I have many different identities but I most often reference my deafness when I discuss my gaming experiences because my deafness is a factor when I boot up a new game on whether or not the game is playable for me.  The discovery of a game's accessible features for the deaf range from a completely unexpected surprise that actual closed captions and other visual representations of sound are provided to a lukewarm reception as I await the discovery of what "subtitles" are to the particular game developer to dismay that nothing is offered. 

Even a future world with augmentations that makes a person "better than" has a "pay later" consequence. 

In real life, I am constantly double checking my hearing aid battery supply, cleaning and checking the aids for damage from summer weather, switching aid modes for different settings for face to face conversations to using the phone via voice to watching an online video and asking others to wait while I catch up due to the lag between modes.  The constant juggling of adaptations is necessary to interact with the hearing world and a crack in the tubing that connects my hearing aid to the in the ear mold will result in me missing a half day of work for a $12 repair.  While I am often managing the relationship between my deafness and my gaming console I do not often see issues of disability in the games themselves.             

Choices, we have a choice even when choosing what we will say.  Just like in real life. 

A couple of weeks ago I played Telltale Game's The Walking Dead: 400 Days and the game offers story snippets that range a wide list of complicated narratives from race to sexism and more.  I gasped at the appropriate story twists wondering about the outcome if I had chosen a different path.  Unexpectedly, in a routine story, a character tentatively approached a figure lying on the road and tried to determine whether the silhouette was human or zombie before becoming too close.  Upon the playable character approaching the groaning body, our character yelled out, "I don't know if you are deaf, dumb, or an a******." 

I paused the game and turned to my girlfriend, surprised at my own displeased reaction, and I remarked that the "deaf and dumb" stereotype as well as the insult, "What are you deaf?" must be largely out of use because I do not encounter others slinging these phrases.  Immediately, she said that she often hears variations of the two insults but that no one would say such a phrase to me directly.  I continued playing but the moment stuck with me and remains my most remembered moment in a game that is nothing but memorable moments. I wondered about the depiction of characters living with a disability in gaming which is different than a disability turned superpower. 

Mass Effect franchise: Joker    

Nor even a future with routine intergalactic space travel has a solution for everything.  Just like our current day and age. 

May 4, 2013 was free comic book day.  My girlfriend and I established a schedule the night before in order to make sure we got to both of our local comic book stores upon opening in order to nab the books that we most wanted.  For myself, I wanted the Mass Effect freebie above all others.

The comic was Joker's "origin" story evocative of the previous Mass Effect Homeworld miniseries that featured tidbits about the lives of Shepherd's main squad mates.  The story is short, half of a flip book with another comic on the other side of the book. 

Joker, Normandy's pilot in the Mass Effect franchise, is one of my most memorable video game characters in part due to the reveal of his disability.  In the original Mass Effect during Shepherd's meet and greet with his/her crew Shepherd responds to Joker's off the wall remarks glibly until Joker drops the surprise that he is disabled.  He explains that a brittle bone disease results in a mobility disability.

In the video game industry Joker is one of very few disabled characters who are simply disabled.  No super technology or supernatural powers mitigates the symptoms of his disability.  In the high technology universe of Mass Effect with its relays and space ships Joker does not have a exoskeleton to assist with walking nor has his frail bones been replaced with Wolverine style titanium.  He is disabled and a pilot. 

Freebies are fun and free comic book day is a stack of freebies. 

Joker's free comic story is classic and simple.  He was originally denied the job as pilot of the Normandy solely due to his disability so he set out to prove that he was the best pilot in the galaxy and more than qualified for the job.  I get it but I was disappointed because we all know this story.  Not only given the complex narrative webs weaved throughout the Mass Effect franchise but with the Mass Effect 3 narrative regarding Joker, I expected more.  In ME3, as I faced the ending's decision, I thought of Joker and his disability. 

Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Side Stories   

The future is us holding our electronic eye in our robotic hand.  I can't wait. 

Deus Ex: HR wrangles with many moral quandaries.  The usual video game upgrade system is tied into a narrative of the societal, moral, and financial impact of augmentations that makes humans "better."  Deus Ex: HR also includes narrative snippets that are questions with no answer given but story snapshots offered as thoughts to consider.  With so few games directly addressing disability as a narrative the mere introduction of disability related stories caught my attention with issues that I identified with.  Other than the overarching story, Deus Ex: HR asks us to consider questions such as, "Should a couple be precluded from adoption because one member of the couple requires treatment for chronic depression?"   Additionally, a NPC loses his will to live after suffering debilitating gunshot wounds because all that he can think about is his inability to live his life in a wheelchair.  These moments have stayed with me long after reloading a save to play through the game's multiple endings. 

 [Game Name Redacted For Spoiler Protection]: Narrative Reveal    

Guerrilla artists remade the handicap sign because of the power of perception. 

In the interest of staying spoiler free as much as possible I will be brief.  In a console release game, in the context of characters fighting for their lives a narrative reveal was that an NPC is in a wheelchair.  Without special powers but simply living as a person in a wheelchair, the NPC remained hidden in order to prevent all others from automatically targeting the NPC.  Story twists are common in video games but this was an unexpected real life concern within an imaginary gaming world.   

I want to see more stories in video games that are more nuanced than flashbacks in an insane asylum or unknown whether the protagonist's story is real or imaginary due to a mental health breakdown.  With more and more games available for playing I want to see issues of disability addressed in our gaming stories so that a single reference is not such a refreshing experience as a rarely seen story.

Again, thanks to all readers who stop by here.  I began typing these thoughts out as a fun outlet for all of those video game themed thoughts crowding in my head.  Have a great week full of gaming and making a dent in our backlogs before the fall releases begin.

Do you know of other examples of disability in gaming?

Do you have a favorite disability themed moment in gaming?

What narratives do you want to see more in gaming?