Disability History Month Blog 6 and Final 2020: Disability Representation in Video Games and Other Areas

What’s up TR Fans and welcome back for Blog 6 and the Final of my Disability History Month coverage here on Technology Reviews! So in this blog, I’m going to be looking at disability representation in video games, as well as shedding a wee bit of light on how we’re represented in other areas of the media and in the Arts, and if there’s something we could do about it.

Representation of all kinds of people in society being portrayed in video games and in other areas of the media has really taken off in the last few years, with Tell Me Why – released earlier this year – being one of the ones which featured a transgender character. There are also many games featuring black characters, as well as some – but definitely not enough games – which include disabled characters – the new Marvel Avengers game being an example.

Disability Representation in the Media in General

Disability representation has come a long way from where it was during the centuries when we were shown off to the public as fools and freaks, however, if we look at how disability is represented across all areas of the media and in Theatre, while there has been a large improvement, there are still plenty of cracks.

Disability – although the conception of it being bad has largely disappeared – is still portrayed in the media as something awful. Yes, there has been a growth in the number of disabled characters we have in film and tv, but recent studies by The Ruderman Family Foundation https://rudermanfoundation.org/white_papers/the-ruderman-white-paper-on-authentic-representation-in-tv/, have found that 80% are played by actors with no disability, compared to 22% of disabled characters on network tv shows that are played by disabled characters, and 20% of disabled characters on streaming services.

Likewise in Theatre, there has been a growth in the number of Disability Theatre groups being set up, though disabled people – behind and in front of the scenes – are still underrepresented, and video games have a similar problem. Although more disabled characters have turned up in the last few years, there are still many games where nothing to do with disabled access is shown, nevermind a character’s identity, and the physical disabilities that are shown are the most common ones and do not reflect the wide range of disabilities in society.

Disability Representation in Video Games

1: Representation of Disabled Access and Characters in Building Games

I was limited in the numbers of games I could play for years, Candy Crush and building games being the only ones I could really play. What I liked about the town build games was how easy they were to get around (even if I was playing with a short stylus), but while it was interesting to see all the different builds I could get, I found it weird how disabled access wouldn’t be included in any of them.

While I understand exploring a virtual world is meant to be an escape from the real world, I think including disabled access would help from an educational aspect as far as teaching about the rights the Disability Discrimination Act gave disabled people goes, as well as drawing attention to what housing rights for disabled people is like today. Of course, if these themes were added into building games it would also be good to include housing in relation to black rights as well, but I think including both of them is a fair ask.

Something else I’ve noticed however in the few years that I’ve been able to get into Minecraft as well, is how I would love to play as a disabled character as well. I got excited after one of Minecraft’s events last year where they mentioned a new feature where you could customise your skin to represent your identity, but was annoyed when I found out that they still didn’t include a wheelchair option, and I instead had to opt for two withered legs and arms.

2: Disability Representation in E-Games

I also downloaded a few sport related e-games to my phone and iPad over the last few months, including some of the Olympic games. While I enjoyed playing them, and they were accessible, what I didn’t like was that I couldn’t get one where I could play at the Paralympics, which – with the games coming up next Summer and the ongoing debate on if gaming could become an Olympic sport – I think is a discussion well worth having.

If there was a Paralympics game released, I could understand if I wasn’t able to play as a character who is paralysed from the neck down, because even in the real world, that isn’t likely. However, I would be just as happy if I was able to play as a wheelchair dependent Paralympian, because that’s the other part of my identity.

I might return to a story about gaming becoming a future Olympic sport next year for International Wheelchair Day, so tell me over on my social medias if that’s something you would like to see!

Disability Representation in Film and TV

So yes, it’s mostly disability representation in front of the camera that we’re looking for, but what about disabled talent behind the camera?

I’ve worked on a few film and tv projects before, and I studied a couple of tv modules while studying for my HND in Broadcast Journalism. While it can never fully be guaranteed that disabled people could do everything behind the scenes and in both pre and post production on film sets, it would be nice if we could use more equipment, which is something I think could work better as we get more and more adaptive technologies. What we need are cameras which are accessible, even with one hand, and even ones which can be voice controlled. It would also be good to see, if combining electronics with the latest technologies, if there’s a way we could control lighting on film sets with an app on phones and tablets, so we can access everything the same as our often able-bodied counterparts.

Something else the entire film industry has to think about, however – especially now that most tv and films are caught through streaming – is how we stop stereotyping disabled people, and what we do with the content with stereotypes that does exist.

In October, after the Black Lives Matter movement blew up even more – and rightfully so – Disney decided to add a warning to the beginning of every movie they made in the past that showed racial stereotypes and could be seen as disrespectful, instead of removing the content. What they did was exactly right, but what I don’t understand is how they added those warnings to films with racial stereotypes, but they didn’t add a similar one mentioning disabled stereotypes to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which remains the only Disney movie depicting someone who has a disability with a stereotype?

I wouldn’t call for film like The Hunchback to be banned or removed, or other films and tv programmes which include negative stereotypes of disabled people. However, if everyone is equal, a warning should at least go at the beginning of films and programmes which include such stereotypes, which I think is a fair ask.

Disability Representation in Theatre

Like what I said when I was talking about behind the scenes in film, I think theatre would also be good looking at the technologies that are available today, and seeing if they could help with including more disabled people behind the scenes of productions.

We’re able to control our lights with our voices and with apps, to turn TVs on the same way, and a lot more with today’s technology, so I think it would be good to see if we could apply it to theatre equipment, and to see how some of the best production could run with disabled people in them.

But overall, I think there’s movement in including more disabled people in all different areas of the media, not just in video games. I’ve looked at so many modern day technologies over the last few weeks that, if we combine them all and include them in all different areas of society, we could be looking at a more inclusive world for disabled people. Yes, there’s some things that have to change, but I think that’s more to do with how the media looks at life as a disabled person, but with more productions coming out featuring disabled people and even more of us uploading stuff on social media, I think we’ll see attitudes change.

Published by Phoebs Lyle (Breathe On UK)

22 year old HND Broadcast Journalism graduate and disability advocate from Northern Ireland, interested in politics, technology, and how it can become accessible to everyone, fantasy, and other stuff.

One thought on “Disability History Month Blog 6 and Final 2020: Disability Representation in Video Games and Other Areas

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