Gaming Brew: Ableism in ‘Assassins Creed Valhalla’
Over the years, we here at PCU have talked about stereotypes, tropes, and general misrepresentation of marginalized peoples in our fandoms. Well, I’m back to talk about something specific in that vein that recently came to my attention. Those of you who regularly read our site, or follow us on social media, may recall that I wrote a relatively scathing review of Ubisoft Montreal’s newest addition to the Assassins Creed saga: Assassins Creed Valhalla. Well, after delving even further into the game, and discovering more of what it has to offer, I’ve uncovered another egregious issue with it. An issue which I feel warrants calling out, as it actually has the potential to have a real-world effect on a certain part of the populace. Once again, we see ableism creep its way into the world of popular culture.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Assassins Creed Valhalla is a chapter in the over-arching Assassins Creed saga, and is set in Norway, England, and Vinland in the 10th century. In the game, England is made up of several areas; each visited in its own time throughout the story. Within those areas, players are given the option to take part in side missions (small world events called “Mysteries”), each with their own individual tales to tell.
In the county of Sciropescire on the western side of the map of England, one of these Mysteries exists, which struck quite a nerve with me. This Mystery, called ‘Miracle’, managed to cram several harmful disability tropes into a relatively short and easy side mission without much depth. It accomplished this with only the use of Eivor (our protagonist) and two NPCs. Here, we’ll examine these tropes and talk about why and how they are harmful.
The character tropes
One of the characters is clearly representative of the Bitter Outcast stereotype. An NPC who is described in a note found by Eivor as “the unpleasant blind man”. He’s rude, angry, and generally the embodiment of bitterness due to his blindness.
This trope has been around for some time, and is generally used when creating characters who end up as villains or pariahs. It shows the disabled character as bitter and angry at the world around them
The other NPC is obviously an over-the-top example of Helplessness. This character is a man described as “lame”, and is missing part of his leg. He is found sobbing and crying out to the divine, “Why have I been afflicted with these legs?”
“Lame” and “Afflicted“. These are the words used in the game. They’re words which have a definitely negative connotation toward the disability community, and only serve to portray disabled characters as “less-than”. Looking at and defining disability as an “affliction” treats it purely as a negative – something to be cured or pitied – and therefore dehumanizes the individual.
“Miracle”. The very title of this Mystery is, in and of itself, a harmful trope. It implies that some outside (usually divine) intervention is needed before people with disabilities can live “normal” and productive lives. This trope also reinforces the notion that disabled people don’t have a semblance of self-reliance, which is simply not true. Some of us lead incredibly rich and productive lives, despite living with what abled society sees as a “drawback”.
Again, speaking from my own life experience, if I were not a disabled person, I would not have been able to raise awareness of and educate others about things like this. I have been doing it for decades, and don’t ever see myself stopping. Disability advocacy has been a passion of mine for a very long time, and I am happy to have the perspective from which to speak that I do.
Disabled characters as “less than”
At the end of the Mystery, the blind man agrees to carry the man with the missing leg, and the latter agrees to guide the former. This is followed by the blind man exclaiming, “Together, we are as one full man!” This sentiment is incredibly ableist and damaging to the disability community. It reinforces the notion that we as disabled people are not complete humans, which is something that we as a community have been struggling against for ages.
To use an example from my own life, I once worked as a barista at a franchise that had a very bigoted owner. He once told one of my regular customers that “Working with Doug is like working with half a person” – which ultimately cemented my reason for leaving that employment. This is the kind of notion that statements like these feed into.
Now, I can hear the curious and the naysayers already: “But Doug! Why are you going on about something set over a thousand years ago? Wouldn’t those notions still have been the norm?” Well, yes – but that’s not the point here. This Mystery never needed to be included in the game in this way. It serves no purpose in the game except to provide Eivor with two more Skill Points, adds nothing to the story itself, and is nothing short of offensive & harmful to the disability community. Frankly, I am shocked at the fact that this made it past editors and creative director.If you want to see the mission in its entirety, you can do so below.
These are my thoughts on the ‘Miracle’ side mission in Asssasins Creed Valhalla, dear readers. As you know, though, I am always open to feedback & commentary from you all. Let me know what you think of the inclusion of this Mystery in the game. Leave a comment down below, or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.
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