Disability in Video Games: Why It...

Disability in Video Games: Why It Matters and Where It Exists

by Sarah Leung
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Video games are virtual worlds with endless possibilities for what characters can do and see. As well as providing a platform for endless possibilities, video games also provide a space of exposure for representation. A study from the Netherlands showed that approximately 92% of people with disabilities play video games. Although this is likely not representative of a global number, it is still indicative that disabled players comprise of a sizable demographic for video game studios to consider. Their experiences deserve to be represented in gaming.

Including disabilities in video games gives creators, characters, and players with disabilities a presence: the representation normalizes disabilities and tells players to not forget that people with disabilities exist in a variety of ways. The more players see positive depictions of people with disabilities in any world, be it digital or not, the more that individuals will come to understand the lives of people with disabilities. In this article, I will provide just a small sampling of the ways disabilities and individuals with disabilities have been represented in gaming.

Mental Disability Representation in Video Games

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

The main character of “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” is Senua, a warrior that must fight through Viking Hell. Senua happens to be a character with psychosis, a mental disability. According to a 2020 study on the game, players reported “less desire to keep those with mental illness away” as they assumed the role of Senua (Ferchaud et al. 6). Viewing the game world through Senua’s perspective allowed players to connect with her and to understand her disability. Inclusion of characters like Senua is a good combatant against the stigma that people with disabilities face.

The game’s official website even has a mental health support page for people that may be going through any of the issues seen within the game. While Ninja Theory, the game’s developer, is based in the United Kingdom, this page allows users to filter through mental health links from many countries over the world.

Physical Disability Representation

Marvel’s Avengers

In 2020, Meagan Marie and Mariah Robinson from game studio Crystal Dynamics discussed accessibility in the workplace, as well as how they planned to represent disabilities in their games. As Marie notes, the studio’s goal was to “normalize representation within our game world by reflecting the diversity of the real world” (Chiasson).

One example of this would be Cerise, a non-playable character in “Marvel’s Avengers.” Crystal Dynamics worked with Cherry Thompson, an accessibility specialist, to provide wheelchair motion capture for the character. Although the reaction to Cerise’s implementation in her game has been mixed, Crystal Dynamics has been applauded for the lengths they went to animate a character with a wheelchair.

 “Real-world” Representations of Disability

Pegasus Dream Tour

As the Paralympics’ first venture into gaming, “The Pegasus Dream Tour” is a mobile game based on the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. Players can create their own avatar and try out Paralympic sports alongside avatar representations of real-life parathletes. One example is Boccia, a game in which athletes throw leather balls on the court. The objective is to get their teams’ leather balls the closest to the jack.

Unfortunately, “The Pegasus Dream Tour” is set to cease services on January 31st, 2022, due to the expiration of the Paralympic license agreement with the International Paralympic Committee. Despite its short-lived run, “Pegasus Dream Tour” is a great piece of media for disability representation, in both raising awareness for the Paralympics and athletes with disabilities.

Cosmetic Representation of Disability

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

In “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” players manage their own island, its inhabitants, and the buildings that islanders use. Part of the fun comes from customizing one’s own islander and the interiors that they will use. A wheelchair is among the furniture items that players can purchase. The fact that it exists in a game where player customization is a big aspect of the gameplay is a good thing to include. When avatars can be used as a digital representation of the player themselves, more options can make the experience feel more personalized.

The Future of Disability Representation in Video Games

While there are disabled characters within gaming, more needs to be done: physical disability representation outweighs mental disability representation, and the type of representation is lacking in diversity (for example, not everyone in a wheelchair experiences life the same way). As Ian Hamilton describes, “games are often guilty of furthering the myth that a disability is rare” and therefore, more planned out and considerate depictions of disabilities are needed (“Diversity in Gaming: Disabled Characters in Video Games”). By including (at the very least) a small portion of disability representation in their games, games studios can help tackle the stigma associated with disabilities. The situation of disability representation in video games has been slowly improving, and these gradual improvements should continue.



“Boccia | Canadian Paralympic Committee.” Canadian Paralympic Committee, https://paralympic.ca/paralympic-sports/boccia. Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.

Chiasson, Améliane. “Accessibility On Marvel’s Avengers – The Journey So Far | Square Enix Blog.” SQUARE ENIX, 28 May 2020, https://square-enix-games.com/en_US/news/accessibility-marvels-avengers. Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.

Chin, Wing. “Around 92% of People with Impairments Play Games despite Difficulties.” Game Accessibility, https://www.game-accessibility.com/documentation/around-92-of-people-with-impairments-play-games-despite-difficulties/. Accessed 8 Dec. 2021.

Diaz, Jen. “Where to Get the Wheelchair in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” Gamepur, 27 Mar. 2020, https://www.gamepur.com/guides/where-to-get-the-wheelchair-in-animal-crossing-new-horizons. Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.

“Diversity in Gaming: Disabled Characters in Video Games.” TechTalk, https://techtalk.currys.co.uk/tv-gaming/gaming/diversity-in-gaming/about/. Accessed 8 Dec. 2021.

Fahey, Mike. “I Wish The Wheelchair-Using Inhuman In Marvel’s Avengers Did More.” Kotaku, 2 Sept. 2020, https://kotaku.com/i-wish-the-wheelchair-using-inhuman-in-marvels-avengers-1844931415. Accessed 5 Dec. 2021.

Fahey, Mike. “I’m So Happy There’s A Wheelchair In Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” Kotaku, 25 Mar. 2020, https://kotaku.com/i-m-so-happy-there-s-a-wheelchair-in-animal-crossing-n-1842492728. Accessed 5 Dec. 2021.

Ferchaud, Arienne, et al. “Reducing Mental Health Stigma Through Identification With Video Game Avatars With Mental Illness.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 11, 2020, p. 2240. Frontiers, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02240.

K., Bobby. “That Isn’t Mii.” Can I Play That?, 3 June 2021, https://caniplaythat.com/2021/06/03/that-isnt-mii/. Accessed 8 Dec. 2021.

“Mental Health Support | Hellblade | Senua’s Sacrifice | Ninja Theory.” Hellblade, https://www.hellblade.com/mental-health-support. Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.

Miller, Mollie. “Why the Right Kind of Disability Representation in Media Matters.” The Mighty, 2 Dec. 2019, https://themighty.com/2019/12/improving-disability-representation-media/. Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.

“THE PEGASUS DREAM TOUR.” THE PEGASUS DREAM TOUR Official Website, https://pegasus-dream.com/en/. Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.

“World’s First Official Paralympic Video Game Launched.” International Paralympic Committee, 23 July 2021, https://www.paralympic.org/news/world-s-first-official-paralympic-video-game-launched. Accessed 4 Dec. 2021.

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