We’ve rounded up a list of all the disabled characters in games, extending the net well beyond Game of the Year nominees/winners and E3 standouts for this selection. Such a list can never be completely exhaustive, so in the spirit of transparency, you can see the games we’ve analysed here.
To qualify, games had to have been reviewed by the mainstream press.
Physical disabilities might include amputees, burn victims, victims of ballistic trauma, wheelchair-bound characters and more. For developers, these are the disabilities they're most likely to tackle. More nuanced issues, like anxiety and depression, are far less prevalent in games.
Note, “fixed” is being used consciously to reinforce the reality that these are gaming constructs; “fixes” in real life are, of course, not as easy to come by and games are often guilty of throwing a catch-all fix into the mix. Accessibility expert Ian Hamilton agrees.
This notion that people with disabilities are broken and need to be fixed – a concept known as the medical model of disability – was rejected and abandoned in the 1970s, yet still persists in media, and in games, often through the trope of medical conditions being replaced by superhuman powers or superhuman prosthetics. Moreover, games are often guilty of furthering the myth that a disability is rare, with all the impact that has on broader prejudice and discrimination.”Ian Hamilton Accessibility expert
For instance: BJ Blazkowicz is not only wheelchair-bound for the early parts of Wolfenstein II: New Colossus, but the game also lifts the veil on his mental wounds, painting his PTSD in comic book strokes while also revealing a character with a troubled childhood.
Both the Joker and Lester Crest are wheelchair-bound, but the great thing about these characters is that their disability does not define them. The Joker, ace pilot of Mass Effect’s SS Normandy, suffers from Vrolik syndrome (brittleness of the bones), while Lester, the sardonic sidekick in Grand Theft Auto V, has an unnamed wasting disease. Yet both men are fiercely independent in spite of the challenges they face.
Representation of characters with disabilities is still rare. It is often simply not on people's radars. And when it is, fear of handling it badly can put people off. When it comes to accessibility [creating games that disabled players can enjoy], the situation has changed profoundly. It’s now a mainstream topic."Ian Hamilton Accessibility expert
War is grim, but games often gloss over this reality. That’s not the case with Spec Ops: The Line, which follows Captain Martin Walker as he tracks down Colonel John Konrad in war-torn Dubai. References to Joseph Conrad abound, and there’s more than a touch of Apocalypse Now about the way Walker begins to lose his moral compass (Coppola’s film reframed Conrad’s seminal novel, Heart of Darkness, in the context of the Vietnam war).
Disabled characters are few and far between in games. Characters with mental illnesses are rarer still. Enter Hidetaka Suehiro’s Deadly Premonition, which follows FBI profiler Francis York Morgan. Strangely, Morgan spends his time talking to an imaginary character, Zach. Yet what starts off as a curious subplot turns into a fascinating exploration of mental health.
Do games cater to diverse ethnicities? To pull our data, we’ve scrutinised every game nominated for a Game Award from 2003 until 2018.© Telltale Games
How do the best of the best represent women in games? We’re looking at E3 winners and Game Awards nominees/winners to find out.© Capcom