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Perception and Hellblade: A Look at Disabled Protagonists in Games

People have written many articles about representation in video games. Minorities, women, LGBT, non-Christians, etc. have all warranted attention. The same applies for those who are disabled or have different needs.

Disabled and differently-abled gamers have discussed how (and how often) they see themselves in games. From a lack of representation to misrepresentation, times are changing.

We certainly see more physical representation, but a problem remains: how many of these characters (and their differences) are just background? How many games have disabled characters whose difference is eliminated by technology, magic, etc.?

In honor of National Disability Awareness Month, we’d like to highlight two recent games that don’t just include disabled or differently-abled characters but focus on them.

They allow you to play as these characters as well as share their experiences.

Perception

Ever play a survival horror game? Every play one as a blind person? That’s the premise behind this release from Deep End Games: navigating a haunted house with the use of sounds and echolocation.

We won’t lie – this sort of concept of how blind people “see” is a bit exaggerated although still founded in truth. The Daredevil-like graphics are used to make the experience more understandable to seeing players who need visual cues.

Perception didn’t fare well with critics, with some criticizing its story and gameplay and others finding the experience boring or frustrating. I can’t argue with the former, but for the latter, this might be a good indicator of the experience of a blind person.

We will note that Steam’s player ratings are much higher than review websites, so it’s possible this is one game that players who appreciate new experiences will prefer.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Although most people think of disabilities as physical, National Disability Awareness reminds everyone that people can also have neurological and psychological differences. Autism, cognitive disabilities, and mental disorders are just as important.

When Ninja Theory announced their game starring a schizophrenic protagonist, gamers who have suffered psychosis (or had loved ones with that diagnosis) took note. Luckily, the developers researched sufficiently, and Hellblade creates a unique experience for its players.

Hellblade is amazing because it wraps mental illness into both the gameplay and the story. Constant whispering from the character’s hallucinations distract and confuse players, helping and hindering throughout the game.

Like living with psychosis, each level is a new struggle that can leave you exhausted. If there were ever a game to bring an accurate, and much needed, attention to mental illness, Senua’s Sacrifice is the one.

As we recognize the needs of those who are disabled or differently-abled, let us not forget the need for proper representation in games. While the industry has included characters, they often end up in the background or bypass their experiences and differences.

I’m still waiting for a game that focuses on the experience of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals. In the meantime, at least those of us who enjoy non-verbal communication and sign language have something coming!

About Brook H. (92 Articles)
Generalist, polymath, jack-of-all-trades... what hasn't Brook studied. Knowledge is power, which is probably why he ended up with degrees in Human Behavior and Psychology, not to mention majoring in everything from computers to business while working in theater, security, emergency communications, and human services. He currently resides outside Baltimore where he tries to balance his children, local politics, hobbies, and work. Brook is a major Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing advocate (he's HoH himself), lifelong gamer (from table-top to computer), loves everything paranormal, and is a Horror-movie buff.

1 Comment on Perception and Hellblade: A Look at Disabled Protagonists in Games

  1. Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice sounds amazing! Thanks for the write-up!

    Liked by 1 person

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