Two Black Fridays ago, on the tail end of a holiday hangover, I succumbed to my consumer urges and bought an Xbox One. The bonus of this particular bundle was, in my bleary eyes, the console itself: a deep teal color with a slick controller to match. It arrived even more beautiful in person, with one catch: Its controller, by default, still required two AA batteries.
Microsoft’s competitors, Sony and Nintendo, sell consoles free of drugstore-shelf batteries. The Switch’s JoyCons fit snugly into the charging station powering the whole rig. Sony’s PlayStation controllers siphon power from a USB charge or the system itself. On the handheld front, both the PS Vita and the Nintendo 3DS rely on a plug-in charge. But even in 2018, not all Xbox One controllers are created equal. While you can buy charging kits that plug directly into the console or additional cables, most, as in my case, arrive with no such extras at all. Even the high-end Elite controller requires batteries. In this backwards, unfriendly consumer model, it’s a luxury to have a full charge, but not a guarantee.
On Reddit, some of the console’s community have been loud about their support of a battery-packed controller. “ I hope they’ll keep it that way,” wrote one user. “Nothing more annoying than having to charge your controller mid game.” Others say they’d rather buy new batteries than have to replace an entire controller, or that they appreciate an easily removable pack. “Options and flexibility is better than having a weak ass battery inside a controller,” said another user.
When I asked Microsoft about their battery insistence, a spokesperson said that the company likes to offer its players the choice. “Gamers have the option to connect their Xbox Wireless Controller directly to an Xbox One or Windows 10 PC via Micro USB cable, use commercially available batteries (both disposable and rechargeable) or use a Play and Charge Kit,” the spokesperson said, “which comes with a long-lasting, rechargeable battery that fully charges in under four hours and lasts up to 30 hours on a single charge.”
That’s certainly a fair reason, but I can’t help but feel that it would be a stronger statement if the cable were included with every console. Instead, buyers must seek out yet another piece of equipment for their already pricey system. A $10 pack of batteries wields an uncomfortable amount of power over my gaming experience. A dying battery throws a wrench into the middle of play sessions, forcing me to leave my game suspended while I run to a bodega to buy more; a dead battery won’t let me use my system at all. Are you feeling environmentally conscious? Too bad: Microsoft itself warns that “for the best performance, rechargeable AA batteries are not recommended.”
As grateful as I am for the modern design of wire-free controllers, a drained battery is a far worse fate than a short (but likely temporary!) cord. Batteries belong in one place, and one place only: your TV remote, and only as a backup for other devices that need them.