Not How We Look, but How We Play: Facial Deformity and Video Games...

Many of us struggle with our appearance, particularly our faces. We want to be attractive, but we don’t feel that way. And faces can be important to understanding each other; movements of the eyes and lips allow us to share warmth or heartbreak. But when we are uncomfortable with ourselves, we hide behind a mask of indifference, hoping to please others or protect ourselves by playing a role. Sometimes, however, masks allow us to genuinely share who we are without fear of rejection, and video game avatars have allowed me to do just that. As someone with hemifacial microsomia—a lopsided face—feeling respected for who I am deep down is challenging. People with facial deformities or blemishes relate to others in ways that may be difficult to understand (the recent movie Wonder helped demonstrate this). Many of us grew up experiencing funny looks and hearing less-than-kind remarks. Most kids eventually learn that it is not polite to ask, “Why does your face look funny?” but by the time a person’s peers reach that stage, the question has already been internalized. (As an adult, however, I sometimes appreciate the candor of people who politely inquire.) In fiction, disfigurement can be a sign of being destined for something amazing, like Harry Potter’s scar, but often it is a symbol of shame or villainy, like Batman’s Two-Face. Video games create worlds where those who look strange can interact normally through digital masks. Video games that include underrepresented characters allow players to enact aspects of their own stories. Many have enjoyed Horizon Zero Dawn because they know what is like to be an outsider like Aloy. Similarly, Overwatch’s Symmetra is on the autism spectrum. Finding ourselves in these stories, being characterized as heroes instead of villains, reminds us that...