Microsoft's moving Xbox ad was the best thing about the Super Bowl

Commentary: The game didn't quite live up to expectations, but Microsoft's ad for the Xbox Adaptive Controller did.

Mark Serrels Editorial Director
Mark Serrels is an award-winning Senior Editorial Director focused on all things culture. He covers TV, movies, anime, video games and whatever weird things are happening on the internet. He especially likes to write about the hardships of being a parent in the age of memes, Minecraft and Fortnite. Definitely don't follow him on Twitter.
Mark Serrels
3 min read

The Xbox Adaptive Controller helps gamers with limited mobility play video games.

Mark Serrels/CNET

Super Bowl 53 has come and gone and, for me at least, there was one clear highlight. This Microsoft commercial:

After the Gillette ad "controversy" late last year, in which a strange subset of men got irrationally angry at a razor commercial, a friend of mine said something that stuck with me. He said, if you feel any sort of extreme way about an advertisement designed to sell products, you're a mark. You should know better.

He's right, I should know better. But I couldn't help falling completely in love with Microsoft's Super Bowl ad.

Essentially a commercial for Microsoft's Xbox Adaptive Controller, it follows up on an earlier ad from the Christmas period that highlights young kids with limited mobility playing video games .

It's incredible.

It tells the story of those kids and their love for video games. All children love video games, and if you're a person with limited mobility, video games can often provide a pathway to experiences that are otherwise difficult in the real world. But in some cases, those mobility restrictions can make even the games themselves difficult to play -- which is where the Xbox Adaptive Controller comes in.

The Xbox Adaptive controller is a tool designed to be malleable. It's a product designed to help gamers who may have lost an arm, or were born with disabilities, find ways to play that suit them specifically. Built in tandem with limited-mobility gamers, this is a piece of tech that has literally changed lives.

The controller itself was built with an incredible amount of sensitivity -- Microsoft even designed and built a box that could more easily be opened by those with limited mobility. It's a product that represents the best of a company like Microsoft. A product that a company like Microsoft should be highlighting. Microsoft could have easily used this ad space to promote the struggling Xbox One or the Microsoft Surface , but it didn't. It highlighted the Xbox Adaptive Controller. It put diversity front and center and said, "When everyone plays, we all win."

It's easy to be cynical about the messaging, to say it's exploitative, to say that this is a broad brand play for Microsoft. But Microsoft didn't have to create an Adaptive Controller. It certainly didn't have to put the device centre stage during one of the most watched television events of the year. This is not a product that makes Microsoft a significant amount of money. It's a niche product for a very particular audience. The Xbox Adaptive Controller is a product Microsoft designed and created because it was the right thing to do, and that's good. Regardless of your thoughts on Microsoft -- that's good.

Video games and video game culture don't exactly have a great record of inclusivity. Historically, sports have had a similar problem. Microsoft chose to use the Super Bowl to promote a message of inclusivity, and -- in this case -- it wasn't just a hollow marketing message. It's a mission Microsoft has 100 percent followed through on. 

As my friend told me: Feeling any sort of extreme way about an advertisement makes me a mark. I get it. He's right. But I can't help myself. 

On a day when the game itself didn't quite live up to expectations, you could say Microsoft won the Super Bowl.

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