Autism Acceptance Month - Representation and Acceptance of Autism in Gaming

In the spirit of Autism Acceptance Month, your local aspie is coming to you to talk about (the lack of) autistic representation in video games.

First, let’s cover what autism is and why we’re calling it Autism Acceptance Month instead of the traditional “Autism Awareness Month”. Then we’ll get into the meat and bones of who our canonically autistic characters are and why we should have more representation.

Amy from  Amy

Amy from Amy

What is Autism?

Autism is a neurological condition in which social interaction, communication, and even motor skills are affected. Autistic people may also have need rituals and routines, have special interests, sensory issues, trouble expressing feelings, difficulty forming and maintaining relationships and perhaps engaging in repetitive and compulsive behaviors (often referred to as “stimming”). Autism is hyper-individualized and presents itself differently from autistic person to autistic person. People are born with or without autism and it is generally diagnosed in childhood. Though some autistic people slip through the cracks and don’t get diagnosed until adulthood. Boys are more likely to receive a diagnosis of autism than girls, as the way it manifests from boys to girls is often different. Girls tend to copy and mimic behavior around them, often camouflaging their autism to a point that it can be missed by a professional not aware of how autism presents in girls and women. While boys do not generally do not do this mimicking of behavior.  

Autism Awareness vs Autism Acceptance

The word awareness comes to mind when we talk about cancer, rare diseases, and negative things. We want people to be aware of those things, typically, so they can better protect themselves against it or money can be gathered for a cure. Therefore, Autism Awareness suggests that we are a problem waiting to be fixed. Awareness also works based off of stereotypes and often casts autistic people in a negative light. People in the world are aware of autism, but typically have a very hyperbolic and misguided view of autistic people.

Autism Acceptance, on the other hand, is all about taking in autistic people as they are. It is accepting our stimming and being okay with the fact that eye contact just might not be our thing.  Awareness highlights us as Other. Acceptance looks at the commonalities we share while celebrating our differences. Please make sure that the organizations that you support this month and throughout the year are run by autistics themselves. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is a great place to start if you’re looking to learn about Autism and everything to do with it from actually autistic folks. As the saying in the autistic community goes: nothing about us without us.

Autism in Gaming

The lack of autistic representation in AAA games is honestly saddening, but not surprising. In fact, there wasn’t even an autistic character in a Triple-A game until 2001 in Twisted Metal Black, and that character didn’t even have a name. Autistic video game characters include these twelve: Cassandra from Rage of the Dragons, Jade (The Indigo Child) from Fahrenheit,  Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum from the Bioshock franchise, Simone Cole from Clive Barker’s Jericho, David Archer from Mass Effect 2 DLC, River Wyles from To The Moon, Amy from Amy, Patricia Tannis from Borderlands 2, Symmetra from Overwatch, Josh Sauchak from Watch Dogs 2, Rell from Warframe, and Shana from I Don’t Have A Clue.

A lot of the autistic representation in gaming isn’t great, either.

Most of the characters mentioned reinforce the “savant” style of autism where an autistic person is only worth having around if they have a special ability or are exceedingly talented at one specific thing (their special interest). You can see that in the case of Brigid Tenenbaum who was only saved because of her love of science and was blinded to the atrocities she was committing in the process. Amy tasks the player with taking care of Amy, an autistic child, who can heal the player and is immune from the zombie infection the game is set in (think The Last of Us).

“In a Better World” - Blizzard Entertainment

Symmetra is one of the few, well-done pieces of autistic representation in games. The average player might not even notice the autistic traits that Symmetra has, but it stood out to me the second I heard her interact with the other heroes. “Do not deviate from the plan, and victory will be ours.” is more than a quip about winning. Most autistic individuals, myself included, struggle with changing the plan or routine. As characters run around the map making jokes back and forth, Symmetra misses most of the ones thrown her way or takes them extremely literally which is another subtle nod to her autism. In the Overwatch comic “A Better World” there are more subtle nods to the fact that Symmetra is autistic before she comes right out with it and we see her thoughts.

Sanjay has always said I was… different. Everyone has. Asking where I fit on the spectrum. It used to bother me because I knew it was true. It doesn’t bother me anymore. Because I can do things no one else can do.

I love how we see that Symmetra has struggled with her autism but she’s come to accept and embrace it. It makes her strong in a different way. It empowers her.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the article and feel more knowledgeable about autism and autism acceptance as a whole. I hope to see a more positive representation of autism in the gaming industry as well as television and other media in the future. Comments? Suggestions? Things we missed or that you disagree with? Drop them in the comments below or hit us up on our Facebook Fan page or @ us on Twitter!

@BlizzardDevs Where the Black Girls At in Overwatch?

@BlizzardDevs Where the Black Girls At in Overwatch?

Representation matters. And Blizzard Entertainment has made genuine effort to recognize various cultures and ethnicities throughout their games in recent years. But…Black women are still underrepresented.

At Blizzcon 2018, Blizzard unveiled a new Overwatch hero that no one knew they were even working on. Ashe, who leads the Deadlock Gang, is typical of the Western cowgirl villain. Ashe looks to be a fun hero to play who will likely be able to counter Pharah, Widow and Genji. Cool.

