Why I Have Mixed Feelings About This Disabled Video Game Character
I play a game called “Guild Wars 2,” a massive multiplayer online role playing game where you make your own character and play through stories in the game world. In this game there’s an overarching story that drives the narrative, with several characters that you as the player meet and get to know. One of these characters is an Asura named Taimi. Taimi has received praise because she is a disabled character, but some things about her bother me and I want to address that with this article. There will be some spoilers of the story in the game, so be warned before reading!
As I previously mentioned, Taimi is an Asura. They’re a short race in the world of “Guild Wars 2,” and predominantly known for their intelligence. They make use of robots a lot, and in Taimi’s case she rides around in a golem named Scruffy. Because she has this golem, the issue of her being disabled often just goes by the wayside. She gets in this machine and she no longer has a problem interacting with the world as anyone else would.
Of course, when outside of Scruffy Taimi does have problems as a disabled individual, but because she is in her golem so often it usually negates her mobility issues. There have been circumstances where Taimi has been without her golem, for example at a certain point it gets destroyed and she has to rebuild it, but she doesn’t appear much within the story when this happens. Therefore, her having a disability often feels like an afterthought, or a way to make a character more interesting, without having to really explore what a disabled character’s life and challenges would entail.
When out in the world, you often speak with Taimi via a voice communication device, and you get insight into her life when she is not around you. During one point in the story Taimi is working in a laboratory by herself, and you uncover that she has not been sleeping and is generally burning the candle at both ends for her work. The video game industry has come under fire recently for things known as “crunch periods,” where developers and others are expected to work long hours, often to the detriment of their health and personal lives. To have a video game with a character “crunching” inside it, although admittedly to defeat a dragon which is threatening the world, brings up some points of discussion, especially when that character is meant to be disabled.
The player’s character does express worry over what Taimi is doing, but other than that it is presented as admirable. Not only that, but the narrative doesn’t consider the potential impact on her health as someone who has an existing condition. Her actions seem justified as she finds a way to treat her condition through her study at the laboratory. Bear in mind she is not the only intelligent character in the world, as the whole race of Asura are considered geniuses. It seems to say that disabled individuals need to work harder than others, and should in order to better their lives, even if doing so also harms their health. Admittedly, she is doing it for a global cause, but again there are others that could be working alongside her rather that leaving her on her own.
Taimi’s independence during this and at other points in the story is worth discussing, too. The fact she can be independent, often because of her golem Scruffy, is great, but again this sidesteps many of the issues disabled people actually face. Some people with disabilities need help from others and may feel guilty about it. Some do not get enough or any help at all and this creates great pain in their lives, but not in Taimi’s!
The game doesn’t address the lives of carers of disabled people either, which could have made for an interesting look into the dynamic of two characters. But again, this is simply solved with the fact she is of an incredibly intelligent race that has super advanced robots to help them. Even when her golem is destroyed, she doesn’t appear to receive any help in rebuilding it. This could have been a great opportunity to address interdependence in life with a disability, but again it is skipped over, which is a shame.
Lastly, the nature of Taimi’s condition isn’t exactly clear in the story. She is stunted in growth for a long time, but this is improved with her research from the lab I discussed earlier, and she has a limp that causes her to walk slowly. But other than that, you don’t get a lot of insight into her disability and it’s sort of a mystery as to what it actually does or could do. Her disability seemed to be improving after her research, but from a more recent episode in the story of the game, she suddenly announces that she is getting worse, and implies that it could kill her. This is out of the blue, as she had appeared to be getting better.
Part of me likes this, because it isn’t always clear to people how much a disabled person is struggling and often we feel like we can’t talk about it with others for fear of not being believed or being accused of attention seeking. But when Taimi reveals this to you and other characters, it’s pretty anti-climatic. Nothing is really said of her struggling in silence, or that your character would want to know how she is doing and be there for her. It also feels a bit cheap to the story, to suddenly throw in the problems of the condition when it is convenient, but not really address it otherwise.
Overall I do like the game “Guild Wars 2” and it is nice to see a disabled character in a narrative, but I can’t help but be disappointed in the way it has been presented. It just seems like it hasn’t been considered properly, or that they wouldn’t have created a disabled character if the problems it would entail weren’t so easily fixable by Taimi’s specific circumstance. Overall Taimi tends to come across as a token character for disability, and this is rather a shame, because otherwise it provides a nice opportunity for representation of disabled people.