As this blog has oft noted, I’ve been gaming for as long as I can remember. And as I mention in most of my talks about disability and game design, is the issue of the erasure of the disabled experience. From the way that disabilities are handled in stats, to the ways in which disability often doesn’t exist in setting.
There is a specific genre with which I have a massive issue, and that is the matter of futuristic RPGs such as cyberpunk. You see, in cyberpunk augementations are options for characters to enhance their physical bodies. it seems to be the message that disabled bodies don’t need to be talked about, because if you’re disabled you probably already fixed it by having mechanical augmentations put into place. Furthermore, games with cyberpunk backgrounds often delve into the realms of the “perfect” body, looking towards issues such as eugenics to have the best human possible. Breeding programs are written about frequently, and bodies are the most oft discussed parts of character creation.
You can make your character better, stronger, faster. You can make your character so they have the ability to download the entire internet into their head. They can process information faster because of the computer chip in their brain. It also is never discussed about the ethics of a perfectly able bodied person enhancing their body. We never have dialogue on the whether or not this is acceptable, what that says about the body which the disabled are said to crave, does that mean that those who are unhindered are fucking with the form? Or are they merely trying to be better? So often, this is considered to be an art form, the body is looked at in these contexts as the place where you create mechanical art. There is always beauty, but what about the sinister quality of choosing to weaponize yourself? What happens when you *do* change the body into something new and different? To do more than it is usually asked?
What happens, is that the able bodied become transitive. They can be many things, but the disabled (who in the context of a cyberpunk game aren’t really mentioned), they stay static. Their bodies will never get better because their baseline didn’t start with “functioning” parts. An able bodied person in a cyberpunk setting will always have been better than a disabled body, because if the status quo is to fix everything that is perceived as broken, then the able bodied are only ever making themselves better.
I’m already a cyborg. I wear a hearing aid. I have a scleral shell over my eye. I have friends with rods in their legs, or who use tricked out wheelchairs. Cochlear Implants (though I have issues with them) and implanted hearing aids are literally inside of your body, science is able to give you a bionic eye (sort of) and I’d bet you anything I’ll “see” that in my future.
So why is it that in cyberpunk games we never see the disabled? Is it because once you’ve been mechanically augmented you have no reason to identify as a disabled person? Because as someone who has such mechanical augmentations I can tell you that I still very much identify as a cripple.
Identity erasure isn’t acceptable to me in games. People with disabilities aren’t depicted well in any RPG universes, but in cyberpunk there’s an absolute obvious reason to do so: many of us already are cyborgs. We’re already living in that future. That identity doesn’t just go away in the future, and by not writing about disability in futuristic settings, essentially writers are saying that disability won’t exist in this bright magical future that they create – and you know what? That means that disability is bad and something we should be able to fix.
Many disabled people deeply resent the idea that we are broken. Do I wish that I had been born with all my faculties intact? Sure I do. But I do not spend every day of my life complaining about it. Instead, I go out and live my life. I walk my dog, I write, I am married, I do housework, I have a full time job. My life is full, and interesting – and whole. And I am whole too. So by insinuating that no one would be disabled in the future, writers are suggesting that we are merely an inconvenience of the past and present.
I want to play in diverse games. I want to play in games where we are all colors, where we are able to be all religions, and yes – where we can play people with disabled bodies. Because in the future, we have just as much a right to envision ourselves there, and we should be able to do so without hacking every single game that we play just so we can see ourselves within the world.