Read More

10 Ways Video Game Developers Can Better Represent Black People

They gave us representation, but we can freak it.

I’ve been playing video games since 1999 and there’s many of my friends and Black people in general who have the same exposure to video games and have seen a lot of change in our 20 something years of living. We’re doing well so far in terms of visibility, but we can afford to make larger leaps. The following is a list of ways developers, writers, and the like can build upon Black representation.

Sheva from Resident Evil 5

Sheva from Resident Evil 5

1. Different kinds of Black people.

I’ve seen a Black Japanese person in Yakuza and it made me wonder where the French Black people are or the Hispanic Black people, and all of that. Then it made me also wonder, where are the LGBTQ+ Black people? We have such a diverse community, but a large part of Black representation only focuses on people being solely Black. I wish that identities included more. We learn so much from video games that it could help people better understand those different from them or even cultural exchange between different Black people.

2. Varying archetypes.

Hood folk exist. Sassy Black women exist. Even if it’s our cliché in media, I don’t feel like there should be less of these presentations. Alternatively, I think it’d be more beneficial to show more Black people being softer, gentler, shy, insecure, etc. We have more to our personalities than just outer toughness.

We learn so much from video games that it could help people better understand those different from them or even cultural exchange between different Black people.

3. More than one Black person.

In my honest opinion, it’s a stretch that fantasy worlds or even fictional versions of our real world always have a token Black person living in areas with not one other Black person. Sounds bitter, but due to the more realistic and cynical settings of life, I find it hard to believe that a Black person wouldn’t venture out to find another so that they can feel safe in unknown territories or areas where they’re 1% of the population. Solidarity has been a method of inadvertent survival, so I think this is important even if such worlds never portray racism or discrimination.

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4. Different types of hair.

There are different types of afros than spherical 4C hair. If “4C” threw you for a loop, that’s also evidence enough that there need to be more Black hair types in video games. I have an afro myself. It’s not a perfect circle. I don’t have fro sideburns. I do afro puffs, a unicorn puff, part my afro to the side, Bantu knot my hair, and do hairstyles that probably don’t have a name. People put their dreads in buns. Some people have Sephiroth length dreads. Where’s the edge-ups? Where’s the flat tops? Box braids? It’s suffering seeing the same damn shapeless fro, short dreads, cornrows, or short haircut. It keeps me up at night. Sims 4 mods for Black people do everything I wish developers had.

5. More dialects.

I’d love to see a Black person with a Southern accent or sound like they don’t have their customer service voice on the whole game, but that code-switch voice lock setting is probably because we need Number 3 to happen first. Proper is great, but characters, as well as Black people in general, shouldn’t have to perform all the time just to be accepted.

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6. A better understanding of skin coloration.

It’s bothersome when video games like Monster Hunter World have such diverse skin color options, accompanied with different test lighting in the character creator, just for the skin color to somehow be off when you’re actually walking around in the game. It’s happened to me more than once in more than just that game where I try to make my character a medium brown with a neutral undertone and they come out lighter or darker than what I anticipated. It’s even worse when changing those settings on the characters isn’t free. It’d also help immensely if lip color was our typical same-color-as-face or darker to pink.

7. Variety of names.

Laquisha. Keshawn. Marquis. Aaliyah. Where are they?

8. More body types.

Another cliché is having Black people be tall, muscular, and/or curvy. It’s great, I’m here for it always and whenever, but more representation means having some variety. Not everybody has the six-pack or a donk, and that’s okay.

9. More interactions between Black people.

Again, this could be done if Number 3 is achieved. I keep drawing blanks and having to fall back on GTA for games that satisfy this condition and so we could obviously do more. And I’d love for it to extend past just having a Black family in a game; that’s the easiest way to do it. I want to see strangers dap each other or say, “What’s up, Big Dawg,” or a “Hey, gorgeous!” I love seeing that kind of interaction and I’m sure other Black people like to see that as well.

10.  Include Black writers, voice actors, etcetera.

I didn’t number these by any criteria of importance, but I do believe that one of the best ways to achieve everything on this list is to employ more Black people. Have more Black voice actors and writers to work together to create better, more believable characters. Including Black people also ensures that whatever attempts at inclusion don’t accidentally roll over into some offensive territory. And don’t stop at one or two; this ensures that there’s a lot more discourse going into the decision making and Black people from different backgrounds can collaborate to make sure accents are on point, situations are realistic, and that there’s diversity within the diversity of including Black people in the cast of characters.

 
 

There’s been so many video game characters in the past five years that have made my heart so happy. In 2018, Black people have so much more representation than we’ve ever had. We have Twintelle from ARMS (I know people don’t play it, but hell, it’s still something)! We have Marina from Splatoon 2! We are thriving! Even so, I don’t want that kind of progress to stop because the world is changing: the media should also reflect that change. When one community receives, so do others. It makes the world more beautiful, and it makes our experiences richer. We should always strive for that.