daughter and son feel like superstars, the smiles on their faces have rewarded my wife and I in an immeasurable way. Despite what we sometimes hear, this story has shown me that the world, and social media is still predominantly positive.


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