Why Are Physically Disabled Characters in Video Games on the Sidelines?

white gaming console on wooden surface
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Disabled people aren’t always distraught or simply helpless because we’re disabled. And not all people in wheelchairs are computer geniuses and tech-savvy just because we know how to use one!

Video games are a great form of entertainment for everyone as there’s a wide variety of genres and styles, and it was especially true for me growing up. Since I’m limited in physical activities, video games was where I felt the most included because I could at least use a controller or mouse and keyboard, despite having a slower response time and limited dexterity. I’ve played various fantasy, puzzle, and action games, never thinking much about seeing disabled characters, or lack thereof.

There wasn’t much to consider, especially when I was younger because I came to the conclusion that of course there wouldn’t be a character in a wheelchair, how would they scale up tall buildings like the assassins in Assassin’s Creed or fight a huge dragon like in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim? Whenever I’d muse about the possibility of playing a disabled character who looked like me, I’d internally scoff at the idea because I can’t do any physical activities, how would they manage in a military or fantasy game? And yet, that’s what we’re meant to assume.

Most disabled people need accommodations in reality, we’re hindered by our limitations so it’s impossible, right?

Nope. The only limitations are that of our own creativity and how far we can go with it.

Take a sci-fi fantasy game for instance. If one can create a world where there are mythical creatures and the player can wield all sorts of magic while also being capable of flying with their robotic wings, then surely there can be a person with disabilities who also has their own abilities. Now that doesn’t mean they can find a way to magically cure said disability, but rather that character also has their own strengths while also being able to utilize mobility aids or other adaptive equipment. It’s fiction, create a wheelchair that can travel at lightening speed and can shoot orbs of fire and ice! Bonus points if that character is playable.

But it’s a realistic game with parkour and hand-to-hand combat, something a person with physical limitations can’t do! Right…so let me introduce a new spidersona that’s entering the Spider-Verse next month. Her name is Charlotte Webber and she’s a queer woman who has EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome), a disorder that affects the skin, joints, and blood vessels due to having extreme flexibility which can lead to more complications. Oh, did I mention she’s got spider powers and her crutches can shoot webs? Pretty cool, huh? Regardless, even if it’s an upcoming comic book and not a video game, this just shows that disabled people can be heroes too.

Although more often than not, usually characters who do have some sort of disability will have a mental condition compared to a physical one. It’s easier to claim someone is disabled in an intellectual sense compared to the latter because the creators will just justify the character’s personality and actions. Not that it means it’s easy and a congratulations is in order. Respect and thorough effort still need to be done and yet there’s still the high chance that said inclusivity is just stereotypical and ableist in the end, which perhaps should be another post for later. Even if a video game has good writers that still requires them to do proper research and ensure there’s included nuance as well with every disability and minority that’s considered. Though this mainly focuses on disabilities, it doesn’t stop there as intersectionality also plays a key role and thus people of color, LGBTQIA+, and other identities deserve just as much respect.

Progress is still being made but we can always do better. The first disabled character I recall seeing is Becky, a girl in a wheelchair and one of Barbie’s friends in the game Secret Agent Barbie. A game I enjoyed playing when I was young but seeing her included was also a nice touch. From then on, that’s the only time I’d see physically disabled characters in video games, just as side NPCs.

And so, the creation of this post. But I had hope and wanted to see if maybe there were actually other games I had just missed and never played. I’d like to do a more thorough review of other physically disabled characters within video games because while I was researching, there were quite a few articles listing lots of characters but not all are playable. While not many, here are a few playable characters I did find.

3 Playable Characters with Disabilities in Video Games

  1. Raccoon (Overcooked 1 & 2)

Overcooked is a game where you and other players cook and serve a variety of dishes to customers in not so typical levels. In other words, absolute restaurant chaos!

The sheer surprise and excitement I felt when I first saw this character in the character selection menu. It made me so happy, that this Raccoon (none have names) has become my go-to when playing. They just sit in a manual wheelchair and can speed around with no problem. Even if you’re cooking on ice and have to cross over floating ice pieces, it doesn’t matter about logistics because the wheelchair isn’t hindered.

  1. Bently (Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time)

While I’m not familiar with this series, my interest is certainly piqued now. This is the fourth game in the series and is a platform style game set in a world with anthropomorphic animals. According to this article, Bently is a turtle that was injured in a previous game and is now paralyzed. Despite his new disability, he’s installed his wheelchair with rocket boosters, a hover pack, and a “pick-pocket arm” to steal from enemies. Customizations are possible and so is being a badass!

  1. Joker (Mass Effect 2)

Another series I haven’t played, but I know of its popularity. The general premise is this is a futuristic sci-fi action role-playing series where the player fights against insectoid aliens. At one point, you have to play as Joker, a character who has Vrolik sydrome which causes his bones to be brittle and makes it difficult to walk around without crutches or braces. He’s typically seated and piloting the spacecraft, though you do play as him in a short section of the game.

Like I said before, I do want to delve further into finding more disabled playable characters in video games and discuss it further.

Have any playable disabled characters you can think of or like to share? Comment down below and let me know. The more representation the better.

The moment I can play as a woman in a wheelchair with badass weapons and can fly or teleport with it, I’m going on vacation and obsessing over it for at least a week. ~So Says The Disabled Dryad~

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