Friday, January 8, 2016

I want less "everyone has the same four limbs that work the same ways" bullshit in my gaming

Initially this was going to be a collection of various barely formed partial game ideas in my head at the moment,  but it sort of went sideways, so it's not that anymore.

Historically I have favored games that are at least part FPS (first person shooter) with a decent plot.  In those games you're almost always a standardly-abled white male person.  Other than "person", there's really no need for any of that.  Why, for example, am I never someone with a wheelchair and a shotgun?

Of course, walking player characters are seldom limited to one weapon type, so there's no reason that non-walking characters should be either.

This would require some thought on the part of game designers, but there's nothing fucking insurmountable about a character being in a wheelchair, I point you to actual real-world people in wheelchairs.

Also note that one of the better characters in Alien: Resurrection spent most of his time in a wheelchair which did not in any way limit his ability to figuratively kick ass via literally shooting things.  When they finally ended up needing to traverse a place that his chair couldn't go, the characters knew how to deal with it without even having to think about it.  Why?  They'd dealt with this sort of thing before.

Games often like to throw characters into situations where they're out of their depths because that allows for believable difficulty.  "Why is this so hard?  Because the character's never done anything like this before."  That said, it's probably not going to be the case that someone who can't walk, or can't walk much, is dealing for the first time with the problem that the world is often built as if they don't exist in the course of a game where they're the player character.  (Unless the game starts with them newly non-walking, but I'm not thinking of that kind of character.)

While having a player character in a wheelchair would be somewhat outside game designers' "Let's make the same game over and over again but put different packaging on it," comfort zone (Sturgeon's Law applies to games as much as anything else) the fact that we don't have characters with less than 2 biological legs is just them being abilist shitheads.

The reason I say that is that if they stopped to consider that people different from themselves existed for even a moment, they're realize that they could have a character with a below the knee prosthetic limb without changing a damned thing gameplay-wise.  We're still trying to solve the knee (and making significant progress), but we've pretty much got the ankle down.

Of course, a lot of games take place in the future where you can say that someone with an above the knee prosthetic or a prosthetic arm is identically abled to someone with a biological one, and the whole thing comes down to the devs not being willing to slap a different texture on a character.

But I'm more interested in cases where games would actually think about how things are different for different people.

Consider, for a moment, Furiosa: The Videogame.  That would be fucking awesome, but it also would require some serious thought, the kind of thought that went into the movie.  The kind of thought that went into the movie so that you, the consumer, don't have to think about it because in the finished product it just is.

What am I talking about?  Consider the words of Laura Vaughn:
(secondary link just in case)
Watching Fury Road, I felt like I was watching my own struggle brought to life (albeit in a very fantastical setting), and I don’t think I ever realized how truly profound that could be for me.

Watch Furiosa load a shotgun. Watch Furiosa punch Max in the face, with her nubbins. Watch Furiosa drive a semi tractor trailer. Watch Furiosa fire a long shot, using Max’s shoulder to stabilize the gun barrel, as an alternative to using two hands! Watch Furiosa do anything you can do, but better, and with half the number of fingers.

The effortless manner in which this film has presented a character’s disability is incredible. I literally could not ask for anything more. It’s ubiquitous. No big deal. Her body is never a plot point. It is simply allowed to be.
Someone had to figure out how Furiosa would load a shotgun.  Maybe it was Charlize Theron working out how to play her character, maybe there were real life one handed shotgun users involved.  The same is true for driving the truck and using Max to steady her shot for reasons that make much more sense than Bard the Bowman using his kid.  The same is true for every time she did something that was different than what alternate universe two-handed Furiosa would have done.  Someone, somewhere, had to think stuff through and figure out what made sense.

In the end it doesn't matter how they got there, what matters is that the end result is a character with one hand who acts like a character with one hand because someone somewhere actually did their homework instead of BSing their way through.

The sad truth is that we live in a world where game makers can't be bothered to work out how left handed people move through life, so one shouldn't hold out hope for them to figure out how one handed people do the same.  One should, however, demand it.  (And demand more left handed characters too, but that's not in the scope of this post.)

* * *

Um, like the note I just tacked on to the beginning says, this wasn't initially where this post was going.  Indeed the lion's share of this post was going to be something that I'll be splitting off into it's own post called "Elephant in the Dark"

Off the top of my head I can thing of three characters in action movies that are reasonably portrayed as having different limbs than the abilist standard with any kind of non-crapiness.  Furiosa is definitely the best, the guy from Alien Resurrection I mentioned (Dom Vriess) was another, and the final one is a giant white orc.  Azog did lose his arm in traumatic injury in backstory, but it was only a plot point insofar as, "I thought the injury killed him; apparently not."

Only Furiosa was a main character (Max was the primary viewpoint character and the franchise namer, but he was a sidekick.)

Can't really think of any player characters in games.

Even as I write that Human Revolution comes to mind but there are so many caveats and addendums needed for that one.  The short version is what I said above: I'm more interested in cases where games would actually think about how things are different for different people.

Actually, Human Revolution provides a good example of how bad things are in the industry right now.

