Warning: This piece may contain spoilers for Mass Effect 1, 2, and/or 3. Read at your own risk. Alternatively, please feel free to bookmark the post and come back to check it out after you finish your playthrough!
The first post in my “Andrea Plays Mass Effect” series is right over here: Intro and Some Thoughts on Community.
I have such a complicated relationship with Jeff “Joker” Moreau, the pilot of Commander Shepard’s SSV Normandy. Or rather, it’s an arc, and a fairly straightforward one when you get right down to it. In canon, Joker has Vrolik’s Syndrome, a type of Osteogenesis Imperfecta that results in extremely brittle bones. The basic problem with the character is that Bioware’s writers appear to have totally forgotten everything they wrote about him having a disability, and the impact this has for fans with disabilities is…unfortunate.
In Mass Effect 1, Joker is a snarky defiant cripple. Playing the game, I lamented on Twitter that he wasn’t one of the romance choices for Female!Shepard, because he was wonderful — angry, defiant, tired of dealing with the bullshit other people assign to his disability. He tells Shepard in conversation that to get around he uses leg braces and crutches, which makes sense since the original SSV Normandy is not accessible — he’d be required to negotiate the stairs between the bridge and crew quarters to use the bathroom or go to bed. He’s also a skinny dweeb, as one might expect from someone who doesn’t engage in a lot of heavy exercise because of the risk of breaking his own bones while lifting weights.
I loved that Joker, a lot. He was glorious. I could see myself in him, angry and bitter and sarcastic about it, snatching whatever he can get from the world because he knows damn sure the world isn’t going to give it to him.
And then here comes Mass Effect 2. We see Joker walk twice, but on neither occasion are his mobility aids present. What the fuck, Bioware? The first time we see him, at the beginning of the game as Cerberus hands over the new SSV Normandy, he walks straight and normally and…what’s up with the sudden broad shoulders/narrow hips/classically masculine build, there? Where did skinny dweeb Joker go?
The second time we see Joker in motion, we’re actually controlling him, as the Collectors are kidnapping the crew of the Normandy. Once again, his crutches and leg braces are nowhere to be found, but this time he moves with a gait reminiscent of how the Hunchback of Notre Dame is often portrayed. His stance and gait are assymetrical, and there’s definitely a limp there. Lip service, at least, is paid to his disability, even if it’s only ever mentioned in passing during the game.
As KaninchenZERO put it on twitter when we were discussing it there (I think it was on Twitter, might have been on Tumblr), Bioware missed a huge opportunity here to make Joker’s big moment even bigger. To paraphrase KaninchenZERO, someone I think of as the Great Lady of Amazing Head Canon, “can you imagine how fucken cool the collector attack would’ve been if at the beginning he stepped into his braces and pulled his crutches out of the rack next to the pilot chair. dropped them down the ladders before climbing down them so slowly knowing if he falls he’s not walking away from it and climbing them anyway. because the normandy’s crews are fucking heroes one and all.” But of course, Bioware didn’t give us that Joker. Instead it erased its own crip canon, gave us someone with a bit of a limp and some scoliosis, who accomplishes what he needs to do without any feeling that there is a real physical risk to doing it. My heart broke.
And then. Then we got to Mass Effect 3, and I stopped ever speaking to Joker after the first time I played through. Because you meet up with him on the fancy hub-of-the-Galactic-government Citadel, out with EDI the artificial intelligence in her sexbot body, and he is gone from the real world of crips, and become wholly SuperCrip. He jokes about being able to take EDI everywhere as his “mobility assistance mech” and how that’s the only use he’s ever gotten from disability benefits. He walks and moves like a non-disabled person who doesn’t have to worry about spontaneously shattered bones and the pain they bring. He has become a caricature instead of a character, his disability just a throw-away joke that the writers tossed in periodically as if to remind themselves it’s still there and give the audience a snicker.
Oh, Joker. We hardly knew ye. I am so saddened by the way Bioware treated his disability, and if you clicked that link to discussion of Joker’s disability up there, you know that I’m not the only one. In ME1 I was so excited to see myself, not exactly me — Joker and I have different disabilities, he’s a man, I”m not — but close enough, a smart-ass visible cripple in his braces, using his crutches, and wanted so hard to see Joker get his moment. Instead what I got was a reminder that as I am, I am incapable of heroism. So, y’know, fuck you, Bioware writers. Fuck. You.
 More on romance in Part Two of The Joker Problem
 And as someone who works a mobility assistance dog, that fucking struck home. Thanks, Bioware writers, you assholes.