What is Gamergate?
I came across a campaign started in America known as ‘#Gamergate’. This is essentially a community that is opposed to women being leading figures within the gaming community, which of course is completely wrong. I decided to take a closer look at ‘Gamergate’ and then look into how disabled people are portrayed in games and whether they are portrayed fairly – or indeed if they are portrayed at all.
What is ‘#Gamergate’?
‘#Gamergate’ is an online group of people (‘trolls’) who are targeting female figures within the gaming industry, particularly those who are high profile. It is a group of individuals targeting women with misogynistic abuse for the activity which they are participating in. As an example of this, Leigh Alexander received a lot of reserved anger for writing her article: ‘Gamers’ Don’t Have To Be Your Audience. ‘Gamers’ Are Over.
A CNN article entitled “Why #Gamergate Won’t Die” further explains how these ‘trolls’ are threatening and practicing misogyny and inequality to women within the gaming community. For example, when Zoe Quinn created a game where the player is in the shoes of a depressed teenager, her ex-boyfriend claimed that it had only got a good review on one particular website because of the nature of Quinn’s relationship with said reviewer. Quinn firmly denies this. The article ends with the phrase: ‘In the age of the Net and the days of Gamergate, to understand is to take a stand and to explain is to participate.’
#Gamergate is a movement which needs to be ground to a halt. As a female player myself, I am very lucky never to have had the shocking and degrading abuse that some women I have mentioned above have endured as a result of this online ‘trolling phenomenon. However, I do wonder that if I was more involved in the gaming community, whether I might be prey to some of it? And whether it would make a difference, me being a disabled young woman?
I completely oppose ‘#Gamergate’ and everything it stands for, and it got me thinking: ‘What if this was replicated towards disabled players?’ There are disabled players within the gaming community – however, they are often not as visible as some other minority groups, for example, women within the gaming community. If there was a similar movement against disabled gamers, I think there would be even more of a reaction to the negativity brought about by such movements.
With this in mind, the last thing I wanted to do was create a blog that was all doom and gloom! So I decided to look into representation of disability within the games themselves and look in characters that have disabilities within games and whether they are represented in the correct way.
Disabled video-Game Characters
In an article on Kataku.com, there is a comprehensive list of disabled characters in video games. I decided to work my way through and see if I agreed with what the author said about each character.
1. Spencer, Bionic Commando
Spencer is an amputee who has a bionic arm replacing his missing limb. Whilst I embrace the diversity which is attempted, I acknowledge that Spencer does not appear particularly ‘disabled’ at all, as his replacement arm works just as a typical arm would and it almost gives him super-human qualities. However, I think the fact that he is even depicted in this light in the first place is surely a move forward for the disabled gaming community and as such I do not necessarily agree with the author of the article.
This is due to the fact that my thought process is ‘well if someone in the real world had a prosthetic, it would surely work just as well as a typical limb anyway?’ If we look to our Paralympians as examples of this, they almost display superhuman strength on their prosthetics, doing many things that many able-bodied people cannot necessarily do themselves! I think Spencer sounds like a good video-game character and the idea of him having a bionic limb is amazing! I do agree with the author on one thing, however -the disability should never be the defining feature of a character’s gameplay, and in Spencer’s case, it is somewhat.
2. Rahm Kota, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Kota is a character who is blinded by another very early on in the gaming franchise. As a visually impaired gamer myself, I am impressed to see that there is a blind character in a video game as high-profile as Star Wars. However, I agree with the author on his view of both of these characters, in that their disability becomes their defining feature during gameplay and this is not altogether helpful for the public’s perception of members of the disability community.
3. Lester Crest, Grand Theft Auto V.
Lester is brilliant, in mine and the author’s opinion, because his disability is a feature within gameplay, but not the main feature of gameplay which is perfect. He has an unnamed mobility condition, meaning that he sometimes is depicted as a wheelchair user, but uses a cane more often. GTA creators seem to have taken the ‘so what?’ approach to Lester’s disability. It barely features in the plot line because it is not relevant to it. To have a character’s disability simply ‘be there’ within gameplay, rather than being a defining feature of it, I think sends out exactly the right message to both the disabled gaming community and the gaming community in general. Although I have to say I am surprised that of all the video games. GTA would be the one to pull this off, given that it is known for its stereotyping of various different characters.
4. Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau, The Mass Effect Series
Joker has the disability commonly knows as Brittle Bone Disease, where he is prone to accident or injury a lot more than most people. He also has difficulty walking. However, what is brilliant about this character – and I’m agreeing with the author again here – is that the disability is not a defining trait that is at all important to gameplay. In fact, if you do not speak to your ‘crew’ within the game it is possible to play the entire game without even finding out! This is how I think disability should be presented in all video games.
So, whilst I think that there is great work being done to further the representation of disabled characters in video -games, it is encouraging to find that there are a few characters who are beginning to be represented correctly. However, there is still much work to be done if we want to equal the playing feild in the world of disability gaming and the able-bodied gaming community.
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