The Best Representations Of Disability In Gaming

Highlights

  • Video games are starting to include better representation of physical and mental disabilities, bringing awareness and reducing social stigma.
  • Characters like Joy in Fortnite and Cerise in Marvel’s Avengers showcase diversity with conditions like vitiligo and wheelchair use.
  • Characters such as Khalid in Baldur’s Gate and Mae in Night in the Woods accurately portray social anxiety and dissociative disorders, highlighting the challenges faced by individuals with these disabilities.

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Video games have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment option for people with ADHD since 2020, but good luck finding a game character who canonically has this condition. Still, we are making progress with good representation for both physical and mental disabilities in games.

Related: Tears Of The Kingdom Is The Perfect Game For ADHD

From visible conditions to those that go unseen, diversity efforts have impacted the kind of characters we find in gaming. Seeing ourselves in popular media and learning about people who are different from us are both valuable ways to bring us all together. Discover the best examples of disability representation and share that common ground of being gamers.

9 Joy – Fortnite

Screenshot of Joy's Loading Screen from the Fortnite Free Skate Set

In-game, Joy is technically an outfit in the Free Skate Set from the Fortnite item shop. But the lighthearted loading screen that comes with her set tells you more about her personality before you’ve even seen her playful dancing emote. Her rainbow-themed clothes, complete with colorful roller skates, add to the impression of her carefree happiness.

She has vitiligo, a non-contagious and harmless condition that causes loss of skin or hair color in patches. While anyone can have vitiligo, it tends to be more noticeable in people of color. Celebrating this disorder with Joy brings awareness and reduces the social stigma for as many as 2.8 million people with the condition.

8 Cerise – Marvel’s Avengers

Screenshot of meeting Cerise in the Ant Hill of Marvel's Avengers

Warning: Spoilers for Marvel’s AvengersNot to be confused with the extraterrestrial Cerise from the X-Men comics, this portal-wielding wheelchair user shows up in the Ant Hill community from Marvel’s Avengers. She and her twin brother, Theo, gained their abilities from the Terrigen mist that was released during the A-Day convention.

Their blue skin and teleportation powers are why they’ve moved to the Ant Hill with other anti-A.I.M. fighters. Notably, Cerise’s motion capture was done by Cherry Thompson — a wheelchair user herself and an accessibility specialist. Cerise is a minor character that unfortunately doesn’t impact the plot much, but the attention to detail with her motion capture gives her an authenticity we all want more of.

7 Khalid – Baldur’s Gate

Speaking to Khalid in Friendly Arm Inn from Baldur's Gate 1

Social anxiety is a sympathetic plight for gamers, who often find comfort in pre-determined conversations or a handful of dialogue options. Khalid is an early icon of that feeling from the first Baldur’s Gate game. He has a speech impediment and general anxiety, occasionally being startled when you select him from the party.

Related: Games To Play That Can Help With Managing Anxiety

He does discover his inner strength over the course of the game, which is a typical arc for someone with these disabilities. The key is that he’s not “cured” by finding his resolve. This myth of remedying your condition with willpower is a common issue faced by characters with disabilities in games, seen as recently as Batgirl in Gotham Knights.

6 Mae – Night in the Woods

Mae looks into the mirror after the party in Night in the Woods

Warning: Spoilers for Night in the WoodsMae has really been going through it in Night in the Woods. She dropped out of college to live with her parents in a town that’s seen way better days. Mae also has a dissociative disorder of some kind, which isn’t canonically defined, but it’s referenced that her symptoms got drastically worse for a time when her grandfather passed away when she was 14.

This condition has symptoms that could make it hard to maintain relationships, like Mae’s difficulty with her sense of identity and her uncertainty about what’s real. Yet she has devoted friends who agree to help her investigate the ghost in town (although they don’t believe she actually saw one).

5 Madeline – Celeste

Madeline from Celeste sitting in a campfire

Warning: Spoilers for CelesteThis game is named after Celeste Mountain, the fictional peak in Celeste that Madeline decides to climb to boost her self-confidence. She’s a trans woman that has depression, anxiety, and the panic attacks that can come with those conditions, so the mountain is both a narrative representation of her mental health challenges and makes her perceive a physical symbol of her struggles.

When she confronts that ominous version of herself, she doesn’t succeed at first. But she ultimately embraces these unpleasant emotions as part of herself, showing that Madeline doesn’t need “fixing” as much as she needed to accept herself. There’s a lot of inspiration and hope in that healing outcome.

4 Hailey Cooper – Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Screenshot of Hailey Cooper signing in ASL to Miles Morales in Marvel's Spider-Man

In Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Hailey Cooper is a side character that’s a street artist with hearing aids to help with her deafness. She communicates using American Sign Language (ASL) when she meets Miles as himself and as Spider-Man. It was very refreshing to see him respond with ASL in kind.

Related: We Should Be Making A Bigger Deal About Hailey In Spider-Man: Miles Morales

It’s possible they’re both code switching to ASL out of habit, instead of using Black American Sign Language (BASL) or Black Sign Variation (BSV), which highlights another challenge for people of color in the deaf community. Between her knowing his secret and the implied romance in their conversations, Hailey plays a significant role in Miles’ daily life and his responsibilities as a superhero.

3 Cove Holden – Our Life: Beginnings & Always

Screenshot of Cove Holden leaning into car and talking to player in Our Life Beginnings And Always

Due to misinformation and stigmatizing groups like Autism Speaks, there are a number of stereotypes about autistic people. Negative portrayals range from putting pressure on people with this neurological condition to be savants to othering by way of characters being called robotic or similarly dehumanizing words.

Cove is an autistic adult without falling into these limiting stereotypes. He adores the ocean – his special interest, struggles with changes to his routine, and is considered too honest for social norms. Just a few examples of how autistic coded he is. Being the love interest further defies the usual depictions of characters with autism, who are often excluded romantically.

2 Sir Alistair Hammerlock – Borderlands 2

Borderlands 3 promo image for the DLC, Guns, Love, and Tentacles. It depicts Alistair Hammerlock and Wainwright Jakobs holding hands and looking into each others eyes lovingly, surrounding them is a magical pink portal and a bunch of tantacles.

Warning: Mild spoilers for Borderlands 2 and 3Dark absurdity is commonplace in the Borderlands series, as you can tell from the Borderlands 3 DLC eldritch wedding between Wainwright Jakobs on the left and Sir Alistair Hammerlock on the right. Alistair was introduced in Borderlands 2 and brought all his personal baggage with him.

He’s lost his arm, leg, and eye in a tussle with a thresher, and he became a cyborg when got robotic prosthetics. Some people are born without certain limbs and others lose them in the course of their lives like Sir Alistair has. Seeing him live his best, chaotic life without so much as a moment of diminishing pity for his injuries is just magnificent.

1 Joker – Mass Effect

Joker piloting the Normandy in Mass Effect

Warning: Mild spoilers for Mass Effect seriesIt’s pretty early in Mass Effect when you learn that Joker has osteogenesis imperfecta (or brittle bone disease). He’s quick to assert his capabilities as a pilot when he thinks you already know about his genetic disorder. Between that reaction and his natural sarcasm, he makes it clear he doesn’t need any coddling.

He’s also an ambulatory wheelchair user — meaning he can walk, but he chooses to use a wheelchair when it’s more comfortable. He uses an automated version when he’s flying the Normandy spaceship. As a bonus, he’s briefly playable in Mass Effect 2 and even has a romance option with EDI in Mass Effect 3.

Next: Corina Boettger on Voicing Genshin Impact’s Paimon, TikTok Culture, And Acting With A Disability

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