Disability fail?

So, I was reading this BBC article about an upcoming game/movie franchise that involves humans controlling created human/alien avatars in order to forcibly colonize a planet named Pandora whose native inhabitants, from the sentient Na’vi to the animals and plants, do not want humans there. I thought it was just a little messed up– like, isn’t is usually considered a bad thing to invade somebody’s home…? Are we going to be rooting for the unjustified human takeover? Or is this one of those gams like Shadow of the Colossus where you’re supposed to feel bad about what you’re doing? (And what if people don’t feel bad, or don’t feel bad enough? A lot of people probably don’t see a problem with colonization.)

I thought that encouraging people to casually support murdering people whose land you want was probably going to be the major flaw in the game, but at least there might be a way to do it well (by making it clear that the players are engaged in, shall we say, questionable activity, and having the ending reflect that), but I’m not sure how in the world they’re going to salvage this:

Mr Landau said that Jake Sully changes sides and helps the Na’vi “lead a revolution to force the humans – and avatars – off Pandora”.

The catch, said Mr Landau, is that when Sully is in avatar mode, he is fully mobile; back in human form, he is confined to a wheelchair.

“It’s a moral dilemma that he will have to face.”

It remains to be seen if this moral dilemma from the movie will be replicated in the game.

Okay, so the moral dilemma is…?

Maybe the game-makers think the dilemma is that he thinks helping the Na’vi is the Right Thing, but he might choose to help the humans anyway, because he could control an avatar to get around instead of being stuck in his pitiful wheelchair-bound life. The humans could give him everything he’s dreamed of! They could fix his miserable, worthless life! Because, you know, wheelchair = MISERY.

Oh no. Is he going to choose to follow his principles, and therefore choose to remain in the wheelchair, to teach us a Very Special Lesson about how brave he is to go on with his life as it is despite all his hardships? I hope not.

But wait– he’s siding against the player. Is he going to be evil and bitter, then? What’s the moral dilemma if he’s on the opposite side? Unless he chooses to join the human at the end… indicating that having an avatar body is worth betraying his principles! Dear god, he better not Learn To Hope and forsake his bitter ways if he does.

Augh! Is there any way to have a disabled character with a “moral dilemma” around their ability that isn’t full of stupid tropes and hopelessly centered around able-bodied privilege?? What do you guys think– how might this play out?

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4 Responses to Disability fail?

  1. Colleen says:

    I dunno about this particular game, but I think you could have a similar setup without being a massive fail by just balancing the benefits of the avatar and wheelchair-using-human states. Like, the human gets a modded wheelchair with more weapons or more powerful weapons and can move faster, but certain areas are inaccessible or require creative solutions to access. And the avatar can go everywhere easily, but moves slower and can only use the weapons it can strap to its back. So either both forms are necessary at different points in the game, or the player can choose which set of advantages are more valuable for each stage.

    These particular advantages and disadvantages are probably most applicable to first-person shooters, but I’m sure someone who plays more games than I do could come up with similar sets of pluses and minuses for different types of games.

  2. Colleen says:

    Come to think of it, game developers could easily incorporate a subtle lesson about the accessibility of public spaces to people who use mobility aids. A lot of able-bodied gamers gamers might resent finding themselves having to look for back doors to buildings with no ramps, or asking if there’s a service elevator because the doors of the main one aren’t wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, but it would probably be good for them.

  3. eloriane says:

    Ah, but this fellow may very well not be playable in the game. He’s not the protagonist, he’s the protagonist’s enemy. So those kinds of considerations wouldn’t be as much of an option. (Also, he may not be in the game much, more in the movie… increasing our odds of yet another disable villain, I think.)

    You’re right, though, in general– one of my big things with games it that it’s not enough to include female characters, you have to make people want to play them, too. Including some sort of pretty princess who is useless in a fight is only going to encourage your players to think of women as useless and decorative. Including a female character with the same kinds of benefits/drawbacks that any other character might have, so that a player may actually choose to play her because he prefers her– that changes how we think about these things. One of my favourite parts of the most recent Paper Mario game was the fact that my brothers chose to play Princess Peach, because they liked her abilities.

    So to use that as an analogy, if the wheelchair body is meant to be useless, so that players automatically prefer the able body, it’s not actually a helpful, progressive inclusion. Making the wheelchair a viable choice, on the other hand, could work much better.

  4. eloriane says:

    Ah, we’re talking over each other– and I see, looking more closely, that you were talking about games in general, in which you’re definitely right.

    I think the experience of trying to get around and facing accessibility issues would be a good one for most gamers– great point. A futuristic sci fi city, the glory of humanity! But they forgot the ramps! Especially if the players could get creative with getting around these roadblocks– grappling hooks that can lift the chair, or hovering, or some such. They can conquer the obstacles while still gaining some insight into how hard things are for folks in wheelchairs who don’t have grappling hooks.

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