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Roughly 15% of the world’s population live with some form of disability. Applied to video games, that means one of the seven Sages, two members of Organization XIII, and eight fighters on the Super Smash Bros. Wii U roster should, realistically, be disabled. There’s quite a gap in representation from video games and other pop culture mediums. However, some games are beginning to tell stories featuring heroes, villains, NPCs, and playable characters with disabilities. Since you might already be familiar with Joker, Taimi, and Bentley, here are seven video game characters with disabilities that deserve deeper discussion.
Noctis Lucis Caelum, Final Fantasy XV
Noctis spends part of his childhood in a wheelchair, having barely survived a daemon’s wrath. Even after recovery, however, his left leg retains a permanent limp—most easily noticed during gameplay when he’s not sporting a jacket. The game never points out Noctis’ impairment with words, nor does Noctis’ character arc require him to overcome his handicap as the “chosen one.” Yet, by the time he confronts the final boss while wearing a leg brace, it’s obvious that Noctis is the first Final Fantasy hero (and one of few gaming protagonists) with a physical disability.
“Though [Noctis] was chosen by the Crystal to serve as the savior of this star, an injury incurred as a young boy deprived him access to the full potential of his innate power.”—Final Fantasy XV Dossiers
Ardyn Izunia, Final Fantasy XV
Try as he might to disguise it with his swaggering gait and layered clothing, Ardyn’s stiff left hip is betrayed by a wobbly knee, skewed center of gravity, and myriad of other anatomical winces, twitches, and nuances. These unspoken subtleties not only serve as the earliest clue to Ardyn’s heritage and reinforce his role as Noctis’ allegorical foil, but also imply that the animators made time-consuming manual adjustments to Ardyn’s able-bodied motion capture acting in order to portray one of the most realistic mobility impairments in modern gaming.
“There’s this misconception that a limp is basically “Oh, my limb hurts. I’m going to hop off of it as much as possible.” For chronic conditions, in most situations, that’s not tenable. Instead, a limp is more a calculated balance of your weight and motion. You can usually tell at first glance if an actor is faking a limp . . . because it’s overplayed to the point it’s almost comic, [but Ardyn’s] coping mechanisms . . . are very real coping mechanisms that real mobility-impaired people use.”—Jonphaedrus & SuperEspresso, “Ardyn Izunia is Disabled and None of Us Noticed”
Pit, Kid Icarus: Uprising
Tasked with creating an innovative shooter for the Nintendo 3DS’ improved parameters, Masahiro Sakurai wanted a protagonist who could fight both land-based and limited air-based battles. Redesigning the 1986 Kid Icarus character, Pit, as an angel without the ability to fly provided the rationale for these gameplay mechanics. Why Pit can’t fly is never explained, but his reliance on a 5-minute, pseudo-flight power and his contrast to Dark Pit (who stole the ability to fly independently) keeps Pit’s impairment at the heart of the story.
“I thought it would be fun to have the game be about an angel who had lost the ability to fly and to have the levels be a mix of air battles on the way to your destination and land battles once you get there. . . I don’t think there is a need to conform to existing methods if it means losing the benefits of a new system.”—Masahiro Sakurai, director of Kid Icarus: Uprising
Godot, Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations
As dark, bitter, and complex as his caffeinated blends, Prosecutor Godot stands out as a fan-favourite character who slings eyebrow-raising wisdom (and hot coffee mugs) across the court to the jazzy tune of his theme music. It’s not until near the game’s end that players learn Godot’s mask doubles as an optical aid. Consuming poison unawares has left him blind, a severe case of Marie Antoinette syndrome, and with as many medical issues as he has mysteries. In other words, he’s a compelling character who happens to have a disability (and a whole lot of swank).
“I promise it’s not a fashion statement. My eyesight is pretty messed up. Even with these huge goggles on my head, I still can’t see everything . . . In my world, the color red doesn’t exist.”—Godot, Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations
Dunban, Xenoblade Chronicles
A legend in his own time, Dunban breaks traditional fantasy tropes as the not-so-chosen one, the mentor who lives, and the master swordsman who never regains the use of his sword arm—despite living in a world of medicinal magic and technological advancement. After the game’s opening battle leaves his right arm permanently scarred, paralyzed, and no longer able to wield the legendary Monado (let alone lift a spoon), Dunban spends a year recovering and learning to fight with his left arm (and a more manageable weapon) before he rejoins the playable party.
“[Dunban is] honestly the only video game character I can name with a disabled limb that doesn’t get it fixed with technology or magic of some kind. He just lives with it, and is a hero regardless.”—Jef Rouner, “Video Games Need More Playable Disabled Heroes”
In the words of one Deaf player, “I’ve been waiting to feel like I was immersed in a game for quite a long time. Moss allows me that, completely.” Mousey heroine, Quill, first charmed gamers’ hearts when she used her tiny fingers to introduce herself in American Sign Language. Using signs to provide the player with puzzle hints and convey her larger-than-life emotions, Quill journeys through an epic fantasy-meets-storybook world made fully accessible to the hearing-impaired—complete with captioning, zoom-in camera controls, and defined visual cues.
“Having forms of communication for [Quill] that are based on reality and resonate with a lot of people is just a natural method of going about it. I see the industry going in the direction of authenticity and honesty.”—Richard Lico, Moss animation director
Edward Blake, A Blind Legend
Renowned as the legendary “blind knight,” Edward Blake embarks on a quest to save his kidnapped wife, armed with blunt words and keen blade. Played from Edward’s first-person perspective, A Blind Legend is an audio-only experience featuring real-time combat, screen reader narration, and binaural soundscapes to create a 3D virtual space. Most gamers opt to wear a blindfold while playing in order to fully immerse themselves in the only mobile experience of its kind, and most of the game’s beta-testers were members of the blind community (who, according to the game developer’s manager, beat the game quickest).
“The video game industry is one of the largest cultural ones in the world, but it isn’t very accessible to people who can’t see. The aim was to open a door and to show that it was possible to make a game without images.”—Pierre Alain Gagne, general manager at DOWiNO
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