* * *

I can't write out everything wrong with the treatment of disability and prostheses in Human Revolution here, it would fill volumes, but as you read what follows consider that Human Revolution is pretty much the example of a game where you play as someone who has lost limbs.  Given the dearth of examples where player characters were born without four complete limbs or examples where people have the limbs but don't have them work the same way, that makes it also the example of a game where you play as someone whose limbs are different from the usual player character in any way.

Keep all of that in mind as we look at Human Revolution.

First note that Human Revolution takes place in a contrary-to-fact dystopia.  That's perfectly fine and indeed such settings have often been used to highlight real life problems.

While the founding game of the franchise never really got to address it in depth, and the second game flat out ignored it, the dystopia in question seems like it would be great for addressing abilism.

I point you to this real world occurrence.  Go there, read that, loose most your faith in humanity, come back here, and we'll move on with that in mind.

Our world is constructed with the absurdly false belief that everyone has pretty much the same body.  We can all walk on legs of about the same length.  We all have arms of about the same length and strength.  We all have nimble fingers and thumbs arrange with four fingers and one thumb per hand.  We're all right handed.  We all hear equally well.  We all see equally well.  We all . . . The result of all of these bullshit assumptions is that a lot of people find themselves in a world that was constructed on the belief that people like them don't exist.

This is where it makes a lot of sense to talk about disability.  When the world is maladapted to a person, they lack the same abilities as people the world is adapted to.

None of that was at play in the story I linked to above.  Someone waiting patiently in his wheelchair with his luggage at the airport is not, in that context, disabled.  Being in a wheelchair doesn't make a fucking difference on whether or not you can attend your luggage and the fact that the security guy didn't think he was the "somebody" necessary to have the luggage count as not-unattended is entirely due to prejudice that has no bearing in reality.

This is a real and important part of disability.  The world isn't built to the proper specifications, and that can really fuck things up, but human beings can fuck things up even when the person is perfectly abled for the situation at hand.  Bigotry comes in all forms and flavors and it's harsh and it's damaging.
"Suddenly, I lost existance."

"... I felt that I looked like quite the world traveler. Suddenly this illusion was shattered"

"I got it then, I wasn't SOME BODY"

"I'm home now and still shocked"
The dystopia of the franchise probably wouldn't have included:
Mr. Pilot's face begins to show both horror and outrage, he looks at me, "I am so sorry sir, really really sorry ..."
Even if it did, "Mr. Pilot" couldn't count on institutional support because the bigotry in the dystopia is widespread and institutional.  If the dispute worked it's way up to whoever was in charge there's a decent chance that that person would agree that the passenger wasn't somebody.  Actually, its deuterocanonical that the people in question are segregated into a different part of the airport.

In the Deus Ex franchise we aren't talking about people in wheelchairs, but people with prostheses.  Generally prosthetic limbs and prosthetic eyes, though it wouldn't surprise me if they could work in ears or whatnot too.  Since these things are mechanical in Deus Ex the people with them are called "mechs".

Instead of the above being shocking for a Deus Ex mech it would an unremarkable part of the reality they lived day in and day out.

There's danger in that.  Highlighting something by ratcheting it up can send the message that what people deal with in the real world isn't bad enough to care about, but I think that's a danger inherent in any dystopia.  Of course things are worse; it's a dystopia.

Most of the design team didn't embrace the whole bigotry thing and even though those who did tried hard and frequently, they couldn't make it work on their own.  The result is that the main character doesn't experience bigotry so much as a farcically uneven tone and treatment.

So in the one example of a protagonist with different/lost limbs, they failed on interactions with other people.  How about with the world they live in?

Human Revolution literally has "before" and "after" levels (the first two levels, as you might imagine) to let you see exactly how the character interacts with the world when he's got his original limbs in good working order and after injury "forces" all of them to be replaced.  Nothing changed.

Well, he got superpowers because that's what "augmentation" in Deus Ex games does, but when the superpowers aren't activated it's exactly the same.  He lost and replaced all of his limbs and the only difference is the texture used to color his hands which might as well be in shiny black gloves.

They really did just slap a different appearance on and use the "everyone has the same four limbs that work exactly the same ways" model of understanding the character.

They didn't try to understand what it's like to lose a limb.  They never even considered trying to understand what it might be like to be born without one.  (When asked why one character had an artificial hand and forearm the devs responded that he replaced his original one to be better at playing baseball.  Because losing limbs is funny, don't you know?)

The main character isn't allowed to just be someone with prosthetic limbs (as you might have guessed given the before and after levels) instead he got plot traumatic injury when he tried to interrupt the fridging that motivates him for the rest of the game.

The icing on the fail cake is that, protagonist's motivations aside, the overall plot of the game rests on the idea that people who get decent future-prostheses can be turned into murderous monsters at the press of a button.

Think of it like all of the abilist bullshit in Iron Man 3 cranked up to 11.

There's a reason that people who rave about the game talk about the game mechanics and not the story.

And there you have it.  The example of a game addressing limbs that aren't the same as the mythical standard person is packed with so much fail it'd be better if it hadn't addressed it.

I say again, I want less "everyone has the same four limbs that work the same ways" bullshit in my gaming.  I'll add that I also want it to be done by people who have souls, preferably ones capable of experiencing empathy.

1 comment:

  1. Yes good more human diversity and more mechanics for aliens or mutant hybrids or whatever.

    Also, possibly related: