If you’ve followed my writings here on PCU, you may have noticed that I write a lot about disability/differing ability, and its connection to & representation in popular culture. Well, this is going to be one of those articles, as something was brought to my attention this week.
As I am typically the person that my friends come to when they want to know something about the disability community (or disability in general), I was recently asked about my feelings on the inclusion of a deaf protagonist in the upcoming full-motion-video (FMV) game, The Quiet Man, developed by Square Enix and Human Head Studios (the developer who brought us Rune). Now, while I am happy to offer my knowledge on disability and disability culture to those who ask, I will never pretend to know everything about all different types of disability. As I have almost no experience with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (D/HH) culture, I reached out to PCU’s own Brook, who was more than willing to share his thoughts on this game’s trailer with me.
Before we get into the meat of this thing, however, take a look (and a listen) at the trailer for Square Enix’s ambitious new game, The Quiet Man:
The game’s official synopsis from the website is as follows:
“Unraveling within a single night, players take the role of deaf protagonist Dane as he fights his way through a “soundless” world to discover the motives behind the kidnapping of a songstress from a mysterious masked man. Embark on an adrenaline-fueled motion picture like experience which can be completed in one sitting.”
Now, at first blush, this game looks pretty amazing. Square Enix is blending FMV with some impressively photo-realistic gameplay, gritty settings, and kinetic combat. The the result is quite striking to say the least. Still, there are some issues here. If Square Enix is trying to jump on the bandwagon of using a character that isn’t the “physical norm”, in an attempt to give the player the opportunity to see what life with a disability might be like, they’re going about it the wrong way. Now, the game may be better on multiple levels once it releases, so we’re not gonna tell people not to play it. Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how The Quiet Man is uninspiring to the D/HH community for a few reasons.
Let’s start with the obvious. The trailer uses sound, which suggests that sound exists in the game itself. This means that The Quiet Man is clearly not an accurate example of the D/HH experience, but instead just uses a protagonist who happens to be deaf. Sure, that’s cool, and a small step in the right direction for the sake of visibility; but it’s still not as good as something like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, where you as the player really felt something close to what living with a schizophrenic disorder was like. The same goes for other attempts to mimic things like blindness, as in 2017’s Perception, by The Deep End Games.
This part of the issue could have been solved relatively easily. Square Enix could have done half of the trailer in silence, or done it simply with the sound of heartbeats, blood rushing, impacts only, etc. That would have been cool, and made it feel more like the D/HH experience. Similarly, if it had been shown how Dane’s deafness affects gameplay (e.g. feeling vibrations from impending attacks, writing things down in order to communicate, etc.) then it would make this game feel like it was actually about a D/HH person, rather than simply involving one.
It’s a cool thing to see some representation, but if the deafness in the game is just an aspect of Dane as the protagonist, rather than a focus? It loses a modicum of power – of impact, if you will. This kind of thing is reminiscent of using a character who’s in a wheelchair or has missing limbs, but has been given stronger ability due to magic, cybernetic enhancements, etc.
Another thing that arose in my conversation with Brook, is that Dane (as a character) doesn’t seem deaf. By that, I mean that there’s nothing that culturally indicates deafness or hearing impairment. There is no use of American Sign Language (ASL), there seems to be lip-reading, etc. This makes it appear as if Square Enix intended the character’s deafness to be some minor quirk rather than an important part of their life, experience, and identity. Those of us who live with disabilities know that this is a big misstep. While we don’t let our various conditions/disabilities/what have you define us, they are still quite ingrained in our individual lives and in how we experience the world around us.
Now, without actually getting hands-on and playing the game, there’s little more we can say about The Quiet Man. Still, there are a few things that many of us would like to know. As we mentioned earlier, ‘How does his deafness impact the game? Is it just some minor character aspect, tangential to the plot? Or does it actually affect gameplay?’ As Brook mentioned to me, “Being D/HH is so much more – it’s an obstacle that should be actually represented in the game, whether play or story”.
So, as I said above, The Quiet Man is uninspiring and underwhelming as a tale about a person who is D/HH. It’s simply The Quiet Man because Dane happens to be deaf, but it’s not a D/HH story. If Square Enix really wanted to convey a tale about being deaf / hard-of-hearing, then they’ve not quite gotten it right. They really should take a page out of Ninja Theory’s book, and do their homework. Talk to those who are D/HH and learn their stories, talk to experts in audiology, and really delve deeper into what it means to live with something like deafness.
The Quiet Man releases as a digital-only game on November 1st for PS4 and Windows PCs. With its digital format, short run time (Square Enix states that it’s designed to be completed in one sitting), and “experimental” nature (due to Dane being deaf, apparently), the game will retail for $15.00 / €14.99 / £11.99.